By BERNIE BELLAN
June 8, 2023 The name David Asper has long been associated with Winnipeg sports teams.
A former Chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – and someone who achieved both notoriety for how directly involved he became with that team – even going so far as to invade the locker room after a particularly brutal loss (only to be pushed out by now CEO Wade Miller), Asper was also involved with a pro basketball team known as the Winnipeg Thunder, which played here from 1992-94.
This past year, however, Asper took another foray into sports at the ownership level with Winnipeg’s newest sports franchise, the Winnipeg Sea Bears.
The Sea Bears play in a summer league – which is also when the Winnipeg Thunder, a team in which Asper also had an owership stake played. (Another team, the Winnipeg Cyclone, owned by Earl Barish, played in the winter.),
The Sea Bears franchise is the newest addition to what is now a 10-team All Canadian league known as the Canadian Elite Basketball League. So far, by any measure, the team is off to a roaring start.
Recently I chatted with Asper about what led him to enter – again, into the risky world of professional sports and why he’s confident that this time around, the Sea Bears and the league they play in, will be lasting successes.
I began by asking him whether he’s pleased with the attendance at Sea Bears games thus far? (At the time of our conversation the team had played five home games, with an average attendance over 4,000 each game.)
“Yes, I’m very pleased with the reception we’ve gotten so far,” Asper said, “but it’s my nature – it’s the entrepreneur’s curse, to be very cautious about it, because when we began – when you start a business – any business, you never know whether anyone’s going to actually show up and, if they do, whether they’ll keep coming back.”
I suggested to Asper that the history of pro basketball teams in Winnipeg is less than impressive, but he responded that the Winnipeg Thunder actually did “very well,” but “both leagues that the team was affiliated with collapsed.”
“The Thunder played in the summer. The Cyclone played in the winter. I had a better perspective of seeing what would happen if you played in the summer – which is what appealed to me about this league,” Asper added.
I asked, “How far back in time did your planning for the Sea Bears begin?”
Asper said he “started in the spring of ’22, spent time all last summer going across country to games, and then I decided I really liked what I was seeing. I was concerned about the show – the competitiveness of the basketball – and I’m not a basketball person, but I think I have a sense of when something is entertaining and athletic.
“By mid-summer we thought we were going to go for it, we had some negotiation with the league, and we were finally able to announce – late, relatively speaking, at the end of November. We put ourselves in quite a time crush being able to launch for 2023 because training camp starts mid-May, so we only had five months really. We had to hire staff, get tickets out and get ourselves prepared, so it’s been a very hectic time.”
I said to Asper that I wasn’t all that familiar with the Canadian Elite Basketball League and he did give me some of the league’s history, but after the interview I dug deeper into the league’s history.
The CEBL is now in its fifth season, having begun in the summer of 2019, originally with six teams, which were all owned by the league. It now has ten teams in two divisions, from six different provinces:The east division is made up of one team in Quebec (in Montreal), and four in Ontario (in Brampton, Niagara, Ottawa, and Scarborough); and a west division: one in Manitoba (the Sea Bears), one in Saskatchewan (in Saskatoon); two in Alberta (in Calgary and Edmonton), and one in BC (in Langley).
While five of the teams are still owned by the league, there are now five private owners – in Langley, Calgary, Edmonton, and Scarborough, in addition to Asper in Winnipeg.
For the most part the teams play in smaller venues, with the exception of the Sea Bears, who play in Canada Life Centre, which can hold over 15,000 (although seating is confined to the lower level).
Another difference between the CEBL and other leagues that have come and gone in Canada is the heavy emphasis on Canadian players on each team. As Asper explained, each team has 10 players, of whom six have to be Canadian, three can be American, and a tenth can be international.
“We collaborate with Basketball Canada,” Asper observed, and it is a great opportunity for Canadian university players to hone their skills.
Not only that, Asper added that “last year nine players coming out of our league signed NBA contracts,” which gives you an idea what a high level of basketball is played in the CEBL.
According to Wikipedia, each team operates under a salary cap of only $8,000 per team per game. (There are 20 regular games, followed by a round robin playoff tournament modeled on the NCAA Final Four tournament.)
I asked Asper about what I described as his “abiding interest in sports,” given his history of involvement with both pro basketball and football teams.
He said that he thinks “sport is an important part of culture.”
“Where does it come from?” I asked.
“Well, I played sports as a kid,” Asper answered. “I didn’t play basketball, but I’ve seen the power of sports to be inclusive, to be inspirational, to be a shared common experience. I believe very strongly – I know that others in the arts community will dispute it, but I believe sports is as integral to culture as is art and other forms of activities.”
I asked Asper about the role he played in the building of IG Field (where the Blue Bombers now play).
He said that it was never his idea to build a new stadium at the University of Manitoba.
“My plan was to build it at Polo Park and I had everyone lined up and agreed to build it there. I don’t know what happened. I had led the whole project and Greg Selinger wound up taking it over.
I remarked: “Oh yah, I remember, there was an election.”
Turning back to the Sea Bears, I observed that, from pictures in the paper and what I had seen on TV, the team has been drawing a much younger crowd than say the Bombers or Jets – and a far more diverse crowd ethnically. I asked Asper whether that was part of the plan when he thought of starting a basketball team here.
He said, “The answer is yes. When I went across the country last summer and went to games and talked to fans, you could visibly see who was there and a lot of them were young families. There were also grandparents – people my age. It was a broader demographic than I thought it would be. I think that seeing young people at a game is very appealing to a broad age demography, but Bernie, when I would talk to first or second generation Canadians at those games, these were not people who grew up with hockey or football, but for them – basketball – when I talked about shared common experience and shared culture, I’m talking about these families – these new Canadians, meeting with legacy, old Canadians and having a shared common experience as Canadians that was so heart-warming. I said: ‘I want to be part of this.’
“It may be relatively small compared to football and hockey, but it’s doing a service. It’s serving a larger purpose, and what we’ve seen at the games so far – and it really overwhelms me, is that’s exactly what’s happening in Winnipeg.”
“I was talking to kids at the last game – they were part of two youth groups, who had never been to Canada Life Centre and came for the first time to a basketball game – and it blew their minds. They could not believe how great this was – predominantly new Canadians.”
I asked what the ticket price structure is?
Asper said, “They start at roughly 20 bucks. We try to have an entry point for families that’s very accessible.”
I asked whether Ruth (David’s wife) is involved with the team (since she was pictured seated along side David at the first game)?
Asper said, “No, but she’s the team’s number 2 fan.” He also told me that Ruth has a very strong background herself in sports.
I said that I remembered when she was co-owner of Tights, along with other fitness centers in Winnipeg over the years.
Asper said, “Not only that, but Ruth was the trainer for the (University of Manitoba) Bisons football team and she was the trainer for the Churchill Bulldogs football team. She’s in the Churchill Bulldogs Hall of Fame. She really has an experiential perspective on sports. She’s not involved, but she certainly knows the owner – let’s put it that way.”
I wondered about the stability of this particular basketball league – given the past failures of other basketball leagues that had Winnipeg franchises.
“Have there been any teams that have dropped out since the league started five years ago?” I asked.
“There was a team in Newfoundland, and it dropped out,” Asper answered. “Other teams have moved to different markets, so Hamilton moved to Brampton, Guelph had a team that moved to Calgary – which was important because that created a west and an east division. The league has seen unparalleled success this year. The growth in the league is really quite remarkable.”
Asper also noted that “We’re trying to build a sustainable summer event, so it takes a significant investment to start a team up, but the owners who are either starting or acquiring franchises are very committed to investing and growing. The league itself has come through its start-up anarchy, which is always the case in a start-up anything and now it’s moving into scaling up – because it’s working. People want to see this product.”
He also observed that the league is very competitive. Because it’s such a short season (only 20 games), “every single game matters.”
Asper explained that “we have a unique ending to the games” (in the CEBL). “Instead of the clock just running out – like you’d see in an NBA game, where you’d see them try to manage the clock, where the team that’s winning will try to run out the clock and the team that’s losing will try to create fouls and slow it down, what we do is, at the first stoppage in play with close to four minutes left to go in the game we create what’s called a ‘target score,’ so we add nine to the leading team’s score, so that, for example, the score is 84-80, then we turn off the clock, and the first team to 93 wins.
“So, not only does every game matter, the way the games end are so exciting that people leave feeling exhilarated or demoralized. There’s a really emotional way that our games end that really creates a compelling fan experience.”
I asked: “Anything else you want to add?”
Asper said: “Get your tickets at seabears.ca!”
Ron Telpner: the adman and his music
By GERRY POSNER Now this is a story. Talk about someone who has had the full package in life and you are talking about Ron Telpner. For those readers too young to remember the Telpner name, Google Gene and Fritzi Telpner (née Shuckett). Gene was a featured columnist for the the Winnipeg Tribune, the Winnipeg Free Press, and The Jewish Post & News. Anyone over 60 would likely have been aware of that.Ron is one of three Telpner offspring, a former resident of the north end, and a graduate of United College and the University of Manitoba, where he acquired degrees in English Literature and Psychology. In 1973 Ron earned a journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa. This was but the beginning of a long career followed by challenges far more daunting than his work.
Upon graduating, Ron took his first real job as an information officer with the Province of Manitoba. At the age of only 26 he became the Director of Promotion and Information for the Province of Manitoba. That job proved frustrating for Ron as a result of the slowness of bureaucratic goverment decision making and he soon joined the prestigious McKim Advertising firm in Winnipeg, in 1978.
One year later, he was the manager of McKim. During that time the firm was dominant in the Winnipeg adverting world. Ron created campaigns for the then Premier of Manitoba, as well as Canada’s Finance Minister, during their respective election battles. In 1989, Ron, still with McKim, by then the largest ad agency in Canada, made the big move to Toronto. The direction was clearly set for Ron Telpner.
In 1992, Telpner boldly started his own advertising agency in Toronto, known as the BrainStorm Group. Ron even brought into the partnership his senior creative director and senior account director from Winnipeg. The agency was successful to such a degree that offices were opened up in Denver – in 2003, and Dubai, in 2007. Telpner and his company worked with such leading brands as Canon, Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Molson USA, Baxter’s of Scotland, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and ADP, in various countries. BrainStorm had as its main objective to be focused on inspired, integrated thinking.
All went very well until 2010 when Ron, then 60, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which changed his life dramatically. The energy which Ron had so expended on his career was now channelled into dealing with cancer. Of course, he had the total support of his wife Patsy (Katz), also a former Winnipegger, along with his two children.
Ron decided to sell his ad agency. In the same way that he brought the best talent he could get find into his BrainStorm team, he made a plan and enlisted a team of support to deal with his cancer. He spoke with many doctors, Googled many sites, listened to different opinions and, as he puts it, “was almost overwhelmed by the information.”
That effort, together with his work in charitable areas, as well as taking an active role in men’s heath issues, combined to bring him a measure of success in his fight to deal and live with cancer. He ultimately made a major decision to have a prostatectomy. That big step seemed to have helped him.
Ron has been on many television programs , has written for various magazines and has been an MC for a variety of fund raising events. Significantly, when Ron learned that his lungs had also been adversely affected, he was told that what would help him was singing.
Now, Ron had some definite talents, but singing was a whole new challenge. Not to be deterred, he bought his very first ukulele, a Kala Travel Tenor, and taught himself to play. For several years now, Ron Telpner has both been playing the ukulele and singing along – and not just to himself. He has his own account on Instagram and anyone can both see and hear him. He is passionate about Rock & Roll, Blues, and Country and Western, so you do get a mix when you tune into Telpner. He has a large following and he says that the ukulele and singing have added years to his life. He also continues to give back every “Movember” and the 4 Doane School of Music. He is as well the co-founder of the Annual Flashmob for Peace.
Of course with all of this, you would be hard pressed to miss Ron Telpner in a crowd, as he is an admitted fashion plate with a penchant for vivid colours. So, here is my best suggestion for you to lift up your day: Search out Ron Telpner on Instagram, watch him perform in what is sure to be an outfit resplendent in multi colours. As he has done all his life, Telpner is charting a new path – and with enthusiasm.
Jerry Seinfeld may be one of the world’s most famous comedians now, but in 1987 he didn’t win over an audience at the Rosh Pina
By BERNIE BELLAN Jerry Seinfeld played at the Canada Life Centre to a large crowd on Friday evening, September 22 – and was generally well received, although I noted that there was no mention of his being here in the Free Press – either before or after his appearance.
By now we’re all quite familiar with Seinfeld’s style of “observational humour,” in which he talks about everyday matters, but notes the actual weirdness in so much of what passes for normal.
His delivery was flawless – never once stumbling over a line even as he was on stage for almost a full hour.
And, as a stand-up comic who refuses to resort to using the “f” word, which seems almost mandatory among so many comics these days, Seinfeld relies upon his ability to articulate rather than punctuate.
Still, as much as Jerry Seinfeld may be a “bit shot” these days, as Frank Costanza would have referred to him, in 1987 Seinfeld received a decidedly cool reception when he played to a mostly older audience at a Hadassah event held at the Rosh Pina.
Following is my late brother Matt’s account of Jerry Seinfeld’s appearance at a May 1987 event:
Comedian Gets Cool Response at Hadassah Event
May 14, 1987
By MATT BELLAN
Winnipeg Hadassah-WIZO raised more money for its network of Israeli children’s villages through the 46th annual Men’s Youth Aliyah Dinner at Rosh Pina Synagogue May 6.
But comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the featured entertainer, got a generally cool reception from the several hundred dinnergoers.
Seinfeld, 33, has appeared on the Johnny Carson and David Letterman shows, and has a gift for a certain kind of off-the-wall humor.
“Weird” material about cows running away so they won’t be turned into hamburgers for McDonald’s Restaurants, or clothes twisting together in a kinky way in the washing machine might go over with a college age audience watching a late-night TV talk show. But they didn’t work for Seinfeld at the Rosh Pina where many in the audience were decades older than 20.
He tried to tune in to the Rosh Pina crowd with a few jokes about elderly people: “My parents moved to Florida this year. They didn’t want to, but they’re in their 60s, and that’s the law.”
Seinfeld cracked another joke about his parents feeling “the thermostat is their area. I didn’t dare to touch a thermostat until I was 28 years old. “
HEAVY NEW YORK ACCENT
But some in the audience muttered that they couldn’t understand his stage patter because of his heavy New York accent, and the way he slurred his words and talked quickly.
The most laughs came when somebody backstage dimmed the auditorium lights.
“Oh, we’re going show business,” Seinfeld said, sarcastically.
But the room grew dimmer and dimmer, leaving even the comedian in shadow. And he impatiently shouted offstage:
“Just leave the lights alone.”
Remembrance of Rupertsland Avenue – 1950 to 1975
By BRIAN M. GILFIX Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec September 18, 2023 I have read with interest in various past issues of the JP&N (Sept. 16 and 20, 2019, Sept. 30, 2020, and Nov. 10, 2021) descriptions of streets or blocks where all or most of the houses were occupied by Jewish families. (Ed. note: All those stories – about McAdam Avenue and Bredin Drive, can be found on this website. Simply go to “Search archive” and enter the name of either street. The entire issue in which the story about that street appeared will show in the search results.)
This was not all that unique in the 1950s and 60s, especially with the Jewish population of Winnipeg peaking close to 20,000 individuals during that time. During the immediate post-war years, individuals and families were leaving the Magnus and Flora Avenues with their wooden shuls and moving more northward to the then developing West Kildonan and later developing Garden City areas. This was reflected in the establishment of shuls (Rosh Pina, 1952; Bnay Abraham, 1958; Chevra Mishnayes, 1965) and schools (Talmud Torah, 1952) in the area.
Rupertsland Avenue was a new street developed in 1950 by Edward Rosenblatt. The street name obviously echoes the name given to the territory draining into Hudson’s Bay , which was called Rupert’s Land. Looking at the actual mortgage documents, houses cost about $8450 for a bungalow (1 storey) while a cottage (2 storey) cost about $2000 more. By the mid-2010s the value of a bungalow style house had increased thirty-fold in value. The street changed appearance somewhat over the years with some upgrades – paving of the back lane (1950s) and planting trees on the front boulevards (1960s).
I grew up on Rupertsland Avenue in the 1950s and 60s. Then, in the block stretching from McGregor St. to Parr St. and comprising about 50 houses, over a third of the houses were occupied by Jewish families. Most were tradespeople or small business owners. None of that generation were professionals. Then, your neighbours were also your friends with whom you socialized. For example, my parents belonged to a bridge club on the street, comprising amongst others the Stollers, Brasses, Bogaches, and Jacobsons. As few trees were planted, we, the neighbourhood children, played across the front lawns of neighbouring houses, effectively making one long field.
The children (including myself) walked to the local schools regardless of the weather: Victory, what was then known as Jefferson Junior High School, Garden City Collegiate, and Talmud Torah – affecting the school demographics such that on major Jewish holidays the public schools “shut down.”
We had deliveries from the milkman and bread man. The street was visited by vendors selling eggs and, on one occasion early on, vegetables from a horse drawn wagon.
From my memory, I have provided a list of the Jewish families that lived on the street during this period. I have also given a few short vignettes of some families as I remember it from my then youthful perspective aided by information gleaned from the JP&N and Google. I apologize for any errors in advance. I should note that of the families listed here, with rare exception, the parents have passed away. In some instances, I have noted the year of passing.
565 Rupertsland – Stoller. He was an accountant or bookkeeper. He and his wife had a son & daughter, Elaine (?).
517 Rupertsland – Name unknown.
513 Rupertsland – Kesten. Their son Cyril currently resides in Vancouver.
509 Rupertsland – Tennenhouse – Sam (d.2001) and Gertie (d.2014).
They had four children: Karen, Ronnie, Marsha, and Kenny. He farmed with his brothers during the summer and had a small machine shop in the basement in winter where he made house numbers. They were long time friends of my parents. They had a “bogey man” is their basement, actually an old coal style furnace. The oldest daughter would bang on it to make the “monster” noise to frighten the kids. They were perhaps the first family to leave Ruperstland for the then new Garden City. I believe some family members still live in Winnipeg, but the son Ronnie lives in Toronto.
505 Rupertsland – Gilfix (us) – We were Joseph (d.2014), Betty (d.2021), Debbie (Edmonton) and myself (Montreal). My parents moved to a new home on Rupertsland in 1950 from the Carmen Apartments on Burrows, which is still standing, leaving behind a walk up and ice boxes. The years saw a transition for heating the house with coal to oil to gas. My sister left for Edmonton to attend university, later married there, and has lived there since. My journey was more peripatetic, moving in 1975 to London, Ontario to pursue my PhD, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and finally returning to Canada and McGill University to pursue my MD degree and specialty training. I married in Montreal and have been on staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal since 1993. Due to age and infirmity, my parents finally left Rupertsland in 2014. I believe my parents were the last Jewish family on the block and street when they finally left.
501 Rupertsland – Dutkevich – Ann Dutkevich (d.2000), husband Nick, daughter Sally and son Joe. She was affectionately known to us as “Mrs. D”. She was very kindly. Once, when my sister decided to “run away,” she packed her bags to move to Mrs. D. next door.
I believe the children still live in Winnipeg. Their house was later purchased by another Jewish family, the Greenholtzes (daughter Faye & son Joey). He was a tailor and both he and his wife worked in the garment factories. The parents later relocated to Toronto to be closer to their children.
493 Rupertsland – Gabor. They had a son, Brian.
489 Rupertsland – Name unknown.
485 Rupertsland – Bogach – Frank and Ann, her mother, and son Howard. Frank with his brothers ran Tasty Seeds located on Alfred that they had inherited from their father. Howard was recently profiled in the JP&N (August 16, 2023).
469 Rupertsland – Bogach – Maurice & Goldie Bogach and their daughters, Mindy and Evy. The parents played bridge with my parents and he owned Tasty Seeds with his brothers. I believed their children still reside in Winnipeg.
465 Rupertsland – Rodin. One of their two sons, Greg, is a lawyer in Calgary.
461 Rupertsland – Brass – Abe and Rose Brass and their children. Following his passing she moved to Vancouver to be closer to her children, where she later passed away.
516 Rupertsland – Plosker – Max and Bertha Plosker, daughter, and son Erron. The family owned Direct Home Furniture
512 Rupertslsand – Spiller – Jack and Ailenne and their children, Harley, Susan, Sari, and Deborah. I believe some of the children still reside in Winnipeg.
508 Rupertsland – Terhoch – Kurt & Pearl. He was an electrician. They had two sons, Leonard and Marvin, and a daughter, Cheryl. The oldest son, Marvin, was at one time a producer at CBC Winnipeg.
504 Rupertsland – Jacobson – Anne, Nat (d.2002), son Gary and daughter Arlene. Nat had a part job running the projector in movie theatres. At 106 (!), Ann is probably the last living individual of the generation that first moved onto Rupertsland Avenue. She currently resides at the Simkin Centre. Gary still lives in Winnipeg.
496 Rupertsland – Chodiker. One son, William (Bill), is an allergist, now retired, who lives in London, Ontario.
476 Rupertlsmand – Golubchuk – Samuel (d.2008) and Dora and children, Percy and Miriam. I believe they were the last Jewish family to move on to Rupertsland. Samuel was at the centre of a controversial legal battle dealing with the question of who has the right to make end-of-life decisions. This case was widely written about.
468 Rupertsland – Beloffs
Lastly, at the end of the street, there was a corner store (700 McGregor) run successively by Jewish owners, Mandel and later Slutsky.
Interestingly according to my late mother, Paul Snider of Dorothy Stratton murder fame, apparently lived on Rupertsland Avenue for a period of time.
Rupertsland was not a Jewish island in West Kildonan. Immediately behind my parents’ house across the back lane on Enniskillen Avenue, there were the:
Bokauts with sons, Barrie and Brad. I remember walking back home with Barrie and his father from the Bnay Abraham synagogue on Shabbat mornings. Barrie went on to work for Foreign Affairs Canada. I believe Brad still lives in Winnipeg,
Lezacks whose son, Jack, is a hematologist in Winnipeg, and
Este and Morris Katz. Their sons, David and Philip, tragically past away at early ages.
On Smithfield, there were other Jewish families such as the Senenskys and Gorewiches (my father’s brother-in law and sister).
Over the decades the ethnic and religious composition of Rupertsland Avenue changed as the original inhabitants aged and they and their children moved to other areas. Many of the children left Winnipeg – often to Calgary, Edmonton, or Toronto. Consequently, the demographics and character not only of the street but also of the local schools, institutions, and West Kildonan have changed. On Rupertsland at its peak, probably a third as many Jews lived there alone as compared the number of Jews now living in the entire West Kildonan area (205) according to the latest census. Consequently, many of the local Jewish institutions have moved, closed, or amalgamated. When my parents, being the last Jewish family on that block of Rupertsland Avenue, finally left in 2014, it marked the end of an era for the street.