Jewish self-segregation and the organization of private Jewish social associations and clubs
was partly a product of Jews’ comfort level with other Jews, and partly a predictable reaction to the prejudice and blatant discrimination they faced.
– Allan Levine, Coming of Age, p. 266
The history of Winnipeg Jewry, in fact of the diasporic experiences of Jews is a glowing testimony to a rich and varied communal and institutional life that captures the modus operandi of an ethnic group that has sought to control its own destiny and at the same time bringing to life a range of activities and processes that reflect a heterogeneity of world views defined by class, gender, competing ideological and religious perspectives, and geographical origins. Within this historical framework one must also include the extent to which antisemitism and the politics of exclusion helped create, shape and define a Jewish communal ethos. Allan Levine’s aforementioned quote touches on a salient dimension of the evolution of Winnipeg Jewish communal life a dimension which includes antisemitism, that is a set of values and beliefs aimed at placing obstacles to Jewish integration and participation in everyday civil and political society. Though this is a simplistic definition one which does scant justice to a complex topic, it will serve the purpose as a foundational piece of this vignette.
A case in point is the origins of the Glendale Golf and Country Club. Its formation was a visible expression of a Winnipeg Jewish community bent on creating its own structures for maximizing its creative capacities in an environment free of discrimination. Glendale was a response to aspects of a worldview that barred Jews from participating in organized leisure activities. As Levine points out Jews were shut out from joining private golf courses. The only two courses open to them, which were public facilities, were Kildonan Park and Windsor Park. On the national scene there were at the time only two golf and country clubs whose membership was largely Jewish: Elm Ridge in Montreal (founded in 1924) and Oakdale in Toronto (also founded around 1924).
By 1946 a group of prominent Jewish businessmen and community leaders decided to establish a golf and country club. This group consisted of Percy Genser, owner of a furniture store, garment factory owner Ben Jacob and other businesspeople and community activists such as Hy Bernstein, Sam Sair, Leon Brown, Nathan Jacob, Max Freed Morris Neaman, Alex Mitchell, to name a few. The group created a business plan, hired a lawyer – S. Hart Green – and procured funds to purchase the Royalmount Club, located at Portage Avenue West. The sense of responsibility on the part of the founders was best demonstrated when one of the conditions of membership stipulated that “any member who in the opinion of the Board, does not contribute an adequate amount to charitable or welfare causes in accordance with his circumstances, shall be deemed acting contrary to the reputation of the club”. (Remis, p. 13). Shareholder membership with voting privileges was set at $1000 or $500 for a regular non-voting one (Levine, p. 267). A special deal was granted to veterans asking them to pay $100 up front and the rest when they could. In 1949 a new clubhouse was opened, designed, and built by the architectural firm of Green Blankstein Russell which sportswriter Jack Matheson deemed as “the most handsome clubhouse in the country”. (Remis, p. 18).
Social activities contributed to making Glendale a favourite recreational spot. These included the president vs. vice president golf tournament, the annual President’s Ball, Halloween festivities and the Yom Kippur New Years Dance.
What should not be lost to the readers of this vignette is that Glendale transcended its specific purpose as a recreational facility. As Leonard Remis rightfully points it emerged as a focal point of Jewish community life “and was to become the forum where decisions that affected the whole community played out”. (Remis, p.6). It was essentially an additional piece in the mosaic of Jewish cultural life and social identity. It was further proof that Winnipeg Jews were willing to take the bull by the horn and assert their rights and needs in the greater Canadian cultural context notwithstanding the imposition of barriers aimed at curtailing their full participation.
Levine, Allan. Coming of Age. Winnipeg: Heartland Publishers, 2009
Remis, Leonard (ed.). Glendale Golf and Country Club. Anniversary Yearbook 1946 – 1946