Connect with us

Features

Avimelek family from Turkey happy with new life in Winnipeg

By MYRON LOVE In the 140-year history of our Jewish community, Jewish families coming here from Turkey have been rare indeed. There was the Hazan amily, which came in the 1920s – and the larger Kives family, who passed through Turkey in the 1920s on its way to – first – Saskatchewan and the farming life, before settling in Winnipeg.
In the past couple of years though, several more Jewish families from Turkey have decided to make their home here – including the Avimelek family from Istanbul.
Mother Etel Ergun Avimelek reports that her family is one of five Jewish families recently arrived here from Istanbul, all of whom live within a few blocks of each other in Whyte Ridge.
“Our families get together almost weekly,” she says.
The Avimelek Family – Etel, her husband Morris, and children, 18-year-old Igal, and 16-year-old Edem, landed in Winnipeg in 2020. Etel Avimelek notes that her family’s roots in Istanbul go back over 500 years – to the time of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492.
“We had a good life in Istanbul,” Etel Avimelek says. “Morris and I both had good educations and trained as engineers.”
She reports that the Jewish population in Istanbul numbers about 12,000 in a city of more than 15 million. “A lot of Turkish Jews,” she notes, “end up marrying Turks.”
She adds that the city is very crowded, made more so in recent years by a large influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in the region.
She further notes that a lot of younger Jewish families are leaving Istanbul – and Turkey – with most choosing to go to Israel. “We were considering moving to Israel, too,” she notes, “before we learned about Winnipeg’s Jewish community through the (Jewish Federation) website. It sounded like a nice, welcoming community with a good Jewish school. We contacted Dalia (Szpiro, director of the Federation’s GrowWinnipeg initiative) and learned from her that there were already other Jewish families from Turkey here.”
The Avimeleks began the application process to come here in 2017 and finally landed in 2020. As Etel observes, it wasn’t the best time to arrive, due to the Covid lockdowns, as it made things more difficult in getting to know people.
They quickly enrolled the kids in Gray Academy. This year Igal is in first year engineering at UBC.
Morris, she notes, worked in the textile industry in Istanbul. Here, he has established the Upperwear Textile Agency – marketing textile products online. Etel set herself up in business and, in September, began working full time for her biggest client, the University of Manitoba, helping to update the university’s information systems.
“We are happy with our life here,” she says. “We have made friends and we are comfortable. We don’t miss living in a bigger city.”

Continue Reading

Features

First, Do No Harm: How Dr. Newman’s Valedictorian Speech to U of M Graduates Got History So Wrong

Dougald Lamont

By DOUGALD LAMONT I am compelled to respond Dr. Gem Newman in his delivery of a valedictorian address to the medical graduates of the University of Manitoba medical school, which was shockingly ignorant of history.

Dr. Newman’s understanding is challenged by the facts of history, on every topic he touched on: Canada, Settler-Colonialism, the relationship with Indigenous people, and Israel’s founding.
It was a disservice to his peers, and to informed decision-making around the current crisis.

If we want a more just and peaceful world, we need to press for political solutions. I personally favour an immediate cessation of hostilities and release of Israeli hostages, and humanitarian aid to Gaza with oversight from the International Community. That is why we need a political process to peacefully negotiate a new political arrangement. If it is a two-state solution, I believe it must emerge from this process. It should be self-evident, just from the point of view of practical politics, that a single state that consists of two populations who are in the midst of a horrific war, will likely face insurmountable obstacles in trying to work and govern together.

Reasonable people should be able to agree that Israel should continue to exist, that the Palestinian people should be free, that the fighting should end, and those who have violated the rules of war should be held to account. To be blunt, neither side has a monopoly on virtue.

International Human Rights Law “prohibits attacks directed against civilians, as well as indiscriminate attacks, namely those that strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.”

I also believe it’s reasonable to assert that the current leadership of Israel and Gaza should have no place at that table, given that they are responsible for the current crisis. The intelligence failures alone around October 7 should disqualify the current senior Israeli leadership, just as the attack of October 7 should disqualify Hamas.

Declaring recognition of a Palestinian state, with no defined or agreed-upon leadership or borders, short-circuits any such political process.

That is because while some support a two-state solution, others quite clearly favour a “one-state” solution that would essentially spell the end of the State of Israel. I have never seen the term “Zionist” tossed around as such a slur, as a kind of shorthand for holding an unacceptable view.

A Zionist is basically someone who thinks the State of Israel should exist – and the state of Israel does exist. Before Israel’s founding, debating whether or not it should exist was hypothetical. Now that it does exist, debating whether it should or not can be credibly interpreted as an existential threat.

For Israelis, and for many Jews, that clearly amounts to the destruction of their nation, including by violence. This, too, is exactly what many states and state-supported terror groups have committed to.

That is why the lack of clarity around some slogans seems to be calling for more conflict, not for a peaceful resolution.

When asked about the slogan “From the River to the Sea,” some have shrugged and said that it was Israelis who first came up with the slogan. This is true, but that is because the State of Israel does stretch from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinian territories do not. It would require Israeli territory for Palestine to reach from the river to the sea, which again, can suggest that Israel will just become Palestine.

Dr Newman should know that for Israelis, and for many Jews, that clearly amounts to the destruction of their nation, including by violence. That is exactly what many states and state-supported terror groups have committed to, and have been promising for decades.
 
If we want a more peaceful and just world, we should strive to achieve those ends in ways that are peaceful and just, and that requires a political path.

It is not that the history is better than you might expect – it is worse.

The Nazi Holocaust was Modelled on the U.S. Killing of Indigenous People and Seizure of their Lands
 
There is an important link between the treatment of Indigenous North Americans and the Nazi Holocaust. Hitler believed that he could turn Germany into the a world dominating empire by emulating the way the United States had killed indigenous people and taken their property, except Hitler’s goal was to exterminate every Jew in the world.

“In the Nazi state, Lebensraum became not just a romantic yearning for a return to the East but a vital strategic component of its imperial and racist visions. For the Germans, eastern Europe represented their “Manifest Destiny.” Hitler and other Nazi thinkers drew direct comparisons to American expansion in the West. During one of his famous “table talks,” Hitler decreed that “there’s only one duty: to Germanize this country [Russia] by the immigration of Germans and to look upon the natives as Redskins.”
 
As Nazi troops moved across Europe and the Soviet Union, Jews were rounded up, their homes, properties and businesses stolen. Some were murdered on the spot, lined up and shot.
Some were stuffed into the backs of trucks with the exhaust piped in, and driven back and forth until everyone inside was dead. Others still were gathered up, put on trains and sent to death camps where they were killed in factories purpose-built for killing human beings. Their stolen belongings were used to finance their own deaths, and the gold was retrieved from their teeth.
 
Jews were targeted by the Germans for complete extermination wherever the lived in the world, based both on pseudoscientific race theory about the supposed supremacy of the imagined “Aryan” race, and antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish global influence.
 
Jews were being rounded up and slaughtered in the millions, and as refugees, had no place to go. They were refused entry to country after country, including Canada.

That is one of the very major reasons the creation of the State of Israel cannot be compared to settler colonialism by European or Asian empires colonizing Africa, Oceania, the Americas. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 occurred with the support of the United Nations, as well as the global left. The historical reason for that is relevant.

Clearly, after the Second World War, it created pressure for Jews to have their homeland, so that they would not always face being a minority in a country when, because of their stateless existence, they had faced pogroms, slaughter and discrimination for millennia.

The Palestinian Cause was Undermined Because its Leader was a Nazi Collaborator

There is no question that the at the time of the creation of Israel, the credibility of the Palestinian cause was undermined because Mufti Amin al-Husseini, the leader of Palestine, was a Nazi Collaborator. Al-Husseini received personal financial aid from the Nazi government, participated in Nazi propaganda broadcasts, and worked to find recruits for the Nazi SS.
 
In 1941, Al-Husseini travelled to Berlin and on November 28, met with Hitler.
 
“Al-Husseini began the conversation by declaring that the Germans and the Arabs had the same enemies: “the English, the Jews, and the Communists.” He proposed an Arab revolt all across the Middle East to fight the Jews; the English, who still ruled Palestine and controlled Iraq and Egypt; and even the French, who controlled Syria and Lebanon. 

(The British had secured a mandate for Palestine at the Paris peace conference in 1919, and made halting attempts to create a “Jewish national home” there without prejudicing the rights of the Arab population.) He also wanted to form an Arab legion, using Arab prisoners from the French Empire who were then POWs inside Germany. 

He also asked Hitler to declare publicly, as the German government had privately, that it favored “the elimination of the Jewish national home” in Palestine.
 
The Fuhrer then made the following statement to the Mufti, enjoining him to “lock it in the uttermost depths of his heart”:


  1. He (the Fuhrer) would carry on the battle to the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist empire in Europe.
    1. At some moment which was impossible to set exactly today but which in any event was not distant, the German armies would in the course of this struggle reach the southern exit from Caucasia.
      1. As soon as this had happened, the Fuhrer would on his own give the Arab world the assurance that its hour of liberation had arrived. Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power. 
In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. It would then be his task to set off the Arab operations, which he had secretly prepared. When that time had come, Germany could also be indifferent to French reaction to such a declaration.”
         
        Al Husseini’s work was actively financed by the Nazi government.
         
        “From spring 1943 to spring 1944, Husseini personally received 50,000 marks monthly and Gailani 65,000 for operational expenses.” [Rashid Ali al-Gaylani was the Prime Minister of Iraq]. 

”In addition, they each received living expenses averaging 80,000 marks per month, an absolute fortune. A German field marshal received a base salary of 26,500 marks per year.”
         
        Along with other Arab broadcasters, al-Husayni disseminated pro-Axis, anti-British, and anti-Jewish propaganda from Berlin to the Middle East. In radio broadcasts, he called for an Arab revolt against Great Britain and the destruction of the Jewish settlements in Palestine.

        Al-Husayni spoke often of a “worldwide Jewish conspiracy” that controlled the British and US governments and sponsored Soviet Communism. He argued that “world Jewry” aimed to infiltrate and subjugate Palestine, a sacred religious and cultural center of the Arab and Muslim world, as a staging ground for the seizure of all Arab lands. In his vision of the world, the Jews intended to enslave and exploit Arabs, to seize their land, to expropriate their wealth, undermine their Muslim faith and corrupt the moral fabric of their society. He labeled the Jews as the enemy of Islam, and used crude racist terminology to depict Jews and Jewish behavior, particularly as he forged a closer relationship with the SS in 1943 and 1944. He described Jews as having immutable characteristics and behaviors. On occasion, he would compare Jewishness to infectious disease and Jews to microbes or bacilli. In at least one speech attributed to him, he advocated killing Jews wherever Arabs found them. He consistently advocated “removing” the Jewish homeland from Palestine and, on occasion, driving every Jew out of Palestine and other Arab lands.
         
        Al Husseini was directly involved in recruiting for the SS.
         
        “When the SS decided in February 1943 to recruit among Bosnian Muslims for a new division of the Waffen-SS, SS Main Office Chief Berger enlisted al-Husayni in a recruiting drive in Bosnia from March 30 and April 11. On April 29, Berger reported that 24,000–27,000 recruits had signed up and noted that the “visit of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had had an extraordinarily successful impact.” Both al-Husayni and the SS repeatedly referred to the success of the 13th Waffen-SS Mountain Division (also known as “Handschar”).”
         
        After the Second World War, the 13th Waffen-SS Mountain Division was charged with war crimes and the killing of over 5,000 Jewish and Serbian civilians. In the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, hundreds of its members fought against Israel.
         
        All of this is critical historical context for Zionism of the time, and for the creation of the State of Israel. There can be no question that Al Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis meant that his cause was treated with considerably less sympathy.  
         
        None of this negates the present-day mistreatment and injustice towards present-day Palestinians, but it does mean that their experience does not mirror that of Indigenous people, nor is the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 comparable to other “settler colonial” states, like South Africa, or Canada.

Tommy Douglas, Eugenics and Provinces’ Role in the Canadian Colonial State
 
This brings me to my second point about Dr. Newman’s valedictorian speech, which was his citing Tommy Douglas as a moral beacon in a speech where he also mentioned Indigenous health outcomes.

While Douglas enjoys a reputation as a paragon of political virtue, he and his party are responsible for one of the most horrifically damaging colonial systems for Indigenous people in Canada in the last 70 years: provincial child welfare systems. This is in addition to his promotion of eugenics-based sterilization, another aspect of his political career that is minimized and ignored

For all of the claims that the left in Canada is “woke,” the role of progressive politicians and parties in our country’s profoundest tragedies is not just forgotten and unknown, it is buried.
 
The New Democratic Party was created as a successor to the CCF party. While the NDP is today seen as a party of labour, and the “working man,” the CCF, as social gospelers, were evangelical Christians, often British, who promoted eugenics and forced sterilization as a low-cost solution to poverty, mental illness, and disability, and they did so for years.

In 1933, Tommy Douglas published his Master’s thesis from McMaster University, “The Problems of the Subnormal Family,” based on his time working at the Weyburn Mental Hospital. Weyburn Mental Hospital was not a small-town facility – at the time of its construction, it was the largest building ever built in the British Empire.

In the Making of a Socialist, Douglas passed off his thesis in a later interview as being on the subject of “Christian sociology,” when it endorsed the segregation and forced sterilization of people he deemed to be inferior.

Douglas’s thesis topic, in his own words was that:
 
“The subnormal family is an ever-increasing menace physically, mentally and morally, to say nothing of a constantly rising expense. Surely the continued policy of allowing the subnormal family to bring in to the world large numbers of individuals to fill our jails and mental institutions and to live upon charity is one of consummate folly.”
 
Douglas starts his thesis this way:
 
“The problem of the subnormal family is chiefly one for the State. Since the state has the problem of legislating in the best interests of Society, and since we have seen that the subnormal family is an ever-increasing menace physically, mentally and morally, to say nothing of a constantly rising expense, it is, surely the duty of the State to meet this problem.
 
The suggested remedies which the state might effect are three in number:
 
1)    The Improvement of Existing Marriage Laws;
2)    Segregation;
3)    Sterilization of Unfit, and Increased Knowledge of Birth Control.
 
He elaborates:
 
“Sterilization of the mentally and physically defective has long been advocated, but only recently has it seeped into the public consciousness. From the day when Plato wrote his Republic to the present, eugenicists have advanced various solutions to the problem of the defective, but sterilization seems to meet the requirements of the situation most aptly.
 
For while it gives protection to society, yet it deprives the defective of nothing except the privilege of bringing into the world children who would only be a care to themselves and a charge to society.
 
4.) Another effect of the abnormal family is the cost of maintenance: It may be a mercenary view to take of the problem, yet in view of mounting taxation, it is of importance to the average citizen to know the effect of the subnormal family on his tax bill.”
 
Douglas did not drop the subject. In 1934, Douglas proposed it with the youth wing of the CCF, and the next year, 1935, Douglas was elected MP for the first time.

The power of Douglas’ carefully cultivated political reputation is so great that for many, it creates a cognitive dissonance so profound that it is dismissed. They puzzle as to how a person they so greatly admire could have advocated for forced sterilization.

The question as to how Douglas and other eugenicists could express such concern and apparent love while also calling for sterilization is because they see people who are poor, mentally ill or who break the law as defective, and subhuman, because of their particular brand of radical Christian ideology. Treating people as subhuman means treating them as animals, where the usual rules of human morality no longer apply. It is a kind of cruel pity – and instead of alleviating suffering, they opt for ending it. 

Douglas was not a young man – He was an adult, in his 30s, calling for forced sterilization and segregation, just as his political mentor and family pastor, J. S. Woodsworth had done.

J. S. Woodsworth, Sterilization and the Bureau of Social Research
 
In 1909, Woodsworth published “Strangers Within Our Gates,” which was blatantly racist, ranking various groups according to their capacity to integrate into Canadian society.

Woodsworth’s treatment of Blacks is subhuman. He favorably cited U.S. progressive John R Common, who Woodsworth quotes saying, “The very qualities of intelligence and manliness which are essential for citizenship in a democracy were systematically expunged from the negro race through two hundred years of slavery.”
 
Woodsworth also endorsed Residential Schools as the solution for dealing with First Nations, favourably citing the Methodist Principal of the Brandon Residential School, where dozens of children had died, who said that “Both Church and State should have, as a final goal, the destruction and end of treaty and reservation life.”
 
Throughout the 1910s, Woodsworth ran the “Bureau of Social Research,” which publicly promoted eugenics and forced sterilization across Canada’s Western Provinces. Woodsworth’s editorials calling for eugenic sterilization were printed on the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press, and were considered as official recommendations to provincial governments.

According to a 2004 article in the Journal of Historical Sociology, Sterilizing the ‘Feeble-Minded’: Eugenics in Alberta, Canada 1929-1972, Woodsworth’s work directly informed the adoption of sterilization policies in Alberta.

“The eugenics platform was championed in western Canada by a number of influential social reformers including J. S. Woodsworth, a Winnipeg-based proponent of the “social gospel.” Woodsworth was concerned with the declining quality of immigrants arriving in the west. He translated his personal fear into a public crisis, spreading the idea that no segment of Canadian society would be left untouched by the influx of thousands of immigrants of inferior stock from central and eastern Europe. In time, his policy recommendations turned to eugenics and sterilization programs” (Chapman 1977: 13).
 
In 1928, Alberta and BC both passed forced sterilization laws. Researchers have directly attributed Alberta’s decision to adopt forced sterilization to Woodsworth’s advocacy. One of the Alberta MNA’s at the time who supported the bill, William Irvine, was a close friend and colleague of Woodsworth’s. When Irvine was later elected as an MP, it was in his office that the CCF was founded. 
 
From 1929 to 1972, when the Alberta eugenics board was finally disbanded, the Board saw 4,800 cases of proposed sterilization and approved virtually all (4,739) of these; 2,834 sterilization procedures were eventually performed, the majority on females.

That was not the only questionable judgment that Douglas made in his political career. In 1935, when Douglas won a seat as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons for the first time, he did so with an endorsement from the radical right Social Credit Premier of Alberta, which was considered by some to be fascist. The creator of the “Social Credit” economic philosophy, Major Douglas, was explicitly anti-semitic.  
 
The endorsement was arranged for Douglas’ by a key member of his campaign team, Daniel C. Grant, who had been the chief organizer for all of Western Canada for the Canadian Ku Klux Klan.
 
Grant had been a driver for J J Maloney, the head of the Ku Klux Klan, and had worked in Manitoba as a recruiter and organizer. In 1928 in Winnipeg, Grant had delivered a speech saying that
 
“The Klan strove for ‘racial purity. We fight against intermarrying of Negroes and whites, Japs and White, Chinese and Whites. This intermarriage is a menace to the world. If I am walking down the street and a Negro doesn’t give me half the sidewalk, I know what to do.” He then lashed out at the Jews and said that “The Jews are too powerful … they are the slave masters who are throttling the throats of white persons to enrich themselves.”
 
A 1974 biography by Doris Shackleton, a former CBC reporter and NDP staffer, entitled “Tommy Douglas” openly acknowledged Grant’s work organizing for the KKK.
 
In 1929, Grant and the KKK had helped elect the Conservative-Progressive coalition government in Saskatchewan, which had earned him a patronage post in charge of the labour office in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where Douglas met him. Grant was fired when a new government was elected, because they didn’t want KKK organizers working in the labour office.
 
There have been various attempts to minimize Douglas’ promotion of eugenics, saying that his views were changed by a trip to Germany in 1936. In fact, Douglas went to Germany because he wanted to see one of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies.
 
In a 1956 interview, published in the book “The Making of a Socialist,” Douglas explained – when asked about his 1936 trip to Germany the year after he was elected a Member of Parliament:
 
“[Interviewer] You were in Europe for how long?
 
[Douglas] About three months. We went from Switzerland to Nuremberg, because I wanted to see the great annual festivity Hitler put on each year there. It was frightful. I came back and warned my friends about the great German bombers roaring over the parade of self-propelled guns and tanks, Hitler standing there giving his salute, with Göring and the rest of the Nazi bigwigs by his side.
 
There was no doubt then that Hitler was simply using Spain as a dress rehearsal for an attack on other nations.
 
[Interviewer] It was with very great difficulty that people were able to appreciate the anti-Semitism that was going on in Germany. Did you yourself see any examples of it?
 
[Douglas] I didn’t see any. Most of it was over by the time I got there.”
 
To suggest that in 1936, most of the anti-semitism in Germany was over defies reason and evidence.
 
“The New Residential Schools” Tommy Douglas and the creation of provincial child welfare

These are just some of the reasons that holding up Tommy Douglas as exemplar of political purity, is “problematic”. It is far from the only example of Douglas’ historic association with damaging policies that has been whitewashed.
 
The reality of Canada as a colonial state is that provincial governments have played a direct role in the mistreatment of Indigenous people, in areas of jurisdiction that the provinces themselves asked for, and Tommy Douglas is one of the people responsible.
 
Again, in Shackleton’s biography, Douglas describes how, in 1951, the Federal Government began to shut down residential schools, “after a series of negative reports,” that at the urging of the CCF and Premier Tommy Douglas, the federal government transferred responsibility for First Nations child welfare to provinces.
 
The result has been 70 years of provincial governments seizing Indigenous children from their families and never returning them, in numbers greater than the total yearly attendance of Residential Schools.

The “60s scoop” meant thousands of children across Canada were taken from their homes and adopted out across North America and around the world.
 
“The department of Indigenous Affairs indicates that the number of Indigenous children adopted between 1960 and 1990 was 11,132,” though some research suggests it was over 20,000.”
 
CFS has been described by Cindy Blackstock as “the New Residential Schools” and the scale of it across Canada is colossal.
 
In the last decade, the number of Indigenous children apprehended and in custody of CFS in Manitoba alone exceeded the total population of every single residential school across Canada. By 2013, the province of Manitoba had 11,000 children in the custody of CFS.

According to the Lancet, it was the highest apprehension rate in the world. That is more, in a single province, than the entire “60s scoop” across Canada over 30 years. If that weren’t bad enough, governments in Manitoba and British Columbia also seized federal child allowances intended for those children.
 
This horrific policy is the direct cause of Indigenous misery, and shorter life expectancy. Over half of the homeless population in Winnipeg were at one point wards of CFS. Canadian provinces took Indigenous children from their families, took their money, and left them on the street at the age of 18 with no supports. Our jails, our runaways, our gangs, and tragedy after tragedy have the common thread of CFS involvement. Because CFS is not just about looking after the safety children, it has always also been about controlling and threatening parents.
 
That’s why the top five of 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are all concerned with children in provincial child welfare systems.
 
This absolute catastrophe of a social policy was conceived of, created and sustained, by provincial governments for decades, and directly contributed to the relentless trauma that provincial governments have inflicted on Indigenous people, and about which there is a deafening silence.
 
Why are children being seized? Largely because of First Nations and Indigenous poverty and neglect. Why is there Indigenous poverty? Because, for decades, provincial governments across Western Canada have approved megaprojects – dams, mines, oil and gas – much of it on First Nations land.
 
In Manitoba, there are dams that have destroyed Indigenous communities’ self-sufficiency by destroying the environment. Entire communities flooded out of existence, dammed rivers destroying lakes that were the source of successful commercial fisheries, wiped out by Hydro and the Government of Manitoba, without compensation.
 
What’s more, provincial governments are funded on a per capita basis – for every person who lives within their borders, including on reserve, yet provincial governments like Manitoba exclude First Nations from receiving that funding.
 
Indigenous people in Canada consistently face the most discrimination in provincial systems, and when a catastrophe or a tragedy inevitably happens, the response has always been to defend the system. Indigenous deaths in ERs, in jail, in CFS or as victims of crime are blamed on the victims. 
 
Together, provincial governments’ combined budgets are larger than the federal government, and Indigenous Canadians face terrible discrimination from provincial governments in economic supports, education, health, justice, child and family services and natural development.
 
Because the federal policies are the same everywhere: it’s the provincial policies that are different, which is why child and family poverty, and Indigenous incarceration in Manitoba are so much worse than any other province.
 
So, when Dr. Gem Newman lectures his fellow classmates on the injustices of Canada’s treatment of First Nations, he should know that one of the direct causes of homelessness, mental health, and forced poverty in Manitoba and across Canada is the direct result of decades of seizures of Indigenous children, which are a direct consequence of a policy brought in by Tommy Douglas to replace Residential Schools.

Tommy Douglas and provincial governments created some of the most damaging modern policies Indigenous people in Canada have experienced – and are still experiencing, every day.
 
As a valedictorian and as a doctor, Dr Newman is an authority, and he says a doctor’s advocacy is in a doctor’s job description. Advocates and authorities have a responsibility to work from evidence. That is why it is paramount for an authority, whether they are practicing medicine or politics, to ensure they know what they are talking about. Slogans are not solutions, and Dr. Newman’s facile understanding of history is a disservice to his audience.
 
It has to be said Dr. Newman’s ignorance about this should not be a surprise, because there is an effective conspiracy of silence which makes it a forbidden topic in Canada, because it is politically inconvenient.
 
Notably, it highlights the hypocrisy and moral double standards at work among high-profile Canadian progressives, Naomi Klein being the most prominent.

On Freedom of Speech, Civil Disobedience on Campus on Beyond
 
I write all of this as a strong supporter of freedom of expression, on and off campus including protest, investigative journalism, whistleblowing, satire, parody, speaking truth to power, and calling out corruption. I have personally done all of them. Rights have never been about doing and saying whatever you want, wherever and whenever.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out the circumstances where you are guaranteed rights to free expression. The Charter generally only applies to Government, not universities, except in Alberta, where courts ruled otherwise.

The reason for this is university autonomy. Universities are workplace and a place of research and education, where the goal is to work to an ever greater understanding of the world, and that has always required discernment. It is not a public square or an unmoderated internet forum, and if you don’t abide by the rules, you do not have a right to stay.

A simple example of speech that can get you removed from campus is plagiarism. The university sets out rules around free inquiry and academic freedom, but you can’t plagiarize.

This is important in the context of campus protests and civil disobedience. Protestors are not being silenced because of the content of their speech, nor are they choosing to break unjust laws to show how unjust they are. 

The distinction here is one that was drawn by Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King. He was in favour of direct action and civil disobedience by having people be willing to be arrested and jailed, and face the consequences and punishment, because the unjust law they broke was asking for service at a segregated coffee shop, or sitting at the front of the bus. They actively discouraged and called out anyone who broke other laws as undermining the cause.

The laws that are being broken in this instance are ones that apply to everyone. It is not about the cause or the message, at all. It is about trespassing, or blocking a highway, or ignoring a court order.

There is a basic mistake that many commentators and protestors are making. When protestors say they mean “peaceful,” they think that if it is non-violent, that it must ,by legal definition be peaceful, and legal. You do not have to be violent to be “disturbing the peace.” Blocking highways and spamming 911 lines are not violent, but both are against the law, for obvious reasons, because someone could die. Canadian Supreme Court Precedent makes it clear, there are limits to protest, because other people have the right to be free from disruption.

If protestors are arguing that the injustice is so great, that they must break the law for justice to be done, then this is exactly the motivation behind what is known as “noble cause corruption” in policing. It’s just as unacceptable.

Freedom of expression is protected because it is powerful, and it is powerful for good and for harm. That’s why accuracy – especially at a university – matters. It means weeding out the lies, manipulation, dishonesty and deception. It means recognizing that human beings are contradictory, and flawed. It means working hard not to deceive others, or yourself, while we live in a world where armies of people are paid to deceive us, and recognizing that there may be more than two sides to every story. Two bitter opponents on either side of an issue can both be wrong.

“Resistance” that takes the form of attacks on civilians is just as unacceptable as reckless military actions that result in civilian deaths. Neither are morally or strategically defensible: to the contrary, they only further radicalize and inflame the situation.

 Dougald Lamont (B.A., M.A) is a graduate of the University of Manitoba and a former member of the Board of Governors. He is the past MLA for St. Boniface and the former Leader of the provincial Manitoba Liberal Party from 2017-2023.

Continue Reading

Features

We Must Not  Be Silent! 

By Dr. SOLLY DREMAN (formerly of Winnipeg, now of Jerusalem, where for years he was a Professor of Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The recent scandalous valedictorian speech at the Max Rady College of Medicine by Gem Newman should not be forgotten or forgiven, nor should we as Jews be silent. Newman’s address was a biased, prejudiced  condemnation of Israel and, by association, of the Jewish people at large. In  labelling Israelis as colonialists he ignored the fact that the Jewish people  have been indigeneous to that region of the Middle East for over 3700 years and his claim that the Jews are colonizers and have unjustifiably displaced the Palestinian people and are divesting them of their homeland is false. 
There have always been Jews living in that area since Abraham moved his family from Mesopotamia and the First and Second Temples were built, dating back over 3000  years. Arabs began to populate the area only later when economic, industrial, and technological advances occurred and, in 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, five Arab armies invaded the country  with the intent to exterminate all Jews and take it over. Numerous conflicts have taken place since with the latest being the barbaric attack on  October 7th by Hamas when they invaded the Gaza Envelope brutally raping, killing through decapitating,  torturing and burning alive approximately 1200 men, women and children and abducting 252 people including women, children and the elderly with Hamas promising to continue to do so.


The  overwhelming negative response by many fellow Jews – both in Israel and in the Diaspora to Newman’s provocative address provides a platform for a  firm but essential message: “We must not remain silent.”  The protest occurring in academia today and the reluctance of senior academic administrators to react forcefully to curtail the protests either condoning or promoting violence against Jews, nor to condemn the antisemitic nature of these protests, is disturbing. To the best of my knowledge, few senior academic administrators have acted forcefully against such demonstrations nor taken actions against the blatant antisemitic nature of the majority of these protests.

I alerted Ernest Rady recently to Newman’s speech and, to his credit, he immediately wrote a strong letter of objection, which reflected his own pain and disappointment, to both the Dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Peter Nickerson, and to the President of the University of Manitoba, Michael Benarroch.   Rady pointed out that, paradoxically, the medical school, which is named after his father Max,  had had admission quotas for Jews for years.

Dean Nickerson responded immediately to Rady’s letter, with President Benarroch also responding – after being bombarded by numerous responses to Newman’s inciteful remarks.
As a Jew and a former Winnipeger who made Aliyah to  Israeli  in 1964, I am deeply disturbed by the current situation and the negative reaction of the international community at large. Newman’s address in an academic setting  provides a platform for addressing some of my concerns and particularly with the concern that we not remain silent. As a Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology and former Brigade Psychologist of the Jerusalem Brigade in the Yom Kippur War I have been intimately involved with some of the mainstreams of Israeli life, such as war and terrorism, death and dying, post traumatic stress, immigration, and family crisis. Israel today is faced with a crisis for its very survival and the maintenance of a home in time of crisis for the Jewish people. If we do not fight for this right and for our homeland there is a danger we will not survive either as a nation nor as a people. Relevant to this concern is what is occurring in academia today internationally  and our need to be active and address these concerns. In this light we should be mindful of what occurred in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s when Jews were barred from academic studies and Jewish faculty were fired en masse – a prelude to the Holocaust.

Hence, it is imperative that we as concerned Jews not be silent today and speak out loudly and clearly  about  events like the Newman valedictorian address. It is my opinion that we should only reconsider future funding of academic institutions if  they take firm steps against antisemitism, such as the president of the University of Manitoba suggested , when he wrote of promoting the idea of education for students, faculty and staff regarding antisemitism.  As for Gem Newman, who has taken the Hippocratic Oath to devote his life to treating patients regardless of nationality, race or ethnic origin, he  and his kind should not be licensed to practice medicine unless an apology is rendered by him for his speech – which he has stubbornly and smugly refused to do to date.
In closing I want to state that my concern is deep and genuine and I pray that the uncertainty that is facing us today as Jews, Israelis, Winnipegers and citizens of the world at large will be surmounted.  This will require patience and the willingness of all parties involved not only to speak, but to listen carefully.  

Continue Reading

Features

 Booze, Glorious Booze! Bill Wolchock and Prohibition in Manitoba

Ed. introduction: This story was originally published to our website in October, 2023, but it resonated so much with readers – who have continually told me they enjoyed it so much, I’ve decided to bring it back to our Home page.

To explain, last September, I began what turned into an unexpectedly amusing dive into a part of our Jewish community’s history that is endlessly fascinating to me when I wrote about a book that was published in October titled “Jukebox Empire: The Mob and the Dark Side of the Amerian Dream.”
That book is about someone by the name of Wilf Rabin, who was originally Wilf Rabinovitch. Rabin was born in Morden, but moved to Chicago as a young man. Eventually he became involved in the juke box business – a business which was ripe from the outset for exploitation by criminals, especially the Mafia, as juke boxes spun out huge amounts of cash that were never reported to tax authorities.
In the course of writi­ng my article about that book, I mentioned several other Jewish characters who preferred to make their money illegally. I also referred to someone whose name was spelled “Bill Wolchuk” in a book about Winnipeg’s North End, but I made the mistake of saying “Wolchuk” wasn’t Jewish.
Boy, did that unleash a torrent of corrections from readers. It was made quite clear to me that Bill “Wolchock” was very much Jewish – and that he was practically a legend in this town.
Then I received a phone call from reader Arnold Rice, who told me that he had in his possession an article from a December 2, 2002 Winnipeg Free Press about Bill Wolchock. Arnold offered to loan me the article, but I declined, saying I could probably find the article on the Winnipeg Pubic Library digital archives.
That I did – and when I scanned the article, which was written by a former Free Press writer by the name of Bill Redekop, I thought to myself: Here’s the perfect article for our Rosh Hashanah issue: It’s much too long to ever fit into any other issue – and the theme will likely resonate with many of our readers who might consider atoning for their sins on Yom Kippur.
In any event, I was able to get in touch with Bill Redekop and I obtained his permission to reprint the article in full (for a fee, of course). It turns out the article forms a chapter in a book written by Redekop in 2002, titled “Crimes of the Century – Manitoba’s Most Notorious True Crimes.”
I told Redekop that I was actually able to find the book on Amazon – much to his amazement, but that it was also available at several branches of the Winnipeg Public Library. Now, it wasn’t easy transcribing that chapter of Redekop’s book, but I thought it might prove delightful reading for many of our readers.
So, here goes: The story of Manitoba’s greatest bootlegger – Bill Wolchock – someone whose success was on a par with that other great Jewish bootlegging family: the Bronfmans. (Wolchock, however, liked bootlegging so much that he turned down the opportunity to go straight, unlike the Bronfmans. Can you just imagine how much the Combined Jewish Appeal could have benefited from a “straight” Bill Wolchock? And what of all the buildings that would have been named after him – and honours he would have received from our Jewish community, if he had only decided to emulate the Bronfmans?)

A pair of employees talking on the floor of the CNR shops in Transcona sounds like an unlikely launch to the biggest bootleg operation in Manitoba history.

It was the early 1920s under Prohibition. Leonard Wolchock, 74 son of bootlegger, Bill Wolchock, tells the story.
“Sonny (nickname), a CNR boilermaker one day came up to my dad, who was a machinist with the railway and asked if he could make a part for him. “What’s it for?” my dad asked. “It’s for a still,” Sonny said. Sonny was making stills for farmers out in the country. My dad said, “Sonny, you want to make a still? I’ll make you a still and we’re not going to fool around!”

What began as a still to make a little booze for themselves and friends during Canada’s Prohibition certain soon turned into something much bigger. The two CNR workers realized there was an insatiable thirst for their product. “I don’t think dad planned to be in the business for a long time. It was just going good,” said Leonard.
“Before you know it, my dad was making big booze. He could knock out almost 1000 gallons a day. He wasn’t one of these Mickey Mouse guys making 10 gallons like in the country, like in Libau and all these places. And as time went by, he became very big.”
Sonny and Wolchock parted ways when Wolchock quit the railway to work full-time at alcohol production, but other partners came on side. Every one of them was the same: blue collar men like Wolchock who made a living with their hands.
During Prohibition in the 1920s, Bill Wolchock ran the biggest bootlegging business in Manitoba. He was producing tens of thousands of gallons of 65% overproof alcohol – 94% pure alcohol.
Later, after his business took off, Wolchock shipped almost exclusively to the United States and mostly to gangsters. He stored illegal in farmers’ barns from the village of Reston in southwestern Manitoba to the village of Tolstoi in southeastern Manitoba. He stored illegal booze in a coal yard that used to be on Osborne Street in Winnipeg; in a large automobile service station in St. Boniface;. and in a St. Boniface lumberyard. He stored booze in a Pritchard Avenue horse barn. Those are just some of the known locations.
At the height of the Great Depression, Leonard estimates his father employed as many as 50 people who would not have been able to put food on the table otherwise. “They all had families, they all had houses, they all could put groceries on the table, thanks to the illegal business,” said Leonard.

Crooks or entrepreneurs?
Wolchock’s story has euded historians all these years. When Wolchock was finally caught and sentenced to five years in prison for income tax evasion, the Second World War was on, and his case didn’t get the publicity it might have otherwise. Besides, the Prohibition era had been over for more than a decade and was old news. Wolchock hadn’t gone straight like the whiskey-making Bronfman family, but had continued to bootleg long after Prohibition had ended.
Leonard Wolchock told the story of his father and a gang of North End bootleggers for the first time for this book. The story was checked against news clippings from the period.
Wolchock owned at least two large stills in Winnipeg. A huge four-story still operation in a building that was in the 1000 block on Logan Avenue, just east of McPhillips Street, that produced up to 400 gallons a day; and a huge still in a building that used to be on Tache Avenue, about 300 meters west of the Provencher Bridge on the river side. He also had smaller stills, often in rural locations and owned portable stills. He moved around from barn to barn outside Winnipeg to elude police.
Wolchock never considered what he was doing wrong, said his son. He thought the governments were wrong. People were going to find a way to drink one way or another.
“My father was a manufacturer. He was filling a niche market. I’m not ashamed of anything he did,” said Leonard.
Even the police chief who lived just five doors down from the Wolchock home at 409 Boyd Avenue would drop in regularly for a friendly drink. The fire commissioner, who lived one street over on College Avenue and three houses down, was another thirsty visitor. Granted, Wolchock ran a little import liquor businesses as a front, which was legal at the time, but Leonard has little doubt the authorities knew what his father’s main source of income was.
“The chief of police knew what my father was doing, and the fire chief was over at our place all the time!” said Leonard.

When the RCMP finally moved in on his father for income tax evasion, it was a measure of the respect for Wolchock that he was never arrested. Police called his dad with the news, said Leonard. “The police chief phoned up and said, ‘Bill, I want you to come down.’ They never sent anyone to get him.”
Booze, glorious booze! Was it more glamorous in Prohibition when it was illegal, or was the illegal liquor trade more harmful by turning otherwise law abiding men into criminals? Was illegal liquor more dangerous to your health (alcohol poisoning), and did concealed drink drinking lead to more serious drinking problems?
While both Canada and the United States brought in Prohibition, there was a great gulf in how Prohibition played out in the two countries. Like a typical Canadian TV drama, Prohibition was more shouting than shooting in Canada. In the United States, it was more shooting. Much more.
Corpses in the gangster booze wars in the US were rarely found with just one or two bullets in them, but four, five, eight. Gangsters adopted the submachine gun invented by John Thompson in the 1920s, variously dubbed the Tommy Gun, Chopper Gat, and Chicago Typewriter. Frank Gusenberg took 22 bullets in the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, when Al Capone’s men disguised as police officers lined up seven of George “Bugs” Moran’s men against a warehouse wall and opened fire. One creative reporter at the time wrote the machine guns “belched death.”
These two news stories from a single September day in 1930 on the front page of the Manitoba Free Press are typical:
Detroit, Michigan: “An unidentified man was killed tonight by two assassins, armed with sawed-off shotguns who stepped out of an automobile, fired four charges into the body of their victim and escaped in the auto. It was the third gang killing of the week here.
Elizabeth, New Jersey: “Twelve gunmen waited in ambush within Sunrise Brewery here today, disarming a raiding party of seven dry agents and shot and killed one of the invaders.” One federal agent was found shot eight times. “The gangsters, who apparently had been forewarned of the raid, than escaped.”
There are likely several reasons why Canada didn’t go the gangster route. One, there were more loopholes in Canadian law to get liquor if you wanted. For example, you could get a prescription for “medical” brandy. Two, we have never been as gun-happy as the Americans. And three, our Prohibition didn’t last as long. Prohibition in the U.S. ran from 1920-1933. In Manitoba, Prohibition started in 1916 and ended in 1923.
While Canada didn’t have the gang wars like down south, it did become the feeder system, the exporter, the good neighbour and free trader to the U.S. for liquor. Our Prohibition was winding down just as American Prohibition was getting started in 1920. How fortuitous for an enterprising bootlegger! Manitobans could legally buy liquor from the government and run it across the border into the hands of thirsty Americans.
And being neighbourly, we did. One of the major gateways was the Turtle Mountains in southwestern Manitoba. Booze poured through the hills, said James Ritchie, archivist with the Boissevain and Morton Regional Library.
“A longstanding tradition of smuggling through the Turtle Mountains already existed before Prohibition. People had already been smuggling things across for 50 years or more, so alcohol was just more item of trade,” Richie said.
Minot, North Dakota, of all places, was a gangster haven and was dubbed “Little Chicago” back then. A railway town, it served it as a distribution hub for liquor coming in from Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The 65-kilometer border of Turtle Mountain Hills is carved with trails every few kilometers so there was no way a border patrol could close down the rum running, said Richie. Many of the trails were simply road allowances where a road hadn’t got built. “If you tried to cross anywhere near Emerson, where it’s so flat, the custom guard could see your car coming from 10 miles away. You can’t do that in the Turtles. The custom guard can’t see you from 500 feet away,” said Ritchie.
Many a poor southwestern Manitoba farm family augmented their income with a little rumrunning. They could buy a dozen bottles every two weeks, the government-set allotment for personal use, and sell it for profit just a few miles away. “Prohibition created an economic opportunity for a lot of families,” said Ritchie.
But it was small trade compared to what the Bronfmans would do. Ezekiel and Mindel Bronfman arrived in Brandon in the late 1800s. The 1901 Canada Census lists them as residents of Brandon, along with their children, including Harry and Sam. It was after the Bronfmans had moved to Saskatchewan that they began selling whiskey to the United States in the 1920s. They exported whiskey by the boxcar-load. They later moved to Brandon briefly, where they continued the rumrunning before finally setting up in Montreal.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg was the bacchanalia of the West prior to Prohibition, as the late popular history writer James H Gray, liked to say. By 1882, Winnipeg had 86 hotels, most of which had had saloons. It also had five breweries, 24 wine and liquor stores (15 of which were on Main Street), and 64 grocery stores selling whiskey. The population was just 16,000.
When government turned off the tap, Manitobans went underground. Private stills sprang up everywhere. Ukrainian farmers were famous for their stills and acted as engineering consultants for the rest of the community. The Ukrainians seemed to have an inborn talent for erecting the contraptions, and some stills made the old country potato whiskey. In Ukrainian settlements like Vida, Sundown, and Tolstoi someone’s child was always assigned the task of changing the pail from under the spigot that caught the slow dripping distilled whiskey.

Even Winnipeg Mayor Ralph Webb, who had an artificial leg and was manager of the Marlborough Hotel, campaigned for more liberal liquor laws. Webb wanted to attract tourism by promoting Winnipeg as “the city of snowballs and highballs.”
The United States was interested in the Canadian experiment with Prohibition and summoned Francis William Russell, president of the Moderation League of Manitoba, a group that opposed Prohibition, to a U.S. Senate committee in Washington in 1926. Russell said Prohibition simply resulted in the proliferation of stills in Manitoba.
Arrests for illegal stills rose from 40 in 1918, two years into Prohibition in Manitoba, to 300 by 1923. “We found that the province of Manitoba was covered with stills,” he said. He claimed Prohibition hadn’t stopped drinking, it had just kicked it out of the public bar and into the home where it wreaked havoc on families.
One of the strangest still stories took place in the RM of Springfield, just east of Winnipeg, when an RCMP officer and a Customs inspector came across a “mystery” shack. Sure enough, they found a still inside and went in and began dismantling the evidence. Unknown to them, the owners arrived, saw what was going on, and set fire to the shack with them in it. The agents escaped the flames in time, but so did the arsonists, and no charges were laid.
Yet historical accounts only mentioned small stills in Manitoba. Some historians concluded there was no major bootlegging out of Winnipeg, just small neighbourhood and homestead stills. The story of Bill Wolchock shows that not to be true.

Winnipeg had two large thirsty markets in its vicinity: the Twin Cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, and to a lesser extent, Chicago, Illinois.
St. Paul was a nest of gangsters. John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Ma Barker and her sons, all took refuge in the city at one time or another. The person who ran the underworld in St. Paul was gangster Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld.
Chicago, of course, was the gangster capital of North America, controlled by Al Capone.
Capone was just 25 years old when he controlled Chicago. It does seem that Prohibition brought many young people into crime. Another Chicago bootlegger, Hymie Weiss, was gunned down by Capone’s men at the tender age of 28. “Hymie Weiss was not Jewish as his name suggests, but Catholic. His real name was Wajciechowski, and Hymie was a nickname.)
Wolchock and his partners were in their early twenties when they started selling booze. Wolchock shipped pure alcohol to both the Twin Cities and Chicago, but more so to Minnesota. When his son Leonard attended a convention in Minneapolis years later, he was feted by a gangster-looking character who recognized Leonard’s resemblance to his father. The gangster offered to foot his bill.
Wolchock Sr. Also sold to Duluth, Minnesota, and to Alberta distilleries. It’s also likely he was also shipping to Minot, since he was storing alcohol in barns in southwestern Manitoba. His business was selling to other manufacturers who brewed the pure alcohol into liquor. He would get rich from it.

Archibald William Wolchock was born in Minsk, Russia, which is now in Ukraine, in 1898, and came to Winnipeg in 1906 with his parents. He grew up and married and lived at 409 Boyd Avenue, at the corner of Boyd and Salter Street. Wolchock wasn’t a gangster, but he sold to them. Leonard believes his father likely dealt with Kid Cann in the Twin Cities, who ran the illegal liquor business there. “My dad did a lot of business in St. Paul,” said Leonard.
Most of what Leonard knows about his dad’s business was told to him by friends and associates of his dad. His father followed the code of the day and kept his business and home separate. Wolchock had a simple rule for his son if people should ask about his work: he would press his index finger to his lips.
While at Assiniboia Downs a man once approached Leonard and said he knew his dad. This sort of thing happened a lot in Leonard’s life because he resembled his dad.
“The guy was a railroader,” Leonard related. “He said, ‘I knew your dad. We stole a train for him once. I said, ‘Get out of here.’ He said, ‘Listen, your dad said he had a big shipment going to Chicago that he couldn’t deliver by car. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, Bill.’ The man said a crew of four, including a brakeman, pulled an engine and three box cars over at Bergen cut-off and loaded them with alcohol. The alcohol, when it went by rail, was shipped in 45 gallon drums. Somewhere along the track, the railway men switched the cars over to the Soo Line track that went to Chicago. When the payoff came, Wolchock showed up at a secret location and dished out $100 bills like playing cards to the railroaders.
The Bronfman family knew about Wolchock and Wolchock, of course, knew about them. Wolchock was friendly with the Bronfman brother-in-law, Paul Matoff, who ran Bronfman stores in Carduff, Gainsborough, and Bienfait, Saskatchewan where he sold whiskey to American rumrunners. On October 4th, 1922, Matoff took payment from a North Dakota bootlegger. Shortly after a 12-gauge shotgun blast killed him instantly in the railway station. The murder was never solved.
“Matoff told my dad, ‘Bill, your market is in the States,’” said Leonard.

Another time a friend of Wolchock Sr., nicknamed Tubby, took Leonard aside. They bumped into each other at the hospital, where Wolchock was dying. “Tubby said he and his brother had a truck, and one day my dad called and asked if they had a tarp for the truck. They said, yeah, so dad said, “Go to such and such place, back up your truck, don’t get out, don’t look in the mirror, don’t do nothing. Someone will put something in your truck. Then go to this address and do the same. Don’t get out, don’t look in your rearview mirror, don’t do nothing.’ That’s how business was done.”
Wolchock was always a sharp dresser and wore suits and long overcoats. His shirts were specially made by Maurice Rothschild’s in Minneapolis and monogrammed AWW across the pocket. His suits were made in the Abe Palay tailor shop that used to be on Garry Street across from the old Garrick Theater. “My dad wore a fedora because he was bald,” said Leonard. One of Wolchock‘s favourite hangouts was the Russian Steam Baths on Dufferin Avenue, where he went Wednesdays and Saturdays.
When that closed, he and his bootleg pals went to Obee’s Steam Baths on McGregor near Pritchard.
Wolchock had a chain of people with various trades and skills on the payroll and always paid well. For example, he had agreements with several tinsmiths to make him the gallon cans to put the alcohol in when it was being smuggled by car.
One tinsmith told Leonard he used to make $200-$400 per week moonlighting for his father. He earned $30 a week on his day job as a tinsmith.
The gallon cans would be put in jute bags and tossed in the back of a car. The drivers would go across the border at small town points like Tolstoi and Gretna.
Border security back then wasn’t like it is today.
Wolchock couldn’t buy anything in bulk, like the sugar to make the alcohol or the cans to put the liquor into, because it would attract too much attention. So he had deals all over the place. He had a deal with a major local bakery, which used to have a central bakery and stores around Winnipeg, to supply him the sugar. He also had a deal with a bakery out on the West Coast.
Wolchock even had deals with hog farmers to get rid of the mash from alcohol production, which makes an excellent feedstuff for livestock. He had drivers and sales agents. He had a chemist on the payroll.
Wolchock also had two or three henchmen. They carried guns in shoulder holsters and hung around the family, but they were the only business associates that ever came to the house. “My dad lived a normal life. We sat and listened to hockey games, but he had strong-armed men around if there was any trouble,” Leonard recalled.
“My dad wasn’t a run-around,” said Leonard. “He was a family man. He was home for lunch and dinner all the time.”
Wolchock also had a friend highly placed with the federal excise office in Winnipeg. His name cannot be revealed here. He also had a highranking local bank official who helped him, but Leonard also doesn’t know in what way. Wolchock once gave his sister $30,000 to deposit in a bank, but that’s all Leonard knows about the transaction. Later in life, Leonard once asked the banker, a big gruff man who always smoked a cigar, what his arrangement was with his father. “None of your f-ing business,” the banker snapped.
One of the problems for Wolchock was where to put the money. He made piles of money, but he couldn’t deposit it in the bank like everyone else because he couldn’t explain to authorities how he made it. Leonard thinks he stashed it, but doesn’t know where. While the family didn’t live ostentatiously, perhaps because that would have attracted attention, they always had money at a time when most people didn’t. “People were dirt poor. There was no money around,” said Leonard. All four of Wolchock ‘s sons received vehicles when they were old enough to drive and all would later get houses when they left home.
One of Wolchock’s hobbies was collecting racehorses with names like Dark Wonder, Sun Trysts, Let’s Pretend. “My dad had a stable of horses in the early days to just get rid of the money,” said Leonard. Leonard’s mother Rose used to travel to watch the horses race at major racetracks in California and Hastings Park in Vancouver. Other enterprises Wolchock invested in included buying a ladies’ garment factory and the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver. Leonard believes his father may have been a millionaire by the time he married Rose in 1927. Leonard was born the next year. “My mother’s family was poor. Dad gave them lots of money. He paid for everything. Money was of no consequence.”
His parents regularly took vacations in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which was sort of a racketeer tourist destination at the time, with legal gambling introduced thanks to gangster Meyer Lansky. It also had bath houses with natural hot springs. For some reason, racketeers had a thing for steam baths and hot springs.

Leonard claims – and insists it’s true – that his father would carry around $15,000 on him all the time. He once walked into a car dealership on Portage Avenue where McNaught Motors is now and bought a Cadillac on the spot with cash. “I never saw my dad with a wallet. All he had was a roll of bills with an elastic around it.”

Everything was in cash. For his bootlegging business Wolchock would buy six to eight cars at a time for his rumrunners to transport booze. He bought the cars at two Winnipeg dealerships where he had business relations. The first thing he always did with the new cars was tear out the backseat so he could fit in more alcohol. The stable of cars was parked inside a St. Boniface service garage. The runners had access day and night, mostly night. They sometimes went all the way to destinations like St. Paul, but usually they would just cross the border and unload into a shuttle car driven by an American rumrunner.
Wolchock and his merry men were a crosssection of Manitoba nationalities and religious origins in the 1920s. Wolchock was Jewish, and his cohorts were a mix of Poles, Frenchmen, Scotsmen, Ukrainians, Jews, Mennonite farmers near Steinbach, and Belgians – “a lot of Belgians,” Leonard said.
Leonard doesn’t know exactly how many people it took to run a still, maybe eight for the larger ones. When RCMP busted Wolchock‘s large still on Logan Avenue in 1936, it was the largest still ever found in Manitoba. Its operations extended to all four floors and into the basement, according to the Manitoba Free Press. The building also had an office, two vehicles and living quarters on the third floor. Employees gained entrance to the living quarters through a crawl space. In the living quarters were bunk beds and cooking equipment and books. The building was empty when police raided it. No charges were laid. The building was owned by the city from a tax sale.
Even after Prohibition ended and liquor was legal, it was government-controlled in Canada, so good money could still be made in bootlegging. The Bronfmans had managed the tricky business from illegal bootlegger to legal distiller, but not Wolchock. Like most law breakers, he didn’t quit while he was ahead.

RCMP finally charged Wolchock after customer Howard Gimble of Minneapolis got caught and ratted on him. Gimble was the key witness against Wolchock. The Manitoba Free Press reported that RCMP had tried been trying to nail Wolchock for years before Gimble gave them their break.
The charge was conspiring to defraud the federal government out of income tax moneys on liquor sales. The RCMP claimed he defrauded the government of $125,000, but that that was just a figure plucked out of the air, based on the scale of operation from a single portable still. The jury was locked up for the 10-day trial because of previous suspicions of jury tampering. Gimble told the court Wolchock had a portable still he moved from farm to farm near Winnipeg. RCMP found the still on Paul Demark’s farm in Prairie Grove, now a bedroom community at the end of Ste. Anne’s Road, just past the Winnipeg perimeter. But Gimble told the court Wolchock also used the still on the farm of Abraham Toews near Ste. Anne on Dave Letkeman’s farm just southeast of Steinbach, and in Jay Kehler’s barn one mile west of Steinbach. Court was also shown pictures of warehouses and buildings around Winnipeg, including St. Boniface, used in Wolchock ‘s illegal liquor business. Gimble also alleged Wolchock operated another still on a farm near Stonewall. He said it produced five thousands of gallons of alcohol that summer of 1940.
Wolchock and seven of his partners were convicted, but it took three trials. The first trial was declared a mistrial due to suspicion of jury tampering. In the second trial proceedings were halted when Wolchock required a hernia operation. Finally, he was sent to jail.
He got five years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, and that was before there was such a thing as parole. It is the most severe sentence ever laid in Manitoba history for a liquor offense. Up to that point in March of 1940, no one had received more than an eight-month sentence for liquor offenses in Manitoba. Also convicted and sentenced were Ned Balakowski, three years; Ben Balakowski, eight months; Frank McGirl, eight months; Jules Mourant, one year. Sam Arborg, Eugene Mourant, and Cass Morant each received suspended sentences.
After serving his time, Wolchock remembered the people who helped him in prison. A prison guard at Stony Mountain named Mr. Anderson was always kind to Wolchock. When Wolchock finished his prison term, Leonard was sent out every Christmas over to the Anderson household to deliver food and presents.

Wolchock Sr. also gave generously to the Salvation Army. “He was a great guy to the Salvation Army because the Sally Ann was very good to him in jail,” said Leonard. His father also saw to it that Leonard took Jewish dishes to the Jewish prisoners in Stony Mountain on the high holidays.
He had money left when he got out of jail but the cost of lawyers for three trials drained a lot of it. Wolchock paid everybody’s legal fees. His wife Rose managed their family of four young boys while he was in prison for five years, and Wolchock, when he got out, bought the home then called Bardal Estate, formerly owned by Winnipeg Funeral Director Neil Bardal. It’s a large clapboard house at the end of Hawthorne Avenue in North Kildonan, along the river on what is now named Kildonan Drive. “There was a fireplace in every bedroom,” Leonard recalled. Wolchock also had money to buy a little company, Canadian Wreckage and Salvage.
But the money wasn’t anything like he was used to and, after a couple years, Wolchock called his old mates together for a meeting. He wanted to make one last batch. Who was in? So the men walled off a portion of the Bardal’s home basement. Two of Wolchock’s close friends were bricklayers – and they constructed a still behind the wall. There were no neighbors on Kildonan Drive at the time, so there was no one to detect the smell from alcohol production. The men made the alcohol, distributed to people they could trust, and dismantled the operation. Then they rode off into the sunset.
“The old man had a bundle of money and he dished out to everyone. Louis went to Sudbury and got a 7-Up franchise; Charlie went to California and bought a liquor store; Benny G bought a trucking company; Benny B moved to Vancouver; Ned went back to work.” There were others involved, but Leonard doesn’t know what became of them. Other partners had already taken their money and invested before the RCMP arrest: Johnny B moved to Vancouver and bought a furniture store; Fred S bought a retail fish store in Winnipeg that still exists today under different owners; another partner went into the hotel business.
And Wolchock? “My dad started Capital Lumber at 92 Higgins Avenue with a partner,” said Leonard. “He didn’t make money like in the past, but he still called the shots and had a successful little business.”
That was Prohibition.
“There was honour among men. Back then, your word was your bond. Nothing was written down. Everything was a handshake,” said Leonard.
“My dad came to this country and he always called it the land of milk and honey. He always said that. He said it after he got out of prison, too. He was never bitter.”
Archibald William Wolchock died in 1976 at age 78.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News