JHSBC Oral History Collection
ST: Where was the butcher shop?
RS: On Main and Hastings, in what was the City Market.
ST: So that was down in Strathcona?
RS: It was…No, on Main and Hastings. Strathcona was…
ST: Dunlevy and…sort of in that area. Where the City Market was?
RS: Strathcona was more the Commercial Drive area…
ST: No, it was in Dunlevy and…in that area right around the synagogue, right around Heatley.
RS: Well, that is further up. I mean, it’s not that far but the City Market...There was the Public Library was there…
ST: The Carnegie Library?
RS: It was the old Vancouver Public Library, I think now it’s a museum, a museum there on the corner of Hastings and Main…
ST: And the City Market was right next to it.
RS: It was right, that building right next to it. Oh, it was rat-infested; there was nothing but rats running through the butcher shop. [Bell chimes in the background]. Oh, it was awful! Just awful! It was so cold, and no heat but we worked there all the time.
ST: Did you work on weekends?
RS: Yes, I worked every school holiday, and every Saturday. Sunday was a day off.
ST: How about after school did you have to go?
RS: After school sometimes I had to go, but not always after school. But always on Sports Days. I was never allowed to participate in anything else…it was work! And my brother worked. We had a kosher shop there also. We had a non-Jewish butcher shop and a kosher butcher shop, that was the only kosher butcher shop in the city, right there in the City Market. My dad started that. Then my brother used to make the night deliveries and worked in the shop full time. He quit school and Sonny became a butcher.
Interviewer: Sid Israels, Ann Krieger, & A. Myer Freedman
SI: …And you graduated just as the Depression started in 1929, is that correct?
SI: And made your way then to Vancouver for your interning and where did you intern?
JM: At the Vancouver General Hospital.
SI: Was this unusual to get a position like that in 1929?
JM: In a way yes because Jewish doctors weren’t exactly welcome but as it happens the superintendent at the time was Dr. S. C. Bell and he was hard pressed for interns; there were only approximately 12 or 13 interns and he was very pleased to accept me. And I stayed on there for a year and I decided that I would like to see what some other centres had. So as it happens an opening occurred at Chicago in a hospital and one of my fraternity brothers, George Stream, who was a resident at the time in Chicago, he phoned me. I got permission from Dr. Bell to accept the internship at Chicago and I was there for about nine months.
Now, I decided then that I would stay in practice in Chicago. I was the second or third assistant to Dr. [Delee], Dr. Joseph [Delee] and I was directly junior partner of Horner, Dr. Horner and they had a system there that in grades, Dr. Joseph E. [Delee] would only take on or two cases a month. His desire was teaching, mostly teaching and he had set a limit that he can only accept cases that would pay approximately $7,000. Now, any case, under that Dr. Horner got and anything below that was the next in line. So then I decided I would stay in Chicago and Dr. Horner then interviewed me…and the Head of American Medical Association who had formerly been superintendent of hospitals in Vancouver at the Vancouver General Hospital and he arranged for me to have an interim certificate that I would eventually become an American citizen and carry on a practice. Well I started with Dr. Horner in June and it was a very satisfactory way of practicing medicine, as far as I was concerned because twice a week you were in an office downtown and the rest of the week you were always at the hospital. You saw private cases in the hospital, it was your office away from the downtown. Along came the latter part of the fall and it was a very cold winter in Chicago, in December it was just simply awful and I packed up my suitcase and I left Chicago on a moment’s notice and came back to Vancouver General Hospital.
Interviewer: Sid Israels, Ann Krieger, & A. Myer Freedman
SI: And this is, we’re talking here now in the early ‘20s, late ‘20s. Did your parents keep a kosher home?
JM: Very much so.
SI: How difficult was that?
JM: Very. One of the interesting factors was there wasn’t any means of attaining kosher meat so the only locality that had it was Calgary, Alberta, and it was used to…the butcher would send the meat by express on Friday and every Friday morning at five o’clock in the morning, I used to get up in the morning and go out to the express office to pick up the week’s meat. First of all it was the time that I could easily attend and the other was we didn’t want to leave the meat too long before it spoiled.
SI: You say you were, the rest of the families in the area were Orthodox as well, they would have obtained their supplies at the same time. Tell me, winter—I grew up in that same environment as you did—must have been a godsend for you, because you now had natural refrigeration.
JM: [Laughter]. No, as a matter of fact, it didn’t worry us a great deal because we had one of these old fashioned ice boxes where you put in a block of ice about 15 or 25 pounds and that lasted a certain length of time and then you replaced it.
ID: I know that you were instrumental in getting the Gleneagles Golf Course going, tell me about that and the Richmond Golf Course.
EL: Well, the Gleneagles Golf Course, we’d reached a stage where we had quite a few fellows playing and they were playing at the public golf course and a bottle of scotch got you on and if you didn’t have a bottle of scotch you had to go line up under an umbrella and Dave Sears came to me and said, “This estate has Gleneagles for sale.” I think they wanted 52 or $53,000 for it and I called two or three meetings at our house with Dave Sears and there was Alfie Evans, Meyer Brown, Norman Brown, the whole crowd was there then and the interesting thing was that we had a hell of a time persuading them that if they put up $500 a piece you might buy it and while this as going on they were investigating and searching title. I put up $500. A friend of mine ran the trust company at that time, I went to see him and he incorporated a group there and he held the shares in trust and over a period of time we were able to collect enough money from guys to pay off $50,000. That was the beginning of the golf course. We bought this property with 30 lots surveyed complete.
ID: What was your father’s business, Esmond?
EL: Father? Well, he started out…I think he worked with Shineman in his general store, then he opened up a…right across from the Prince Rupert Hotel which was a new hotel I think it was on First Avenue, next to the [West Home] Theatre. He had a place that sold tobaccos, groceries, fruit, anything you’d lay your hand on. And it was a great place. The fishermen came in and they didn’t buy…the Norwegian fishermen, they didn’t buy a package of cigarettes. They come in and bought four big two foot rolls of snus [finely ground tobacco taken orally] or they’d take a plug of tobacco but a plug of tobacco had to be a foot long and about an inch thick and five inches wide and they took the whole thing with them. They took these things out with them and chewed on them when they were away for two or three, four, five, or six weeks so it was…they came in and apparently they were very fond of buttermilk and they had buttermilk by the tub being dumped there and apparently the older buttermilk the more higher it got and these boys liked high buttermilk so they it became quite a place. The…punch boys were the thing at that time, they had gold watch fobs and you had to punch…you had a punch business, you sold 10 punches for a dollar and if you got a lucky number you got a gold watch fob. They’d come in and spend 10, 20, 20, 40 dollars trying to get themselves a 10 dollar gold fob. It was the pioneer people with really nothing to do and no entertainment.
ID: This was their entertainment.
EL: Now before my brother’s birth in 1910, it must have been 1908—my father came to Canada. He was looking for a job…
ID: What made him go to Canada?
EL: Yes, my mother’s brother Nate Shineman—and I’ll come to him—had migrated and the Grand Trunk Railraod was being built across Canada and general stores were opened up along the tract that the boys went along—the boys made a living selling to the workers, hundreds and thousands of men with fairly good payroll living in these shacks, going along with the building of the railroad and it is part of the construction of Canada. While this was going on they became merchants and they sold them suitcases and suits and brass watches and all the rest of the stuff. Nate Shineman, who was the elder brother of my mother who died last year at the age of 99 in Jerusalem, came out to Prince Rupert and made his way along the Grand Trunk to Rupert. My father, I guess started the same pattern and on route they went across Canada. The train stopped every so often, you could get out, look around, buy a sandwich or spend three or four hours there while they fix the train up—somewhere outside of Toronto was a sign up that Silverman, a chap by the name of Silverman, Sudbury, where the nickel strike had just been made, international nickel. They needed a man there of artistic ability—they needed a man there who could write signs on windows. And being of artistic ability he took that job and worked for Silverman who was one of the known characters of that time. My father encountered the fact that some fellows came in with, it was a mining area, and some fellow came in with a claim and offered to sell him part of it but he wouldn’t have anything to do with mining—that was gambling and he said that the claims that were offered to him or parts that were offered to him are now the International Nickel Mines of Sudbury. So history has a way of getting hold of you.
He made his way from there to old Hazelton which was on route to the Grand Trunk and he told stories of sleeping in tents there in 30 to 40 below zero and being able to get up in the morning and barely move—taking a match between two frozen hands and rubbing the damn thing to start a fire. Ant that was part of a living at that time—it was tent and shack living with great hardships—but these were all young men.
CL: Is this 1914?
Interviewer: Naomi Katz & Cyril E. Leonoff
CL: Well on the Prairies—Winnipeg, populated by Russian Jews primarily and Eastern European Jews, Yiddish was the language spoken. I have the impression that in Vancouver Hebrew was emphasized. Did you speak Yiddish with your parents?
NB: No, no, no. Until we the children introduced English into the home, we knew no language except Jewish. And one of the things that you and your generation might find a little difficult unless you’ve thought about it seriously is the problems that youngsters who don’t have English have when they go to school. I recall going to school and the second day that I was there they called a roll and as they called the roll each of the children had to say ‘present.’ Well, when they called my name and I wouldn’t say ‘present.’ When the teacher asked me why I wouldn’t tell her and she punished me, and she asked me to stay after school and I told her that the only reason that I wouldn’t say ‘present’ was that I wasn’t going to give her a present because that was the only connotation that I knew present in. [Laughter]. That’s why I think that some of these intelligence tests are so ridiculous. Because connotations is all important.
CL: So you spoke Yiddish in the home and when you started to go to school you learned English.
NB: Then my parents learned as well. And ultimately…
BB: That is always the history. The children learned, came home, wouldn’t speak the Yiddish and so the parents had to learn English.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: And I want to ask you, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that you were the first Jew to be appointed King’s Council?
ID: And the first Jewish person to become Justice of the Supreme Court of BC.
ID: And the first Jewish person to be a member of the Senate and Board of UBC.
ID: And the first Jewish person to be accepted into the Vancouver Club.
ID: How do you account for that? [Laughter].
NN: I don’t know. I guess they started to get lenient [laughing].
ID: Were there no other people of Jewish faith that had the qualifications that you had or?
NN: There were others but once we broke down the barriers they brought other Jewish people in. Joe Segal is a member of the Vancouver Club as well as I am.
ID: I remember reading about it in the papers.
NN: Oh yes, that was quite a change. It’s a funny thing that you should mention that. A great friend of mine [Pearly Brissidon], and a friend of his came to see me, they asked, I was then Chief Justice and they said, “This is unbelievable you aren’t in the club. We want you to come in.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to run in these chances.” “Well,” they said, “Look, the rules are…” And they gave me the rules. “We will tell you this, that we absolutely guarantee that you will be elected.” So I said, “Now how can you do that?” They said, “Because of the voting structure that we’ve recently established.” Which was a new structure. And I said, “Alright, I’ll do it.” So that was the largest vote turnout we ever had. We had 900 votes, which was in those days quite a heavy [inaudible] and I only had two opposed, so it was pretty good.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: You said that your mother encouraged you to go into law. Did you ever at any time consider another field? Did you ever consider medicine?
NN: No, no.
ID: Never. And how did law school change you?
NN: Well, I think the discipline of law was a thing...
ID: The work load?
NN: The work was heavy. In those days, this was after you had a degree but before we had a full fledged law school, we had something, people wanted to go back to a system...You would go to law office...
ID: Before you went to law school?
NN: No, after you went to law school. You would go into a law office.
ID: As an articling student?
NN: As an articling student, and you’d spend three years if not four years there. Then you would proceed to go to lectures, and lectures at four o’clock. They’d get real money out of you by working you. And you got a real princely sum of $15. I eventually got $35 a month.
ID: What did you do as an articling student?
NN: Well, as an articling student you did everything that you knew exactly things that many young lawyers don’t know. You’d know how to draw wills, you’d know how to draw all of the practical things.
ID: You mean young lawyers don’t learn this?
NN: Well no, because they’re in a different milieu. They learn all about jurisprudence, you know, and all the fancy problems that arise in famous cases but as for doing the actual work there was a change. But that disappeared, that’s disappeared.
ID: So the work load really...Did any of your professors influence you in a particular way?
NN: Yes, well they did, because we had a very fine group of professors at the school and the Vancouver Law School and they did, they’re very, very good.