Al "Boomie" Regenstreif's
Albert (Bert) Mendelsohn’s Story
The following is a transcript of the tape in Bert’s own words. It is his review of his life and his career. This is an interesting history of Jews in St Agathe in the early years of the twentieth century and a “Jewish” perspective of an eminently successful military career.
This transcription includes some of Mr. Posen’s questions, but Bert’s words are presented without alteration. However, some editing was done for clarity but the intent of the speaker was not altered in any material way.
“My name is Albert Mendelsohn. I was born in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal in 1917, March 21st to be exact. The rabbi registered me as Abraham. This caused me problems no end for the rest of my days. He also misspelled my father’s name and this too caused me troubles no end. My parents were living in Ste. Agathe des Monts at the time so I went up there at the age of two weeks and stayed there for some years. I stayed there until 1932 when I went to The High School of Montreal because the Ste. Agathe Protestant School had only grades one to nine. After high school I went to McGill and graduated in ’39.
“In ’39 I got a job at Algoma Steel in Sault St. Marie, Ontario and I stayed there until I was called into the military. I spent most of the Second World War, mainly in England but partially in Northwest Europe. On my return in 1946 I was give a chance to stay in what they called the interim forces at my wartime rank, the rank of Major. Since I didn’t like the jobs I was being offered in Civvies Street I took this as an opportunity to stay in the military while I hunted for a better civilian job.
“The military, very smartly in my opinion, sent me off to staff college, The Canadian Army Staff College in Kingston and coming out of that I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, one of the two who graduated in the upper levels of the School. At that stage as a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of about 30, it was pretty hard to say that I could find a better job. Besides, I liked the military so I stayed until I retired in 1972. I have been living in Ottawa ever since.
“I entered McGill in 1934 during the period of the depression and the period of the rise to power of Hitler in Germany. As well, you’ve got the period, certainly where I lived, of the blaming of the Jews for the depression and for everything else bad that occurred in the country. Further than that, my dad had told me that without doubt the world couldn’t tolerate a Germany the way it was going and that there would be war at some stage. He suggested to me that if there was going to be war I’d better learn something about it. So immediately on getting into McGill, that’s in September 1934, when I was seventeen, I applied to the McGill COTC.
“The McGill COTC is the Canadian Officer Training Corps. It was an activity that appeared in every one of the Universities where chaps could join and were generally trained to be officers. Usually they were in infantry training so I was trained initially as an infantry individual.
“When you first join you were a private in what is called the non-permanent active militia. That is, the two nights a week soldier as opposed to the permanent active militia who were the regular forces of the Canadian army. So, I started as a private and I was promoted to rank after rank. I think I was practically every rank in the system, corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, and warrant officer. In 1937 I was commissioned as an infantry officer. My commission made me a second lieutenant in the active militia. Lord Tweedsmuir who was the Governor General at the time signed my commission. When I graduated from McGill in ’39 I progressed one rank to lieutenant. That was May ’39 and when I went off to work I quit the McGill COTC and they put me in what they called the reserve of officers.
“The reserve of officers is just a list of people on call should the country ever need them. My training was primarily as an infantry officer, primarily in the area of signals because I was an engineering student and signals was so called technical. When I came out I remember signing a list somewhere saying that if they ever needed me I’d be glad to join and off I went to Sault St Marie and I worked there.
“One day I received a telephone call and later a wire telling me to report in 48 hours. The war was on. I went to my boss who was the works manager of the Sault steel plant and said ‘gee, I can’t leave in 48 hours, its too short. He said, “you don’t have to go at all, this is a steel plant and we’re making shell steel, it’s a preferred industry, if you don’t want to go just tell me and I’ll tell them to forget you.” ‘I said, no I have no objection to going, but I want 8 or 10 days. I had a girl friend, I had a car, and I had personal things. So he said, ‘Tell them when you want to go.’ I sent back a wire saying I’ll be there in 8-10 days. Nobody said anything to me and I showed up in 8-10 days
“I had to report to Toronto, because I was working in Ontario as opposed to where I had been originally trained in the Province of Quebec. I showed up in an old place called Stanley Barracks in the south end of Toronto down near the water. They housed us in the CNE grounds and because I was an officer I was given preferred space, space to myself as opposed to being in a large pen. I was given a horse stall in the horse palace and I can tell you it stunk to high heaven. However, at least I had walls to my little cubicle and somebody had cleaned out the straw and the muck which was a good idea. The men as far as I could gather, were in what they called the sheep palace where there were no dividers; they were just in great big rows.
“Anyway, after a week of that I went down to Kingston and I discovered that they had put me into what was the engineering part of the military. So my infantry training was by the by and I joined what was the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps Training Center (E). (Brackets E for engineering.) In those days Ordnance was a supply organization with an engineering component. Later, during the war, first in the British Army and later in the Canadian Army they were changed to what was called REME, Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. I have been in the Engineering system ever since. The Branch to which I belonged then, its current title is LEME, land electrical mechanical engineering. I have retained my affiliation to it ever since. In fact, I just noticed when I put this jacket on I’ve got a little emblem which represents the cap badge of LEME. I was wearing this jacket at some do here in town where the military were represented. Anyway that in general is how I got into the military and what part of the military I got into.”
Question: Tell me about being Jewish in the military.
“Well, I don’t think that being Jewish in the military was much different from being anything else in the military. I have a bias, perhaps. Being Jewish in Ste. Agathe was very different from being something else in Ste. Agathe.”
Question: Tell me about that.
“Well, Ste Agathe was largely a French community, about 90 per cent French at the time. The rest were principally English in the sense of Anglo-Saxon. The summertime was rather different because a lot of people used to come up from Montreal to spread themselves around the cottages and the lakes around the Laurentians. Currently, the fad is to fly to Florida. In those days the fad was to take the train up to the Laurentians.
“The Jewish community was perhaps about a dozen families perhaps not even a dozen. In the wintertime we were at the bottom of the heap. We were generally of the type who went to the Protestant school, English School, and we spoke English. The Jews were generally tradesmen in the town, ran the shops and were generally looked down upon by the locals for reasons best known to themselves.
“I used to take violin lessons; my parents thought I should learn the violin. On my way home the French kids used to tease me with my little violin thing. It was not enough merely to tease me, they’d tease me and throw little pebbles and called me ‘tuer de Christ’, maudit juif. That sort of thing wasn’t the norm for a kid of nine or ten. So we used to have our little struggles.
“My dad was in a rather different position from the others in the Jewish Community. He was on the technical side of things. Most of the Jewish people ran stores, sold clothing, groceries, and butcher shops—that sort of thing. My dad was a stationery engineer, the chief engineer at the Laurentien Sanitarium, which was the large TB, Tuberculosis institution. It was set up by rather wealthy English people from Montreal in the 1910 era. When they expanded they got themselves a permanent engineer.
“My dad joined the Sanitarium in wartime when it became the SCR, soldier’s civilian reestablishment, the precursor to the current DVA—veterans affairs. As such, my dad was not the ordinary shopkeeper in town and he had on his staff local people, French chaps. I showed you a picture of Paul Legare, one of those engineers and others in town. Practically everybody in that area was French. There were others. His head carpenter was a fellow named Fred West, with whom he became rather friendly. He was a First World War veteran. My dad moved in an Anglo-Saxon type community from a work point of view as opposed to the average Jewish family.
“Life was not easy for the Jewish kids in the area. They were in a sense isolated. You probably read the Two Solitudes by McLennan. They’re talking there about the English and the French. Well. There was a third solitude and that was the Jewish Community in a French Canadian community. They were among the English people from a school point of view, but again there was not a great mingling, if anybody mingled. I was in the more fortunate position being able to mingle with the English because my dad worked among the English as opposed to the son of a chap who ran a grocery store, a dry good store or something down in the village.
“That brings to mind an event you may be interested in hearing about. In the early ‘30s after the depression had been well entrenched, the town was in pretty rough straits and the locals weren’t doing too well. The tourist trade had fallen off. My dad who was a member of the local congregation was approached by some of the Jewish people in town to say that the local pastor in the Roman Catholic Church had got up and said, ‘depression is the fault of the Jews and they’re a world wide conspiracy and if you got troubles you can blame it on them’ So they came to my dad and said, ‘look you’re sort of in the English community, can you do something for us?’ So, he said, ‘I don’t know.’ This is all hearsay to me because I was only in my early teens I guess. They collected a few bucks among them and my dad went to see the local Monsignor and said, I’m told, “I know times are tough; we thought we would give you something you can use to hand out to the poor in the town, and by the way, it really isn’t my fault that they’re in these dire straits. Surely you can invite your priests who deliver sermons on Sunday not to blame us for the problems of the community.’ And I gather, that worked. At least, I heard nothing to the contrary. My dad wasn’t asked to repeat the process.
“I raised that because you asked me a question about Jews in the military. Well, I won’t talk about how people were treated behind the scenes, but the Military was scrupulously careful not to isolate any particular segment, be they Jewish or anything else. If you check around, I can show you books for the proportion of Jews in any part of the system. Dunkelman in the infantry was a highly decorated officer. Hartt is another one. Not too many of us became terribly senior officers in war time, but we had a fair sprinkling of captains, majors, lieutenant colonels who were treated, I thought quite the same as everybody else. They couldn’t provide, because of the numbers, a Chaplain per regiment, but there were 5, 6, 7 Jewish Chaplains. I remember in England I was in hospital for a while, I met a fellow named Rabbi Cass. And there were several others.
“At any event, even on simple Sundays, when there were church parades, they used to gather the gang into two piles, Protestants here and Catholics there. Some units were largely Catholic and other units were largely Protestant, and they’d say the remainder. And the remainder would fall out. Generally half the Protestants would try the same thing in some units, but they couldn’t get away with it, because sometimes they would take the remainder and give them duties, they cleared stones or cleaned something or did something special. Nevertheless they didn’t try to force being either Roman Catholic or protestant on a Jew and they didn’t try to isolate the Jew because he was Jewish.
“So, when you asked me how are the Jews treated in the military, like everybody else. Their numbers were odd. In some units they were one in a thousand, in other units you might find twenty or so. Also, the officers as you might expect were certainly in the minority. So it was rare that I was in a unit where there was another Jewish officer nearby.
“I remember I met one only through part of my job. I was running a small workshop in the area of Crawley in southern England, close to the line between Surrey and Sussex and I used to have to acquire parts for my workshop, parts were hard to come by, for our types of vehicles and they were slow in coming and of course, the customer, the user, the soldier always wanted his vehicle fixed quickly or his gun fixed quickly. So, I’d be in the habit of scouting around outside my own little area to look for parts. And I went to an outfit called one corps troops, they used to be called OFPs, ordnance fields parts. I walked in and the fellow running it was a Major Mirsky.
“Now, Merv Mirsky is a well-known figure here in Ottawa. He comes to mind only because his name is well known. He and his family owned Pure Springs. They no longer do, I gather. His wife is in the Rockliffe Library as a volunteer. My wife sees her from time to time.
“His name comes up because he’s an Ottawa type, but they were rare. Certainly in their messes, here Mirsky ran a unit; I doubt there was another Jew among his officers. He might have had a few Jewish soldiers among his unit. Where I worked I rarely ran into them. In the engineering field you rarely run across electricians and mechanics that are of Jewish background because that isn’t their usual trade. They’re more likely to be storekeepers and that’s where they were generally funneled. You used to find them in the infantry depending upon where they came from, from Toronto you’d find quite numbers. If they come from Quebec City you rarely find any. They did their share and they were treated rather scrupulously, I thought, by the military. I don’t think they were leaning backwards to be careful or leaning frontward to be careful. They just didn’t discriminate on religious grounds.
alter the fact that they recognized you as Jewish. My dog tags,
my ID around the neckpiece, this is my post war one. My wartime
one was the same thing. My wartime one didn’t
have the word “Jew” on it had “J”. This one
has JEW. I don’t know any others. I buried a few people they
had RC or they had PROT. Some of them had Anglican, various types
of ways of marking these.
Question: Did you find any anti-Semitism?
“Not in a direct sense. You find anti-Semitic individuals in every walk of life, today, then, now and in between who just feel uncomfortable in the presence of a Jewish person. While they may tolerate their presence they certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to be friendly and I’ve had bosses like that. On the other hand I’ve had subordinates like that. I would have guessed that any minority always finds that there is someone who doesn’t really like his presence. Some of then can be rabid and they become wordy and noisy.
Question: I’d like to start this next segment talking about your parents and your dad.
“Well, you asked about my parents. My mother got to Canada before my dad did. I’ll start with her. My mother was born in Dorohoi, in Romania in 1894. Her name was Ida Regenstreif when she came to Canada. On the other hand her birth certificate shows her as Eihevet Olaru. I am told that Olaru in Romanian means the potter. So she was Eihevet which I guess is close to Ida, the daughter of the potter.
“Her father and their whole family and her mother, the family about eight or ten, I’ll have to stop and count them for you came to Canada on the 7th of November 1907, when she was aged twelve or so. They came on the ship called SS Corsican, which was then the Allen Line. Later Canadian Pacific bought it. They stopped off in Montreal and stayed there. Why they left Romania is unknown to me.
“It was in Montreal that my father met my mother and they subsequently married and I’m one of the products. I had a sister who is now dead. Her name was Edith. She died at the age of 44, unfortunately, and she had a daughter to whom that painting of my dad belongs.
“My father was Isaac Mendelsohn. He was born in 1886 in I think, Braila in Romania. Braila is a town on the Danube. His father, Meyer Mendelsohn, was a tallier of some kind. I gather his job was to stand at dockside or on ships and count what was loaded or offloaded to and from ships that sailed up the Danube from the Black Sea.
“My dad was apprenticed to an ironworker, a machine blacksmith; I really don’t understand what it was. I have one of his first gadgets he made as an apprentice, a little ball peen hammer. I’ve kept it ever since, one of the few things I’ve kept of my dad’s.
“He left home at the age of 15. The reason for that as I understand it is that his mother had just died, I gather in childbirth. At that time there were two brothers and some four or five sisters. He was the oldest in the family and he left. He made his way somehow to Hamburg, in Germany and sailed aboard ships and because of his so-called technical training they put him below decks in the boiler room-steam engine room of the ships. He sailed German ships out of Hamburg for some time.
“One of the ports of call was in Buenos Aires. At that time Buenos Aires was undergoing quite a change and they were building large irrigation canals somewhere in the interior of Argentina. A number of British and Germans and others stayed there. To this day there is a very large English Community in Buenos Aires, and quite a large German one as well. Any way, my dad stayed ashore and worked there as an engineer and eventually he received a letter from his father in Montreal.
“His father had apparently gathered his family and his second wife and had migrated to Montreal. So my dad gave up his job and came to Montreal. I don’t know what the exact year was, but it was somewhere between 1909 and 1911 or 12. Something like that.
“As I said, my dad came to Canada somewhere around 1910. He got a job in a steam power plant in what is now Old Montreal. In those days they used to generate steam down there and pipe it to various buildings in the area and sell the power so that people didn’t have to provide power in each of their own buildings. They also generated electricity, locally, and he had a job as an engineer there.
“It was at that time that he met my mother at something or other and they became engaged in 1915. They married in 1916 and as I said earlier I was born in 1917. My sister was born in 1920.
“Sometime around 1915 when my dad became engaged he got a job up at Ste. Agathe working in the beginnings of the Laurentien Sanitarium, the TB San that I spoke about before. He stayed with it as it grew except that shortly after the war the SCR. The Soldiers Civil reestablishment in Ottawa decided to stop its support of this TB San for vets, veterans of the First World War and they closed the sanitarium. My dad got a job in Asbestos in Quebec in the power plant there and then got to Ste Anne de Bellevue in what is currently the Veterans Affairs Hospital. They reopened the Sanitarium in I think around 1924 or 5 and he went back to Ste Agathe and stayed there till he died. He retired when he was 65 and he died before he got to 66th birthday. So we have roots principally in Ste Agathe.
Question: Was yours a religious household?
“My mother was very careful to maintain what is called a kosher house, an orthodox family. My father having lived on his own for quite a while was not as fervent but he respected my mother maintained all the rules in the house and he was a member throughout his life of the local synagogue. For a while he was also I think its president or treasurer, he used to maintain what books they kept. But my mother was the one who was very careful to follow the rules very carefully. She was cheek by jowl with the local rabbi when there was one, we didn’t always have one in wintertime, but we had one every summer and she took care of the chametz at pessach and she all of the things that are necessary. Her dishes were certainly dual (two sets) and both my dad and I were careful to respect that in the house. So when you say ‘were we religious?’ in all honesty, I can say that I wasn’t but I behaved in the house. I misbehaved out of the house, partly of necessity.
“When I was going to McGill I was living in a little boarding house on Milton St, which is just adjacent to the University. When I went working in Sault Ste Marie both in summertime and later it would have been much too difficult to even attempt to follow the dietary laws and certainly when I was in the military there was no scope for it. It would have been quite intolerable if I had insisted. I would have died as an undernourished person; they just couldn’t tolerate it and this applied to nearly every Jew in the military. There just isn’t room in the military for any one who tries to follow all those rules scrupulously. They may be able to do it in Israel, but I doubt if they can do it anywhere else.
Question: Can you tell me about that menorah?
“Well, as I was saying, my dad was the chief engineer, a stationary engineer if you know the difference between it and a professional engineer. A stationary engineer is a licensed person that is permitted to operate powerhouses. Power House in the old jargon was generally a boiler room, which had large furnaces, boilers. You tossed in coal, later years oil and you produced steam which was used to provide heat and also to operate generators which provided electricity, or in the case of a hospital, an ice making machine and so on. On his staff, since he was the senior stationery engineer in the place, he had carpenters and electricians, plumbers and so on. In the carpentry shop they had a number of woodworking machines and one of them was also a metal lathe A metal lathe was different from a woodworking lathe in that it had controlled travels on it and you can cut screw threads on metal.
“My dad was always keen to work with his hands; he made wood furniture. He’d acquire oak, marvelous woods, for relatively little money because he’d get it wholesale through the San. He made some of the furniture in the house marvelous stuff and we had to abandon it. One of the things he made at the request of my mother, I gather, was a menorah, a candelabra for Chanukah. She always had one but as I recall it was a tinny thing.
“So he apparently acquired some bar stock, round bars of brass and turned it out on this rickety old lathe. I recognize that it was poorly cut in the sense that the machine used to chatter and you can see tooth marks on the metal, even though brass is relatively soft. To make the menorah he took bar stock and he bent the bars, in fact here I can show you this way. He took this stock and bent these brass rods, and these are straight long bars and then he put a thread at the top of it and that’s a larger piece of bar stock that he turned on the lathe. So this is as bought. The only difference between it and as bought is that it is bent and it has a thread at each end. And you can remove it, I can take one of these off if I try, just turn it off its on a thread. This piece is screwed on to the top comes from a larger piece of bar stock and he cut it down so that it has the appearance of a taper on it. And this is a piece of bar stock, which is necked here with again the lathe, and there is a thread.
“The problem was that bar stock, which is of this diameter, this big piece was just not available; it would have been terribly expensive. He happened to have an old steam engine in the place, which had pistons in it, pistons ride up and down they were brass pistons. So he took an old piston, cut the top off it ground the top on it and screwed it on the bottom, which is quite clever. To keep it from tilting, he filled the bottom with lead. He melted a bar of lead and filled the top and smoothed it. He used to have a piece of green baize on it. I have been too slack to put one back on so I just leave it the way it is. It won’t scratch anything. The other thing is pride of ownership; he stuck his initials on it. I am going to have to take my glasses and read this because I’m not sure I know what this says. Yes he’s got his initials I.M. 1930. So he made this in 1930 and my mother has been using this all her life and when she died I acquired it. And I’ve kept it ever since.
“I’m and oddball in the sense that I got married when I was 58 and I had never been married before. And in a Jewish sense I’m and oddball since I didn’t marry a Jewish person. My wife who had been married before was the daughter of an Anglican priest, so she came from a religious family. She figured that if she was going to mess around with a Jewish chap she’d better find out what it was all about so she acquired some texts to find out what Judaism meant.
“When she married me she found she knew more about the subject than I did. She went and bought a couple more books and I’ve retained them. There is one in particular that I read from cover to cover. The Chief Rabbi of England wrote it. It’s a Penguin book, excellent. It’s the history of Judaism from pre pre pre Moses right up to the formation of Israel and a bit beyond. It goes through the entire change in Judaic thought and touches as highlights on the people we all heard about, Spinoza and Mendelssohn and various others.
“I don’t remember all the detail but I found it a most illuminating text. I must say that if I had known that when I was 13 I would be rather more religious than I am today. Because as I told you before, being a Jew in the early ‘30s was a burden to me, not a joy or something to be particularly proud of. We were looked down upon as the bottom of the heap and living was hard, and I wasn’t mature enough to say ‘that is worth retaining.’ It would have taken very little if my parents hadn’t been so strong-minded for me to be totally assimilated. As it is, from point of view of orthodoxy, I have been assimilated. I didn’t follow a typical Jewish trade; my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I have relatives who are doctors and lawyers and clothing manufacturers and that sort of thing. I became an engineer, which in those days was a rare thing and as a result I learned rather late in life the significance of being a Jew. I suppose that in my seventies it’s better that not at all. There you have it, you asked me about the books.
Question: Does your wife use that Menorah?
“Yes, and she does one other thing. Every year she gets me to go down to the Rideau Bakery and buy some candles and she doesn’t believe everything I say but she does one at a time over the Chanukah period. One, she likes candles, but two she likes the idea. I still have a little book, essentially, Grace after Meals and that sort of thing given to me when I was 13, by my grandmother and in there are some prayers, by the way, the Hebrew is on the right hand side and the English on the left; and a siddur, a small prayer book which I’ve retained, and she flips through and she reads the English text.
Question: How do people take care of your sensibilities and what is appropriate.
“As a commanding officer, I can’t remember when, I think it was at the school, REME School, electrical and mechanical engineering school, I did all sorts of things from opening a Curling Rink to attending Funerals. They would ask me to read the lesson. In that system. If you have any knowledge of it, there are generally two lessons. One from the Old Testament and the second is generally from the New Testament. They usually, if they had me read the lesson, were careful to pick a piece of the Old Testament that did not refer to the coming of the Messiah or anything like that. The local clergyman at the time, the Chaplain, would check it with me and ask if that would be appropriate or inappropriate, not offend my sensibilities; and they would also not want me to say something that would go against my religious beliefs. Clergymen are even more sensitive to that sort of thing than those who would not give it a thought.
“It didn’t happen too often, but I’ve conducted a funeral service for a chap who was killed, been present at weddings and other ceremonies where as a matter of military requirement I’d have to get up and read something or say something. They were quite understanding if they knew I was Jewish. “Mendelsohn” strikes people in various ways. It can be German to some; some call me Mendeljohn which is Scandinavian I discovered. I don’t understand the connection, I don’t know enough about it but Mendeljohn somehow relates to Swedish. So People get mixed up as to what my background may be.
“Describe the picture? Well that picture is the official Department of National Defense photograph taken of me taken of me when I was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in 1967. As you see it’s in the old Uniform, the khaki uniform. We didn’t start wearing the Green until a year or so later.
“Its still there and they send tag or tags there are two there actually. These are my post war tags and they’re in fancy metal. The wartime ones were a piece of fiber, I think octagonal and they were tied together with a piece of dirty string. Most of the people, when the string got greasy cut off the string and put on a piece of toilet chain or equivalent whereas in post-war they provided them with a pretty fancy chain and I happened to retain it. This was given to me in 1946 when I stayed in the army on a permanent basis and you can tell it’s a post-war one because it has my Regimental number which is ZB 1858. It says JEW as opposed to some I think were PROTESTANT some were RC some were ANGLICAN some were PRES for Presbyterian. The wartime one was a much smaller disk and they had room for very little on there so they put a J. on mine.
"This is a picture of my parent’s wedding April 6th, 1916. They were married in Montreal at the lower end of St. Urbain St. down not very far from Ste Catherine. That isn’t where they were married, that’s where they held the reception and my mother at that time was living in Montreal, my dad was living in Ste Agathe.
“This is a picture of my father, taken in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1908 when he was 22 years old.
“This is a picture of the Carpenter Machine Shop of the Laurentien Sanitarium in Ste Agathe. In the background is Mr. Fred West alongside my father. Mr. West is in the white apron. In the foreground at the right hand side there is a machine lathe, a rickety old thing but it was the only machine lathe in the area and that was the lathe used by my father to fabricate, turn the Menorah that I spoke about earlier This picture was taken about 1928.
“This is a picture of the powerhouse at the Laurentien Sanitarium in Ste Agathe again taken about 1928. In the left background you’ll see my father standing beside a generator. In the right foreground you’ll se a chap by the name of Paul Legare who was his assistant, one of his assistants. Paul Legare is standing beside a steam pump which provided water for the boilers which were in the adjacent part of the powerhouse.
“Well, this is a picture, not very romantic, that my father sent to my mother about a month after they were engaged. It shows my dad at work in a powerhouse of some kind in the “Old Montreal” part of Montreal. He had a job there as a stationery engineer in a place where they generated power and provided steam for the heating and lighting of a number of buildings in the area of what is now Old Montreal. I should also add that the writing at the bottom is my dad’s hand writing and he had a beautiful script, even till the day he died when he was well into his sixties he had a much finer script than I’ve ever had. He was trained in the old calligraphy of European schools and he used to print beautifully and write beautifully.
“Well this is a picture of myself taken in June 1979. It’s the official National Defense photograph taken on the occasion of my appointment as Colonel Commandant of the Land Electrical Mechanical Engineering Branch. When I was named as Colonel Commandant I had to put on the uniform of a Colonel and this is the only picture I have of myself in the rank of Colonel with the four stripes as you see them there. This picture too was taken at the Rockcliffe photo lab.
“Well, what you’re looking at here is my commission. I was commissioned in 1937 when I was at the McGill COTC and the full title of the unit would be show at the bottom. It’s called the Canadian Officers Training Corps. As you see it was done in the time of George VI and the Governor General was Tweedsmuir whose signature appears in the upper left hand corner.
“Well this is a picture of my father, Isaac Mendelsohn painted by his first cousin, Charles Mendel, roughly about 1913-14. If it were done in ’14 my father would have been 28 years old. It was painted in Montreal. The picture was eventually given, after Charles Mendel was pretty old and close to death, to my father’s sister who retained it along with the picture of my father’s father, Myer Mendelsohn, my grandfather. My Aunt Rose, my father’s sister who had the paintings bequeathed them to the daughters in the family. So this picture was bequeathed to my sister Edith and when she died she bequeathed it to her daughter Susan who lives here in Ottawa.
“Now what I’m holding is a small ball-peen hammer. I’d mentioned earlier that my dad was apprenticed at a young age to an ironworker of some kind and one of his tasks as an apprentice was to make a hammer. This particular hammer has the date on it 1899 so my dad was 13 years old. The other side has the initials MI. I assume the custom in those days was to put the surname first. I’ve retained it as a souvenir of 1. what a lad of 13 can do and 2. its something my father made with his own hands.
Last update January 27, 2011