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Then & Now: The link between a Romanian Jew who accidentally ended up in Sudbury and the downtown flatiron building

Vicki Gilhula brings us the story of the Moses family

For anyone under 30, it's hard to imagine the importance of a newsstand before the internet and 24/7 cable news. Sixty years ago, Sudbury's daily newspaper was a conservative voice in a labour town. 

The television dial had 13 channels, but Sudburians only had two choices. Newsreels at the movies provided a sanitized point of view of current events. There were just two English and one French privately owned AM radio stations.

Anyone who wanted to know what was going on in the world and who was seeking diverse opinions went to Wolfe's Bookstore. Remember Wolfe’s?

Located in one of downtown Sudbury's oldest and most interesting buildings, the wedge-shaped flatiron building on Durham Street, Wolfe's sold newspapers and magazines from around the world.

Oldtimers, many now long dead, used to say it wasn't unusual to see undercover RCMP officers hanging around Wolfe's in the 1950s and early 1960s. The RCMP were watching for potential rabble-rousers who might be buying foreign-language papers or ones with socialist, communist or pro-Soviet views. This was the Cold War, after all.

The most famous flatiron building, located in New York City, was built in 1902.  It’s a bit unclear exactly when Sudbury’s flatiron, known as the Moses Block, was built. On RainbowRoutes.com, the date of 1915 is given for its construction,  though other sources report it was built earlier.

It housed Hascal Moses' jewelry store and a newsstand. The office of Jack Leve Raw Furs, one of the largest buyers of pelts in Northern Ontario and Quebec, was located on the second floor.

Moses was a Jewish immigrant from Romania who came to Canada in 1900 with a friend, Sol Magder. He purchased property in 1905 in Sudbury — the town was incorporated in 1896 — and opened a newsstand in 1907.

The original two-storey building was branded "Flat Iron Building" on the eaves. This can be seen in photographs taken before a fire in 1946. After the fire, Wolfe Moses added a third-storey, which allowed for a larger inventory of books, and the branding was removed and not replaced.

Dr. Jacques Abourbih interviewed Moses's niece, Anna Magder-Kaufman, in Toronto for his history of Sudbury's Jewish families posted at jewish-sudbury.com.

"Hascal Moses and Sol Magder, (Kaufman's father) left together Vaslui in the country of Romania, in the historical region of Moldavia, between the Carpathians and Dniester River … Canada was a destination of choice. The Canadian government and Canadian Pacific Railway made efforts to develop Canada after Confederation in 1867. Between 1880 and 1930, the Jewish population of Canada swelled to over 155,000," Abourbih writes.

"Arriving in Halifax, the two young Moldavians were given tickets to Winnipeg. Their train stopped in Sudbury, where a fast-talker convinced one of the two friends travelling together to ‘look no further, you have arrived at your destination, this is Winnipeg’ and pocketed their tickets, no doubt cashing the remaining portion of their tickets.

"Sol Magder, who spoke French, was able to establish that this was not Winnipeg (but) that there was a rabbi in Sudbury. It is tempting to imagine how Hascal and Sol fell in love with two of Rabbi Wichefsky’s daughters."

Moses married Annie Wichefsky in 1906. The Moses family lived in a fine home at 175 Spruce St. (now Applegrove Street) that was designed by a young American architect, William Hyacinth Owens, in 1914. Owens worked in Sudbury for a year before returning to the United States. 

If the date for Moses Block is 1915, it is possible Owens was involved in its design as well.

Magder married Annie's sister, Lena, and they also lived on Spruce. He owned a menswear store and had an interest in politics. He became a town councillor in 1916.

Wolfe Moses was born in 1914 and was one of eight children. While his brothers attended university, he wrote in a Quill & Quire article in May 1950 that he "was bitten by the book business virus."

He operated the store — which had a healthy mail order business serving northeastern Ontario — from the age of 16 when he took over management from his uncle who had taken ill. This was around 1930 and the shop became known as Wolfe's Bookstore.

In a 2008 interview, former CBC Radio broadcaster Benita Hart spoke about her experiences working for Wolfe Moses, who died in 1973.

He was a man of integrity, she said. At the time, Hart was a single mother who needed a job in a city that did not offer a lot of opportunities for women at the time.

Wolfe felt an obligation to employ people who needed a job, she said, relating the story of Bert Wilson, a long-time employee who was known by everyone as "Little Bert." He needed to stand on a box to reach the cash register. 

Wolfe’s wife, Dorothy, outlived her husband by 41 years and died in Toronto at the age of 96. Born and educated in Toronto, she moved to Sudbury in 1946 after marrying. In Sudbury, she became an active member of the Shaarei Hashomayim synagogue and a Haddasah volunteer. 

Wolfe and Dorothy's two children, Arthur and Miriam, now live in the Vancouver area.

Wolfe's Bookstore was purchased by university professor John Rutherford and a partner in 1975. Rutherford later moved up Durham to the Coulson Hotel and ran The Black Cat newsstand until 2014. He was also owner of Black Cat Two, a popular newsstand and coffee shop in the old Birks Jewelry store. 

The Moses Block is now the home of 50 Carleton, an advertising agency, and is painted a distinct greenish blue. In recent years, Money Mart has been located at the street level as has the Good Luck General Store.

You may have noticed the Moses Block has a "twin," that also in the downtown core. Give up? It’s the Ledo Hotel. 

Besides his jewellery store and newsstand, Hascal Moses owned the Sudbury Hotel, a larger flatiron building across from the train station. He sold the hotel when he retired in 1949. The hotel was later destroyed by fire and replaced by the Ledo, also a wedge-shaped building.

Sources

  • Ontario Jewish Archives
  • RainbowRoutes.com
  • Dictionary Of Architects In Canada
  • “The North is My Market” by Wolfe Moses, Quill & Quire May 1950
  • Sudbury.com
  • Ancestry.ca
  • Jewish-Sudbury.com
  • The Story of Our Times: Greater Sudbury Souvenir Anniversary Edition (Laurentian Publishing) 2008

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Then & Now is part of Sudbury.com’s Community Leaders Program.




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