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Sid Green

By BERNIE BELLAN
Sid Green, born in 1929, was only eight years old when he started attending the YMHA at 91 Albert Street. Over the years the Y became a second home for Sid, and as he grew older, he played a variety of roles in that cherished institution.
Recently I sat down with Sid in his Westgate home and asked him to reminisce about his years at both the Albert Street Y and the YMHA on Hargrave.

 

 

 

 

Leible Hershfield with female gymnasts at the old YMHA on Albert Street, sometime in the 1930s.

He began by talking about the fabled Leible Hershfield who, in 1969, was voted the Jewish Athlete of the Half Century. (Leible was also a phys ed instructor at the Albert Street Y, as well as at the Y on Hargrave.)
Sid said: “He (Leible) played all sports. When I became older I played with Leible Hershfield. When I grew too old to play I watched Leible Hershfield again. He was excellent…and he was an institution.”
I noted that Sid, too, had quite a reputation as an athlete. (He was actually the quarterback for the law school football team, which won the university intramural championship both years he was quarterback - even though Sid stood only 5’6”, and weighed only 155 pounds.)

“I played basketball (at the Y, both on Albert St., and on Hargrave),” Sid noted. “I played volleyball, I played softball.”
I had to ask him about the gym (which I described in our last issue, noting that Al Chisvin had said it was actually crooked, with the basketball nets in the corners - and a pole in the middle of the gym. Al also said it was so small that players were allowed to bounce the ball off the walls.)
Sid concurred, saying “the gym – from one end to the other, would probably have been between 30-40 feet. But, it wasn’t straight; the walls were a half this way and a half that way. The baskets did not face each other.” (I noted that Al had already told me that one basket was in one corner and the other basket was in another corner.)
“But,” Sid pointed out, “the Stella Mission boys had a team in our league and they became champions of Canada” – playing in that gym.

In a 1936 article in The Jewish Post announcing the opening of the new Y on Albert Street, Lou Adelman wrote this description of the “rough and ready” gym, as he put it: “The rough and ready gymnasium is next. Here is where the boys and girls of our organization get their real workouts. After their classes in calisthenics which are carried out on the top floor gym, enthusiasts repair to the ‘rough and ready’ gym. All manner of reducing and body building apparatus is installed here – wrestling mats, tumbling mats, facilities for boxing, two excellent volley ball courts (or badminton if desired) ordinary punching bags for light workouts and heavy bags for harder work; dumbbells, weights (for body building and muscle building classes), vibrating machine (for the ladies reducing class and for the men if need be too), and all of the conveniences which are to be found in a well equipped gymnasium.”

“On this gym there were fantastic basketball players,” Sid said. “Spike Hall, the physical fitness director, decided he would make a gym out of something that was impossible. I mean the gym wasn’t straight.”
He continued: “I played basketball with Fritzie Hanson”…at the YMHA.
I interjected, saying: “He was the ‘Galloping Ghost’!.” Sid contradicted me, saying he was “Twinkle Toes”. It turns out we were both right. Here’s more about the legendary Fritzie Hanson, taken from Wikipedia:
“Melvin “Fritz” Hanson (July 13, 1914 – February 14, 1996) was a Canadian football player for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders. Hanson was signed by the Blue Bombers for $125 a game and free room and board, which was a considerable sum in the cash-strapped dirty thirties. Nicknamed the ‘Galloping Ghost’, ‘Twinkle Toes’, and the ‘Perham Flash’, Hanson was one of the pioneers of football in Western Canada and a huge star at the time. Although he weighed only 145 pounds (66 kg) he used his incredible quickness to evade defenders. He helped lead the Blue Bombers to the first Grey Cup victory by a western Canadian team in 1935 and won again with the Bombers in 1939 and 1941. In the 1935 Grey Cup Game Hanson had an incredible 334 punt return yards on 13 returns, a record that still stands today, including a sensational 78-yard return for the winning touchdown. He played with Winnipeg from 1935 through 1946 then spent two years playing for the Calgary Stampeders, where he won a fourth Grey Cup in 1948.”

Then Sid added: “I played volleyball with Lou Mogul.” I said I didn’t know who that was. It turns out that Lou Mogul was another great football player for the Bombers. The fact that celebrated Blue Bombers played sports in what can only be described as a “fake gym” – as Donald Trump would no doubt say, is something that amazes me. Later, when I was at the YMHA, I remember seeing Kenny Ploen in the locker room. (Man, what a body he had!) And now, we’re blessed with the presence of former Bomber great Rod Hill at the Rady JCC – so the tradition of Blue Bombers working out at the Jewish sports facility has a very long tradition indeed.
Anyway, here’s some information about Lou Mogul:
“A product of Winnipeg who attended St. John’s Technical High School, Mogul played his college ball at North Dakota State and began a pro career that spanned 18 years, including a long stint in his hometown. Mogul was part of the Winnipegs team that won the 1935 Grey Cup, the first western-based team to do so, and then won again in 1939 and 1941. The CFL didn’t select an all-star team until the 1960s, but Mogul was twice a West All-Star at guard and at tackle.”

Sam Sheps - executive director of the YMHA from 1936-67

I said to Sid: “Now in those days the YMHA basketball team was a powerhouse, wasn’t it?”
Sid said: “We weren’t that good.”
No - but what about baseball? I wondered. Leible Hershfield was renowned as a great softball player.
Sid: “That was before my time. They were a good soccer team – and Leible Hershfield was the star. I think Sam Sheps played soccer too.” (Sam Sheps was the director of the YMHA from 1936-1967.)
In addition to the gym, the Albert Street Y had “a wonderful steam bath,” Sid said. “They were never able to make the steam bath on Hargrave as good as the one on Albert Street.” (As I noted in my previous story about the Albert Street Y, Leible Hershfield described the steam bath in an article written in1980 for The Jewish Post: “Behind the wall of the steam room was a space where logs were fed to keep the boiler hot.”

I asked Sid about his time as president of the “house council” (in 1947). What did that involve, I wondered?
“In those days everyone virtually belonged to a club,” he explained. “You’d come on Saturday - between 5 and 7, and the clubs would have their meetings.”
I pointed out to Sid that he had said he joined the Y when he was only eight years old. “Were there clubs for eight-year-olds?” I wondered. (This would have been in the late 30s.)
“No, it was mostly arts and crafts,” Sid answered. “The clubs started when we were mostly bar mitzvah age. They probably started in the mid-40s.”

“There was a big argument,” Sid noted, “as to whether the Y should open before sundown. It was a big issue in the community.” (And it remained an issue for years. The Jewish Post used to feature regular letters from George Skulsky – who later went by the name “Gur Aryeh Skulsky”, railing against the Y on Hargrave opening on Saturday afternoons. I remember that it got to the point my late brother Matt, who was editor at the time, got so tired of printing letters from Mr. Skulsky that he invited him to write a regular column instead. What was Mr. Skulsky’s favourite subject? You guessed it: Railing against the Y opening Saturday afternoons!)

Lou Rusoff and the YMHA Atoms Boys Club - Albert Street YMHA c. 1947 Lou Rusoff is in the front row, fourth from right Credit Jewish Heritage Centre

“Every Saturday night was the teen canteen,” Sid continued. “Each club would sponsor a teen canteen. Tonight it would be the ‘Gabalots’, next week it would be the ‘Panthers’.
“It was a dance and a little skit…maybe a singer or something. That’s where we met girls and girls met boys – and romances took place.”
Sid noted that he belonged to the “Comets” which, he explained, was a “north end club”.
“They used to have a club of the year. We virtually won the club of the year every year,” he added.
Lou Rusoff was “the one who arranged the house council,” Sid continued. “Every club sent a representative to the house council and the house council would do things like allocating dates for each club to conduct the teen canteen. We also had a drama festival” (which the house council organized).
Later in my interview with Sid, he added more information about Lou Rusoff, saying that “he directed and played the piano” for theatrical productions at the Y; he also wrote plays, and he was also very skilled at arts and crafts.” Around 1948 though, Sid said that Lou Rusoff’s father-in-law died and he “came into money”. At that point he fulfilled his lifelong ambition to work in Hollywood. Eventually, according to information found on Wikipedia, Rusoff came to work for a shlock movie studio, American International Pictures, where he was involved in writing and producing low-budget films, such as “Girls in Prison” and “Hot Rod Girls”.
Later, Rusoff would go on to write the script for “Beach Party”, the first of what was to become a series of beach party films starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

I said to Sid that I found it remarkable that the Albert Street Y had 1800 members in 1947. “That many members in such a small building,” I remarked.
“Well, don’t forget, it wasn’t just teens who went there,” Sid explained. He added that he thought it actually had as many as 3,000 members in the late 40s, although my information is taken from a program produced by Al Chisvin in 1980 for a reunion of Y members who belonged some time between 1944-52.
Sid Green, moreover, continued to play a vital role in the YMHA when it moved to its new location on Hargrave in 1952. I asked him about his contribution to the new Y.
“I was on the board of directors (at Albert Street),” he answered. “As president of the house council, I sat on the board when we called for the construction of 370 Hargrave.”
“Who were the prime drivers behind the construction of the new Y?” I asked.
“I would say David Slater,” Sid said, “Alec Mitchell, Harold Schwartz. Sam Freedman could have been involved – he was president of the Y at one time.”

“You were heavily involved with the Y on Hargrave, weren’t you?” I asked.
“I was more an employee on Hargrave” (than just a member), Sid said.
“I did play basketball. The Comets as a club didn’t go beyond 1954 or 55 and at that time I worked for the Y. I was the young adult program director. I was also hired by Sam Sheps (who was the director of the YMHA from 1936-1967) to run B’nai Brith Camp (on Towne Island) when we opened – in 1954. I was the director in ’55 and they wanted me to be the director in ’56. By then I had two children, I was practicing law, and I just couldn’t put aside the law practice for two or three months.”
I wondered what was the relationship between the Y and B’nai Brith at the time?
Sid answered: “B’nai Brith didn’t have youth activities at the time – so they hired the YMHA to run and staff B’nai Brith Camp.
“As a matter of fact, it was around that time that I sponsored a folk festival with different nationalities – folk music, at the YMHA on Hargrave…Ukrainian dancers, Scottish dancers, English dancers – it was like the beginning of Folklorama.
“I was super active in all Y activities – the athletic activities, the social activities, theatrical activities…I was there all the time.”
I asked Sid how long he continued to be an active member at the Y on Hargrave?
“I continued to be a member and I participated mostly in noon-hour volleyball and Sunday morning basketball, and I joined the health club. I did those activities and sat on the board of directors – until I became a Minister of the Crown (in the first NDP government, under Ed Schreyer, in 1969). I stayed on the board until 1971.”

At that point I asked Sid about the plays with which he was involved. My question stemmed from the aforesaid program that Al Chisvin had loaned me and which featured a playbill from 1952 for a musical called “Careeba”. On that playbill, I noted that additional lyrics were by Sid Green and that Sid Green also had a role in the play as a bartender. I wondered what those theatrical productions were like?
“I was very much involved in (Lou) Rusoff’s plays,” Sid said. At that point Sid asked me whether I knew any Yiddish?
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “There was a song called ‘Peanuts’. It’s a Mexican song. And he (Rusoff) wrote Yiddish lyrics for it. They were very good.” (At that point Sid began to sing the song in Yiddish. You can watch him singing that song here: https://www.facebook.com/TheJewishPost/videos/2379947542124703/?t=4)
Later, after I had concluded interviewing Sid, he phoned me to add some more information about the theatrical productions that were put on at both the Albert Street Y and the Y on Hargrave in the 40s and 50s. He noted that many individuals who went on to achieve stellar careers in the entertainment industry performed in skits and full scale productions at the Y. Sid mentioned Norman Mittleman, Aubrey Tadman, Alan Blye, David Steinberg, and Lil Kligman (who later changed her name to Libby Morris and became an actress).
You can watch the full interview with Sid Green in the video section of this website: https://jewishpostandnews.ca/categories-media/71-local/245-sid-green-reminisces-about-the-old-ymha

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