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The mosaic village

A celebration of Winnipeg's storied North End

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WINNIPEG writer Russ Gourluck, whose spe­cialty is local social history, launches his latest book tomorrow.

It's called The Mosaic Village, and it documents Winnipeg's colourful North End. What is the North End? Its boundaries, to the extent it has any, are a source of continuing debate in Winnipeg. For the purposes of his book, Gourluck defines them as the CPR tracks on the south, the Red River to the east, McAdam Avenue -- the old boundary with West Kildonan -- to the north and McPhillips Street to the west, rejecting the argument that the North End ends at Arlington Street. In fact, Gourluck goes a little beyond McPhillips to include Sisler High School and its feeder area.

At one time or another, virtually every ethnic community in Winnipeg, a city rich in its diversity, has sunk its roots in the North End. But two groups stand out in giving the area its gritty reputation and its Runyonesque cast of characters. Ashkenazi Jews and Ukrainians both arrived around the turn of the 20th century. Both endured hardship and poverty in their new home, but made a life that was infinitely better than their lot in the cruel Russian empire they left.

From The Mosaic Village, we've excerpted stories from each of those founding communities.

 

 

The last house on the edge of the prairie

For Jewish immigrants, home ownership was the strongest desire

I was born on Saturday, February 18th, 1911 in Winnipeg. The house was in a working-class new area where all the European immigrants were congregated. This area has since aged and had become a slum. The house that I was born in was in the second block west of Main on Jarvis Avenue in the north end.

I was the youngest of four children. There were originally two more but they died in infancy. The oldest was Aaron who was twelve years older than me. Then there was Jack, then Ella who is four years older than I am.

I was given two names. Moishe after some long dead relative, and Sholem, which translated from the Hebrew means peace. This name apparently was given to me as was generally the custom and still is among some people to signify some hope for peace. There was considerable persecution against the Jews in Romania and other eastern European countries, and wherever possible the Jews were streaming out to America and Canada or anywhere else they could to escape the murderous persecution.

The Jews were considered second rate citizens and were not allowed to own land, nor ply a regular trade. All that was left for them to do to make a living was to do business, as it was considered beneath the dignity of others to handle money. My father's father was allowed to sell wine in a wine store, something like a local bar, and my father was listed in the records as a clerk in that store.

My mother was the oldest of five children, three girls and two boys, and was a very distant relative of my father. Even though there was an attraction to each other, the only way for them to become a pair was when it was properly arranged through a marriage broker as was the custom.

Even though the Jews were not real citizens so to speak, nevertheless they were subject to the military draft the same as all other young men. Every family was compelled to deliver to the army the oldest son. At military age my father was already married so his second oldest brother took his place on the draft list, and my father prepared to escape from Romania.

At this time (the turn of the century) there was a great movement to try and reach any country that needed immigrants. There actually were groups of three or four or more setting out on foot, walking through fields, valleys and mountains gathering others, and the groups grew larger and larger till they reached the coast. These groups were called 'foosgayers' or footwalkers and together with my uncle Ben, my mother's younger single brother, my father joined them and travelling through Bulgaria and other Balkan countries finally reached the sea. Travelling and working their way as they went they were able to arrive at Rotterdam. There was an agent of the Canada immigration department who arranged for them to set sail for Canada. (Canada needed farmers to develop the land). This was an inspiration of the then Liberal party. They assumed that the immigrants out of gratitude would vote for them when they became citizens of the country. When they arrived in St. John, they learned that Canada also needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad. They joined the work force on the railroad. My uncle Ben learned the trade of tinsmith and my father became a carpenter. (Learning a trade was forbidden for a Jew in Romania).

After working on the railroad back and forth for a few months my uncle continued onward at his trade and remained with the company. But my dad being a married man decided to settle down and bring the family to Canada. Picked Winnipeg, which was exploding in size at the time. He rented a small house and sent for my mother and her two sisters and her mother (my grandmother Zelda) as well as three children, one of which died soon after arriving in Canada. One child had died as a very small infant in Romania before my father had left. My father having left the C.P. then went to work as a carpenter, for himself. This was the year 1903.

My mother tells us the story of her arrival. She of course could not speak the language, but to save her embarrassment, she was taught to pronounce the words 'I don't know' when spoken to in English. When she answered 'I don't know' to every conversation, she was admired by her fellow travellers. saying that she has already learned to speak the language.

It was the strongest desire of the new immigrants to own their own home and as soon as possible. Our family after living on Burrows Ave. when my sister Ella was born, he (sic) had rented temporarily the house on Jarvis Ave. where I was born.

My parents, as all immigrants, had a boarder, a young man named Winestock. He was single at the time and became almost a member of the family. He later married a Russian Jewish girl named Brida and they had three children, two boys and a girl. Their daughter Dora Kohm, herself a grandmother now and living in Toronto are still our very good friends.

Now my father went all out and put a down payment on a cheap cottage without a basement out of the city so to speak. This was at the corner of Bannerman and Arlington. There were only eight houses in the six blocks on Arlington from Mountain and eleven houses in the three very long blocks on Bannerman from McGregor to our house. Ours was the very last house on the edge of the prairie. I can still recall the low and deep music of the wind through the tall grass singing me to sleep. Standing at the front door you could see the horizon to the north and also to the west. My father had anticipated that the street cars running down Arlington Street and turning on Mountain Avenue would continue on Arlington to Bannerman and then go on Bannerman to McGregor and join up with the McGregor and Bannerman street car. He had hoped that this way the street car would pass our house in the future. Our nearest Jewish neighbours were many streets away.

The cottage had five rooms containing two bedrooms, a living room, which we used as a bedroom, a front room which we almost never used, a bathroom which did not have a bathtub for many years. We had a large tin tub which we filled with heated water from the top of the coal and wood stove. We did not have any hot water heater and therefore no hot water. We also had a kitchen, which actually became our living room. It had a kitchen table and the coal and wood stove which kept us warm. And we had a 60 watt light hanging from the ceiling under which we all read and which we kids did our homework.

I made friends with some kids two or three streets away but they weren't Jewish. The kids that I played with were the descendants of Scotch (sic) or Irish with one or two Scandinavian and a couple of French Canadians. I was the only Jew. We would call on each other and go for hikes. We learned to slide on slippery ice as if we had skates.

We played hockey with broomsticks and road apples (frozen horse droppings) and would kick the can for a block or so. Then we started school and we then began to play soccer and baseball.

Everything was fine for a number of years, until they would start talking on Mondays about the previous day's Sunday School sessions in their church. I of course could not enter this type of conversation. I was challenged many times to come to their Sunday school too.

But of course this was not to be. Gradually the togetherness grew apart as our interest began to differ. I will say this. I was never called a dirty Jew. And even though my mother had a very heavy accent she was also never looked down upon. She used to hand out special Jewish tidbits like strudel, homantashen, and even pieces of matzos to my Gentile friends and they loved her for it.

 

THE HARAPIAK TOUCH

The bride was glamorous; the groom was comic relief

VOGUE Studios, one of several North End photo studios that served the ethnic community, was founded in 1921. Owned and operated by Dmytro Harapiak from 1958 until 1971, the business was originally located at 691 Selkirk Ave. and later moved to 567 Selkirk.

Harapiak was born in Ukraine in 1927, and many of his clients were Ukrainian families in the North End and surrounding rural communities. Much of the studio's work involved wedding photography, with Harapiak and his assistants sometimes shooting as many as five weddings on a Saturday. He also did portrait photography and some commercial photography.

Harapiak followed a familiar pattern when he photographed weddings, and, because of the limitations of the camera equipment of the 1950s and 1960s, most shots were carefully posed. The bride was generally photographed at her parents' home before the wedding in several standard situations: a formal portrait with her gown carefully arranged; pinning a corsage on her mother; having her engagement ring admired by the bridesmaids; and coyly revealing her garter.

A more comical approach was generally used in photographing the groom, portraying him as harried, disorganized, and even somewhat reluctant. Standard shots included being helped to put on his formal attire; looking at his wristwatch to determine if he could make it to the church on time; or pretending to be dragged out of the car and into the church.

Photos after the ceremony generally showed the bride and groom emerging from the church in a shower of confetti. At the reception, basic shots often included the wedding dinner; presentation; the couple's first dance; cutting the cake; and turning the groom upside down to empty the money from his pockets.

 

***

IN the decades before Manitoba's gambling laws were liberalized, the only legal form of gambling centred on horse racing at Polo Park Race Track. This meant that most of the gambling in the province took place illegally.

In the North End, Selkirk Avenue was the site of numerous card games in various businesses over the decades. Manly Rusen recalls that several "clubs" on Selkirk near Salter had ongoing card games.

Probably the best known of all North End gamblers was Stanley Zedd. Born in Ukraine in 1899, Zedd (whose surname was anglicized from Zarawiecki) organized floating craps games throughout Winnipeg and surrounding rural areas during the 1940s and 1950s. Zedd generally rented private homes or empty garages as one-time-only locations for gambling activities. Gambling tables were set up during the day and quietly taken down and carried away when games ended in the wee hours of the morning. Prospective players (who were often prominent city businessmen and lawyers) were directed to specific locations (the White House Restaurant on Selkirk Avenue was one of the most popular) and told to wait for cars to pick them up. They were kept unaware of their destinations until they arrived.

Stanley Zedd became somewhat of a folk hero, a Runyonesque character who wore dapper custom-tailored suits and stylish fedoras. He smoked and handed out the finest of cigars and was often chauffeured around in a black Cadillac. Zedd was respected for the honesty of his games, and the police left him alone unless they felt pressured by complaints from the public. Winners were paid immediately and were free to leave when they wished. Losers were given a few dollars and transportation home. His Osborne Street business, the Margaret Rose Tea Room (named for Princess Margaret), served as a front for his operations.

A boxer in his younger days, Stanley Zedd supported local sports and was instrumental in setting up the ManDak Baseball League, using some of the profits of his gambling operation. His own team, the Winnipeg Buffaloes, was made up entirely of players from the disbanded Negro League in the United States.

Similarly, until Manitoba's liquor laws were liberalized in the 1960s, bootlegging took many forms throughout the province. Restaurants provided "setups" of ice and mix to complement brown-paper-bagged bottles stashed under tables. Many houses, particularly in the North End, were open for drinks on the premises or provided bottles to go after the dingy, men-only beer parlours closed. And millions of gallons of homebrew were distilled for home consumption or sale.

 

Excerpted from The Mosaic Village, by Russ Gourluck

 

 

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2010 H1

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