Updated: Mar 23
In 1953, East Trail was home to at least 11 small groceries, confectioneries, and markets. Today only one survives, the Handy Store, which has operated under that name at 1303 2nd Ave. since 1945. The construction of Safeway in 1959 was a death blow to most of the others.
One that’s particularly interesting was in a large building that still stands at the corner of Columbia Avenue and Thom Street, across from Butler Park. It’s one of the few remaining signs of Trail’s once-sizable Jewish community, which existed from 1927-68.
The building’s story begins, however, with the arrival in Trail of Frank and Elizabeth Shimell around 1916. Frank was born in Smithwick, England in 1884 and Elizabeth in Shoreditch in 1892. They previously lived in Calgary, where daughter Vera was born in 1914.
Frank and Elizabeth Shimell, 1914. (Courtesy Julie Shimell)
Two years later they were in Trail, where Frank worked as a machinist at the smelter. Four more children were born there: Rose in 1917, Roy in 1920, Ruby in 1922, and Lloyd in 1936.
On the 1921 census, the family is listed as living in East Trail (or more properly, Trail East) along with Elizabeth’s mother and her younger sister Rose. Another sister, Ivy, married George Ewings and was also living nearby. The Shimells were shown as running a store, which may have been at 1797-99 Columbia Ave., but probably wasn’t in the same building that we’re discussing.
A 1925 calendar form the Shimell store, prior to the construction of the present building. (Courtesy Ed Mannings)
A title search shows the property, whose legal description is District Lot 2919, Block 12, Lot 1, changed hands six times in slightly more than a decade.
1909: George Herbert Playle
1912: William John Goepel
1915: Thomas Wentworth Bingay
1918: Enoch Haywood
1919: Joshua Roderick Woods
1920: Constance Bridge Mawdsley
Among these folks, Goepel became BC’s deputy minister of finance around the same time he acquired the property, Bingay was a smelter executive, Woods was a smelter mechanic, and Haywood also worked at the smelter. Woods and Mawdsley appear on the 1921 census living close by to the Shimells.
Frank Shimell bought the property from Mawdsley in 1925, and it appears the present three-storey building went up that year. That’s the date BC Assessment puts on it. The fire insurance map of that year, the first to include East Trail, showed it as “under construction,” along with another notation that I can’t read. (It also reveals Thom Street was once First Street.)
A later insurance map showed it like this, indicating the front of the building was at a slight angle from Columbia Avenue.
In addition to the grocery store on the first floor, the building was home to four two-room suites on the second floor and one four-room suite on the third floor. A house and garage stood on the same property.
This allowed the proprietors to live on site, rent other rooms, and take advantage of traffic to and from nearby Butler Park, which in those days was not only a baseball diamond but the city’s chief athletic grounds. Below are the two of the earliest known photos of the building, taken from postcards in my collection.
The Shimells ran the business for the next 11 years, during which time it was known as the Shimell Economy Store. They rented the business out in 1936, but continued to live in the building. However, Frank’s retirement was short lived. He died suddenly in 1940, age 56, survived by his wife and five children.
Trade token from the F. Shimell Economy Store. (Courtesy Ronald Greene)
In 1936, a coal mine shut down at Drumheller, which was then home to a large Jewish community. As a result, Samuel and Bessie Wise moved to Trail with their four children, Clare, Doris, Ted, and Leonard and established Wise’s Groceteria downtown at 1577 Bay Ave. (now Salsman Insurance) and a second branch in East Trail by renting the Shimell store. They also lived in the building. This item appeared in The Vancouver Sun of Jan. 16, 1937:
Pictures of Bessie and Sam Wise and the store appeared in the 2003 edition of The Scribe: The Journal of the Jewish Historical Society of BC. The captions read “Sam Wise in front of his grocery store in East Trail, 1939” and “Bessie Wise at back of store, East Trail, ca. 1940.”
In the detail below from another postcard in my collection, it looks like the false front has a giant W and E, part of a “Wise’s Groceteria” sign.
Sam’s other claim to fame was as the Garlic King of the Kootenays. He grew the stuff.
The Wises left the store in 1941 and later ran a hardware store in Rossland before retiring to Victoria in 1965. Sam died there in 1970, age 77 and Bessie in 1979, age 75.
In 1938, the next major player in our story arrived in Trail.
Noah (Nate) Joffe was born in Russia in 1893, came to Canada in 1905, first to Calgary and then to Drumheller, where he operated a general store.
He moved to Trail after separating from his wife, Hattie Diamond, a daughter of Alberta’s first Jewish settlers. They had two children, Sabine and Jay, who moved with their mother to Calgary where Hattie was a successful businesswoman.
Nate lived in Trail at 1200 Bay Ave. and started Joffe’s Confectionery at 1455 Bay Ave. (now H&R Block) where “one could get an obscene amount of ice cream for a quarter,” according to Frederick and Lillian Peitzsche in Trail of Memories.
In 1941, Joffe moved his business to East Trail, into what had been Wise’s Groceteria.
Leo Levey, the “de facto head” of Trail’s Jewish community, said Joffe “was very well liked. Living the life of a bachelor, he was a regular dinner guest at many homes. A well-read person, he had strong convictions on many social problems of that time; everyone was his friend.”
Nate Joffe and Andrea Spindel at Northport, 1950. In the background are the train station (long gone), the New Zealand Hotel (burned down 1958), and two other buildings that still stand, one of which was the town office, library, and museum. (The Scribe, 2003)
Jack Switzer added in The Journal of Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta: “[Joffe] enjoyed his role as a zaida (grandfather) and uncle to the Trail Jewish community.” Joffe was also president of the Jewish Benevolent Society of Trail and Rossland from 1949-55.
Of the store, Jamie Forbes recalls:
I was in Joffe’s a lot as a kid buying penny candy, Fudgsicles, revels and pop. I remember a small bottle of pop was six cents. We also bought comic books there. It was a good business because of all the ball games going on at Butler Park in those days. It was a fair size store but I don’t remember what other items they sold.
Brian Findlow further remembered:
There we used to sit twice a day for years for lunch and coffee breaks, just like birds on a wire, not turning our head to speak to each other but speaking to the people in the mirror.
Title on the building transferred to Elizabeth Shimell in 1944, four years after her husband died. That year the civic directory listed her still residing there along with daughter Vera and the Woods family, possibly relatives of the Josh Woods who once owned the property. Nate Joffe lived in the building too, although for a time he also had a house at 1496 Third Ave.
While no other old photos showing the storefront close up appear to exist, the one below shows the side of the building during a track meet in the 1940s or ‘50s and a sign that reads “Joffe’s Confectionery/Ice Cream/[illegible]/Groceries” plus another sign for Sweet Caporal cigarettes.
(Trail Historical Society SP-544)
In later views, we can see that the store had a couple of giant 7-Up signs on its false front. The first one below is from 1969 and the second one perhaps the 1970s.
(Trail Historical Society 1238)
(Detail from Dorse McTaggart photo)
In 1953, Elizabeth Shimell put the building up for sale, but it doesn’t appear to have found any takers. This ad appeared in The Vancouver Sun.
Nate Joffe was still operating the store when he died suddenly of a stroke on May 18, 1961, age 68. Oddly, his was the only Jewish death in Trail. This is his obituary from the Trail Daily Times two days later.
Joffe’s children were both prominent in Alberta’s Jewish community. Sabine (1926-2007) earned a masters degree in social work and counselled young Holocaust survivors. She was also executive director of Jewish Family Services in Calgary for 17 years and on the social work faculty of the University of Calgary.
Jay (1931-2006), a Calgary ad man, was founder and president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta as well as president of the Southern Alberta Pioneers. The Jay Joffee Memorial Program was established in his name to feature Jewish culture or history through lectures, exhibits, films and performances.
Joffe’s Confectionery continued to appeared in the phone book through 1963, run by Annie Coutts and her daughter. An exhibit at the Trail Museum on lunch counters noted there was one in Joffe’s, where Annie “served many East Trail kids chocolate milkshakes.”
In 1965, Elizabeth Shimell again put the building up for sale, as seen in the ad below from The Vancouver Sun, and subsequently moved to Montrose. She died in 1982, just short of her 90th birthday.
Leeanne Halifax outlines the building’s more recent ownership history in the comments below. It last changed hands in 2021. It has remained an apartment building since the store closed. It was painted blue on one side sometime between 2019 when the first picture below was taken and 2022.
One postscript: a caption in that 2003 issue of The Scribe, mentioned earlier, referred to the building as the Zagin Block.
Louis Zagin, his wife, and two daughters were among Trail’s first Jewish residents. In 1927 they opened a small second hand furniture store, and later ran a restaurant. However, I can find no other references to the Zagins having owned or lived in the East Trail building. So it might have just been a mistake.
What do you remember of Joffe’s Confectionery? Leave me a note in the comments.
— With thanks to Julie Shimell, Ron Greene, and Ed Mannings