Laura Richman

My Story...

Laura was born at the Grace Hospital on May 2, 1932, the first child of Alex and Annie (Kanovsky) Newhouse. Her first home was at 737 Corydon Avenue at Cockburn Street at the back of her parents’ grocery store.

How Alex came to own that grocery store has become part of Newhouse family legend, though quite possibly conjecture. Alex was born in the Ukraine and came to Canada as a child with his parents through the Baron de Hirsch agricultural land program. They endured the challenges of settling in rural Saskatchewan, building a small mud hut and over time accumulating a cow and a horse and wagon. Eventually the family, which now included Alex’s sister Mary, moved to Winnipeg. Here, Alex’s father peddled coal and the family lived in a small house on Jarvis Street, across from the Winnipeg Cold Storage. As a young man, Alex was given the opportunity to move to Lipton, Saskatchewan to manage a movie theatre for his uncle, Nathan Rothstein. Only two hours away in Wapella, the Bronfman family had settled and discovered the potential of the alcohol business, the proximity to the U.S. border being ideal for bootlegging operations during Prohibition. Somehow, Alex came back to Winnipeg with enough cash to buy a grocery store and a car, and soon, to get married.

Annie was born in Ekaterinoslav, Gubernia in the heart of the Ukraine and came to Canada with her parents in her teens. Her older brother had escaped to Canada to avoid induction into the army and had settled in Goodeve, Saskatchewan and opened a general store, making enough money to bring over his parents and five siblings. Annie and Alex married in 1930 and after Laura’s birth in 1932 they had three more children – Myrna, Tyra and Jack. From their two rooms at the back of the store they moved first to an apartment at the corner of Arbuthnot and Jessie and later to a house just across the street on Jessie Avenue.

Laura has fond childhood memories. Her father’s store was closed on Wednesday afternoons and, since he always had a car, those days were often spent with drives to Kildonan Park or Lockport, enjoying picnics or time with friends or family. Alex would buy goods that had been damaged in transit so Wednesdays often included a stop at Weriers Wholesale on Main Street. Laura attended LaVerendrye School, Earl Grey Middle School and Kelvin High School. It was at Kelvin that she first met other Jewish students.

Laura was interested in studying medicine, a career her father deemed unsuitable for girls. As a concession, in her Grade 12 year, he found her a position as a student x-ray technician at Mount Carmel Clinic on Selkirk Avenue. Under the direction of Anne Ross, this clinic was just transitioning from strictly serving the Jewish community to catering more broadly to the community in which it was situated. It had a primitive x-ray machine and Laura was taught to use it. Jewish Immigrant Aid Services was bringing refugee children to Canada and Mount Carmel Clinic undertook to do each child’s initial medical exam. The clinic buzzed with increased staff – nurses, lab technicians, volunteer doctors - and Laura assisted wherever she could, including in the operating room! She says now, “we didn’t know what we didn’t know”!

After three years at Mount Carmel Clinic, Laura got a job at Winnipeg Clinic as a junior x-ray technician. She remembers distinctly holding babies for their x-rays; the doctors and radiologists all wore protective lead aprons but there was no protection for her – something that would be unheard of today. “But I’m still here to tell you about it!”, she laughs.

In June of 1953, Laura met Harold Richman at Marcy Raber’s wedding when he asked her to dance. They were married on September 8, 1953 and moved into an apartment at Corydon and Nassau. They later moved into a duplex at 177 Machray at Main Street where their first child, Joy, was born in 1955. In 1958, daughter Sally was born and Laura and Harold built a house at 25 Colish Drive in Garden City to be near their burgeoning business in Inkster Park. A third daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1963. Laura never went back to medical work, but was happy to raise her family and manage the office at J.R. Wire & Metal Specialty, their family business.

Harold, the son of Eva (Pinsky) and Morris Richman, was born and raised in Winnipeg and studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Manitoba (class of 1947). In 1956, Harold managed to scrape together $90,000 and bought a small factory at Main and Highland that made wire baskets for The Bay and Eatons for display purposes. Harold, with his training as well as his intellect, ingenuity and integrity, grew this business, J.R. Wire & Metal Specialty, into a successful manufacturing operation. Laura had taken typing at Kelvin High School and while the factory floor was Harold’s domain, the office soon became hers. He was an efficiency expert and devised a timecard system whereby employees would punch their cards whenever they changed specific operations in the assembly process. This gave him a very accurate tool for analyzing how much time was being spent on each task, and also for analyzing his employees’ performance! Laura’s job was to process the timecard information, as well as acting as bookkeeper, filing clerk, secretary and coffee-maker!

While Harold thoroughly enjoyed his career, he also loved biology, botany and photography. He took joy in propagating exotic plants, wrote articles for the Manitoba Naturalist and the Manitoba Society of Seniors, and created extraordinary sculptures and puzzles. He also took a keen interest in other people’s passions and encouraged intellectual curiosity and life-long learning. This was especially true with his daughters; he mentored them in their studies and taught them how to think. He was imbued with an uncommon generosity of spirit. Laura and Harold enjoyed an exceptional 57-year marriage marked by mutual respect and partnership, a love of family and community, and many shared interests. Harold developed leukemia and passed away in October 2010, a profound loss for all who loved him.

Laura recalls her first of many volunteer positions as washing dishes in the kitchen after the I.L. Peretz School Mutervarein tea in the spring of 1962. She went on to serve as President of the Parents Association at I.L. Peretz School. For a time she canvassed for the United Way and then decided to canvass for the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council. Her involvement there led her to discover the National Council of Jewish Women and Hadassah and she ultimately served as President of both organizations as well as President of the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council. She has fond memories of her involvement with NCJW and the passionate group of women who shared an interest in community service and a love for a vibrant Jewish life in Winnipeg. She was actively involved with the building of the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre. Among her proudest accomplishments is a project that she initiated, together with Marjorie Blankstein and Betty Havens, which began with a study group to assess the transportation needs for Jewish elderly in Winnipeg. This led to a subsidized taxi voucher program, funded at its beginnings by Alex Tallman. Over the years this program, today known as the Tallman Seniors’ Transportation Initiative, has been a lifeline for many seniors, allowing them to attend community programs, keep medical appointments, and stay socially connected. Laura feels privileged to have had the opportunity to give back to her community.

When Laura married Harold, he was a man who enjoyed almost any athletic activity including golf, curling, tennis, and hiking. For Laura as a young woman in a Jewish household, involvement in sports had not been part of the cooking-sewing-cleaning training program! After they were married for some time, Harold wanted to resume his athletic pursuits, and, being the nice guy he was, he wanted Laura to join him. He bought her a set of golf clubs and it wasn’t long before she realized that she very much enjoyed playing golf! She began to get a sitter and went to nearby Kildonan Golf Course to play a round, have dinner, and then headed home in time to tuck in her girls. A group of Jewish men had the idea to have a Jewish golf club in Northeast Winnipeg. Harold and Laura bought shares and became members at the new Bel Acres Golf Club where soon after Laura became the first President of the Ladies Section.

Harold’s brother was a member at the Glendale Golf & Country Club, which also served a primarily Jewish clientele, and he persuaded Harold and Laura to join. Laura cites this as the beginning of her serious golf career. She became the President of the Ladies Section four years after joining, taking over from Lil Mostow, and was very involved in many activities of the club. She took golf lessons, and began a Monday-to-Friday routine that included an early morning round with the “Fearsome Foursome” – Janie Schneer, Harriet Berkal, Celia Hornstein and Laura. They met at 7:30, Celia would come prepared with a daily joke, and once they were all laughing they started their round of 18 holes which they played in 3 hours by playing, hitting and walking, each to her own game. Laura would have a quick lunch, shower, and be at work by 1:00!

Laura still bemoans the fact that although she was President of the Ladies’ Section she was not given a seat on the Board. She also recalls that when her daughter Joy became an avid golfer and then attended dental school, the Alpha Omega fraternity had regular tee times, but Joy – the only female in the dental school - was not welcome. It was just the way things were done then, and it took a long time to change. Judy Bager took over the Presidency after Laura’s term and continued to advocate for inclusivity.

With five holes-in-one on her record, as well as club championships, many ladies’ championships and handicap tournament victories, Laura’s golf career was notable. What she values more, however, is the many fond memories of her days with the Fearsome Foursome, and the joy of starting the morning with laughter!

All three of the Richman daughters, Joy, Sally and Rebecca, graduated from the I.L. Peretz School, Jefferson Junior High School, and Garden City Collegiate. Today, Joy is a pediatric dentist, a development biologist and the Head of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of British Columbia. Her children are Phoebe, at McGill in her third year of astrophysics, and Teagan, a ballet dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. Sally, who studied fashion design at Ryerson and enjoyed a satisfying career in that industry, lives in Vancouver with her husband, Michael J. Slater QC, a Personal Injury Litigation Attorney. Their son Matthew is a graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a bitcoin entrepreneur. Their daughter Samara lives in Amsterdam and pursues her love of writing along with a job as Master Data Coordinator at PVH Corporation. Rebecca and her husband Dov Lazar are both accomplished professionals - she has a mechanical engineering degree, an MBA and a stockbrokers certificate and he is a computer science graduate from McGill and worked for NASA. They met on a hiking trip in Vancouver and shared an entrepreneurial venture, and now enjoy retirement life on a boat anchored off the coast of Guatemala. Laura is proud of each of her children and grandchildren.

Laura has been enjoying winters in Arizona and summers at home in Winnipeg. She enjoys golfing, tennis, playing bridge, quilting and connection with family and with life-long friends. She is proud of Winnipeg’s Jewish community and its vibrant history. She hopes that future generations understand that people poured their hearts and souls into keeping the traditions and culture alive and faced the challenges to ensure that the community would continue to thrive. The Campus and other community institutions are gems passed down from those who cared to those who will care in the future.

To all she bids, “A Bei Gezunt”.