Sam and Rose Kanee's family success story is steeped in the Jewish immigration experience in Canada. They arrived, they worked hard, they did all they could for their kids, and they contributed to their community. Sam's and Rose's exceptional efforts were rewarded with naches and deep connections while they were living, and a good name shaped by core Jewish values that will endure for generations.
Sam Kanee, one of 16 children, was born in Belarus in 1885 as Zalman Kinoy (later modified to Kanee). In 1903, Sam came to Canada, a new land of freedom and opportunity, to avoid conscription into the Russian army and the increasing pogroms and anti-Semitism. He made his way via England to Saskatchewan, attracted to Canada's welcoming immigration policies and job opportunities with the railway. There he met his future bride Rose through her brother, who also worked on the railroad.
Rose Kanee (née Lercher) was born in Galicia in 1884 and married Sam in 1907. They lived in Kelali, other small towns in Saskatchewan, and eventually Melville, a major railway junction. Sam left the railway to pursue business opportunities in Saskatchewan and later Manitoba. He owned a general store and flour mill in Melville with his two brothers-in-law, Louis Lercher and Meyer Waldman. They also bought a flour mill in Weyburn. Sam and his children eventually purchased Soo Line Mills, an enterprise that served as the foundation for the Kanee family's remarkable achievements in grain trading, milling technology, and agri-business. Sam and Rose settled in Winnipeg in 1937.
Sam and Rose made it their mission to help bring over as many family members as possible and succeeded in bringing the four parents, most of their siblings including over 10 for Sam, and numerous extended family members between their own arrival in Canada and 1930. They continued their involvement with these new immigrants in ensuring their successful integration in their new communities, including but not limited to assistance in finding new business opportunities, new marriages, and overall continued support. Sam maintained contact with and supported those family members who remained in Russia. The Kanees continued to sponsor newcomers to Canada, including a number of people displaced by the Second World War.
Sam and Rose were ardent Zionists who bought a piece of land in Palestine in 1914 and made the decision to move there. As the story goes, Rose's mother took ill while the family was at the train station departing and died shortly thereafter. Rose took it as a sign and insisted that the family stay in Canada. And so they did. Their commitment to Palestine and then Israel remained strong throughout their lives, as is evidenced today by Hadassah's (CHW) Rose Kanee Community Centre and Golden Age Club in the Ramat Israel area of Tel Aviv.
Sam and Rose had five children. Sol was a lawyer, businessman, political activist, and Jewish community leader locally and internationally. Ben and sister Ricky (Schachter) were both successful dermatologists and active in their Jewish and secular communities. Abe remained active in the grain business and as a community leader in Winnipeg. Sol and Abe lived their adult lives in Winnipeg; Ben in Vancouver; Ricky in Toronto. Sam and Rose's son Harry died at a young age.
For Sam and Rose, the success of their children and the well-being of their family were of utmost importance. They raised their children in Yiddish and English and stressed the importance of maintaining their Jewish identity, pursuing knowledge, acquiring a formal education, and contributing to the community.
For Sam's part, he was active in Mizrachi and in Zionist issues, served as a director of the Talmud Torah school, and played a key role in the early development of Rosh Pina Synagogue. Perhaps his most significant contribution to life in the Winnipeg Jewish community was his active volunteerism with the Jewish Old Folks Home, later known as the Sharon Home. With the encouragement and assistance of Rose, he joined the Board of Directors the year he arrived in Winnipeg, and was President at the time of his passing in 1951 — 14 years of consecutive service. He was a driving force behind the home's expansion and was eulogized by Rabbi Abraham Kravetz who called him "The noble Jew with the golden heart, devoted with sincerity to all communal causes, especially to the welfare of this institution, which was so dear to him."
The family shared Sam's passion for the Sharon Home. Rose served on the Board of Directors and as Treasurer of the Ladies' Auxiliary. Son Abe was President for 21 years; son Sol later served as Chairman of the Board. In 1997, in honour of the Kanee family's contributions, the name of the institution was changed to the Kanee Centre of the Sharon Home. The commitment to community service and charity is deeply entrenched in the Kanee DNA. Sam and Rose taught that people should be treated as equals, regardless of any one individual's station in life.
Rose was more expressive and funny; Sam more reserved and studious. As a couple and as parents, they were loving, dynamic, and enjoyed life. Rose was assertive, outgoing, and community-minded. She was active with Hadassah and the Sharon Home, and eagerly opened the doors of the family's St. Cross Street home to extended family members, Jewish travellers, and university students searching for a kosher meal. Her sense of humour was rich and her baking and cooking skills were legendary! In fact, one of her grandchildren produced a cookbook full of her recipes. Together, they enjoyed fine art, music, and dance and shared a deep curiosity about the world around them and the Canada that they chose and embraced.
L'dor va'dor — from generation to generation — Sam and Rose's four surviving children emulated the values and pursuit of excellence of their parents and went on to achieve outstanding successes and recognition in their academic and business endeavours, their professions, and through their contributions to their respective local, national, and international communities. With great pride, Sam and Rose celebrated the achievements and contributions of each of their children. Our communities continue to benefit greatly from the examples and deeds of Sam and Rose and the entire Kanee family in their embrace of tikkun olam, the Jewish imperative to repair the world.