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Little-known Nelson heritage buildings: Jiszkowicz’s grocery

Updated: Feb 4

I’ve long been curious about a yellow brick building at 103-05 Chatham St. in Nelson’s Fairview neighbourhood, seen below. It’s an oddity on an otherwise residential street, as it obviously once had a commercial use, but what? I’m pleased to report that I finally know the answer — and it happens to involve a Jewish pioneer.

Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation says it was built in 1910 in Queen Anne style and was formerly a commercial building, but didn’t state what kind. BC Assessment says it was built in 1901 — which is usually shorthand for “we don’t know how old it is,” but in this case is probably correct.

The property is shown as vacant on the 1899 fire insurance map. Because Fairview was not within city limits until 1921, it doesn’t show up on the civic tax assessments until then. But this item from the Nelson Daily Miner of May 26, 1901 is very likely about our building:

The work on the erection of the new brick store in Fairview is going on apace. The brick work has been completed and a gang of carpenters are now at work putting on the roof. W.G. Gillett has the contract for the wood work.

I presume the bricks came from the Fairview brickyard, on the current site of the Valhalla Apartments, but I don’t know for sure. At least three other early brick buildings existed in Fairview, including a “seven-roomed house on Chatham street … first story of brick” advertised in the Daily Miner in late 1901; the Fleming grocery store at Behnsen and First, which was demolished in 1996 when Safeway expanded; and the two-storey house at 502 Second St. where the brickyard manager lived. (BC Assessment also claims a 1901 construction date for the latter, which is probably wrong. In 1910, brickyard proprietor William Hancock called for tenders “for the erection of a two-story brick building in Fairview.”)

While the 1901 Miner item quoted above did not identify the building owner, as of 1903, Charles Ishmael Jiszkowicz operated a grocery store there.

This ad for the Jiszkowicz Grocery is from the Nelson Daily News, June 22, 1902, but doesn’t give a location for his store.

Jiszkowicz is an interesting figure who has not had much attention paid to him, unlike fellow Nelson Jewish pioneer merchant Harris Ginsberg, aka Silver King Mike, to whom author Cyril Leonoff devoted a chapter in Pioneer Jews of British Columbia (2005).

Most of what we know about Jiszkowicz comes from his obituary, which described him as a “much travelled, very thoroughly informed and old-time resident of Nelson.”

He was born in Austria in 1856 and left home while he was young.

He travelled thoroughly over the eastern countries of Europe and northern Africa, becoming conversant with the languages of many of the countries through which he traversed. Finally from his first travellings he settled down in Paris, where he conducted a successful business for a number of years. Again seized with a desire for travel, he left Paris for New York and his next venture found him in he sheep raising business in Texas, which he left to come to western Canada.

On Dec. 4, 1887, he married Theresa Tapper in Winnipeg. She was born in London and came to New York when she was young, then to Winnipeg in 1882 with her parents. Her father, Elias Tapper, was a well-known tailor whose daily routine of rising at 6 a.m. for a walk and smoking three cigars remained unchanged for almost 50 years.

The couple moved to Vancouver where Jiszkowicz established himself as a jeweler on Carrall Street, but they suffered two tragedies in less than two months.

First Charles and Theresa’s infant son Abraham died on Dec. 12, 1888. Then on Feb. 8, 1889 a major fire at the corner of Carrall and Cordova damaged Charles’ store. He had no insurance.

The couple moved briefly to San Francisco where the 1890 civic directory recorded Charles as a watchmaker and jeweler at 773 Market Street. But by the following year they returned to Canada, and Charles established another jewelry store on Ward Street in Nelson. A daughter was born to Charles and Theresa on Dec. 15, 1892, but the birth was not registered and I don’t know what her name was.

Charles later moved to Vernon Street, then in 1895 to Baker Street.

Ad from the Nelson Tribune, Jan. 23, 1897

Early in 1897, Jiszkowicz bought C. Kauffman’s grocery business at the corner of Baker and Josephine and held a bankruptcy sale.

Ad from the Nelson Miner, Feb. 20, 1897

Ad from the Nelson Tribune, Feb. 20, 1897

A few months later, Jack Kirkpatrick bought the remaining stock of groceries. It’s unclear if Jiszkowicz continued with his watch and jewelry store after that, although civic directories suggest he did.

On April 26, 1900 he applied for plumbing permits for a home on Block 80, Lots 13 and 14, at the corner of Willow and Front streets. By 1901, Jiszkowicz was listed as a real estate agent and by 1903 he was listed as running a grocery in Fairview, which is our Chatham Street mystery building.

A vacant room in the store was the Fairview polling station for several elections until 1907 when a building next door was used instead. The Daily News described the room in Jiszkowicz’s building as “a large one, well lighted and comfortable in every way” and grumbled that votes would now be cast in a “small and dark room.” (The polling station returned to the store the following year.)

By 1908, Jiszkowicz was in failing health and wanted to retire. These ads appeared in the Daily News:

FOR SALE — Delivery rig complete. Apply C. Jiszkowicz.
FOR SALE — Brick building, two stores with stone basements at a sacrifice. Apply C. Jiszkowicz.

He rentedthe building to the new firm of Benson, Haigh, and Co. This ad, which was the key to figuring out the building’s early history, is from the Daily News of May 31, 1908.

(Water Street is the former name of that part of Front Street.)

The two young men behind the company were John Percie Benson, 21, and John Sidebottom Haigh, 28. Benson previously worked for another grocer while Haigh was a bookkeeper.

This partnership only lasted until August 1909, when Benson and John H.R. Christie, 34, bought out Haigh’s interest. Christie had been in Nelson for about 15 years and was previously an accountant.

The firm was renamed Christie and Benson and continued to operate on Chatham Street until September 1912 when they moved to the new Annable Block on Ward Street. (It may or may not have been coincidental that John Haigh was married to John Annable’s daughter Pauline.)

“The progressive step the firm took in moving from Chatham to Ward street has brought them into a wider trading area and he accumulated patronage that has been won, in a short time, has been ample justification of this movement,” said an ad in the Daily News of Jan. 6, 1913, seen below.

I have an alternate version of the photo they used in the ad, seen below.

At least five visible brand names are still around today: Corn Flakes, Sunlight Soap, Gillette, Tetley’s Tea, and Crisco.

Left: Judging from his clothing the man at the back of the store appears to be Chinese. Right: Christie and Benson (or Benson and Christie), I presume?

However, the firm did not last long on Ward Street. By November 1914 they moved back to Fairview, while their Annable Block storefront became home to the Red Cross.

Christie and Benson didn’t return to Chatham Street, but rather the corner of Second Avenue and Behnsen Sreet. Things didn’t go much better there. By July 1915, bankruptcy proceedings were underway and George A. Brown was listed in a legal ad as the “assignee.”

Back on Chatham Street, the civic directory indicated a new tenant in the Jiszkowicz building. This is from the Daily News of Feb. 7, 1913.

Proprietor Edward H.H. Stanley belonged to the Stanley newspapering family. He had only arrived in Nelson from Fernie a few years earlier and worked at the Daily News before opening his Chatham Street store. Stanley soon moved the business to Victoria Street, but it didn’t last long there either.

Stanley’s next venture, in August 1913, was to start a weekly newspaper at Slocan City known as the Slocan Star. This paper was so obscure and short-lived that until a few years ago no one had ever heard of it, much less seen it. Incredibly, a couple of copies have since turned up and are now in the Slocan Valley Archives.

The Star went out of business when Stanley died suddenly on Oct. 13, 1913 from heart failure, age 69. (He was nevertheless listed in the 1914 civic directory as a prospector living at 210 Baker St.)

Among his survivors were brothers W.S. Stanley of the Nelson Daily News staff and A.B.S. Stanley, editor of the Creston Review, who would go on to buy the Arrow Lakes News in 1924. The latter paper remained family-owned for 70 years.

Six days before Edward Stanley’s death, after years of declining health, Charles Jiszkowicz also died at his home on Oak Street in Fairview, age 57.

“Mr. Jiszkowicz’s death came not altogether as a surprise to his many friends in Nelson, as for the past five years he had been in failing health and for several weeks just passed he had been confined to his bed,” said his obituary in the Daily News. It also revealed:

Being conversant with a large number of European languages, Mr. Jiszkowicz acted on a great many occasions as court interpreter. Another vocation which called for a great deal of his time in later life was that of gardening, and at his home in Fairview Mr. Jiszkowicz kept a garden which was often held up before he eyes of sightseers as what might be accomplished in Nelson.

Jiszkowicz left an estate valued at $14,857 (about $332,225 today) to his wife Theresa, but I don’t know whether he still owned the Chatham Street building.

Theresa accompanied her husband’s body to Winnipeg for interment. She remained there and in 1918 married Mordecai Weidman, a widowed wholesale grocer who came to the city in 1882 from Lithuania.

When Theresa died in 1939, the Winnipeg Tribune said she “was identified with every major charitable organization in the city and was especially active in work of the Jewish community.”

Of the men involved in Benson, Haigh and Co. and its successor firm of Christie and Benson, John Christie died in Vancouver in 1930, age 54, survived by his wife. John Haigh died in Mission in 1954, age 73, where he had been municipal clerk. John Benson, to my amazement, died in 1980 at age 93. It’s startling to realize that my life coincided with his, however briefly.

As for the brick building on Chatham Street, it doesn’t appear to have been used for commercial purposes after 1913. The 1914 and 1915 directories list a number of residents on the north side of Chatham but because there were no fire numbers at the time, it’s impossible to know exactly who was where.

The Jiszkowicz/Christie and Benson store is seen in pink on the 1923 fire insurance map, which was pasted over to reflect changes through the 1950s.

At 7:13 p.m. on June 12, 1923, lightning struck the upper storey and roof of the old Hume school annex, demolishing the interior. While it started a small fire, that wasn’t what caused the most damage.

The bolt blew in all the windows, caused the plaster from the walls and ceiling to be thrown to the floor, and the lath from the ceiling to be thrown from their joists.

Shingles were scattered all over the place and the entire roof was lifted and shifted about six inches by the force of the blast. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

School trustees were soon on the scene to view the wrecked building. According to the following day’s Daily News:

After an inspection they got together and made arrangements for the opening of two school rooms in the old Jeskowitz [sic] brick buildings on Chatham street, where the pupils will be housed for the time being. It is expected that it will take from one to two days to get the building in shape and the seats down. There are two rooms in the building, and seats will be taken from the destroyed room and from the room below it …

There was no indication what the building was otherwise being used for or who owned it. I assume it was vacant. I further presume that students went there until the present Hume school opened in April 1924.

It’s interesting that it was referred to as the Jiszkowicz building even though Charles Jiszkowicz had been dead for a decade and his store had not operated there for 15 years.

I was very surprised to learn about this part of the building’s history — and that only happened when I posted this story on the People of Nelson Facebook site. Mary Defeo recalled that Gerry Stevenson told her there was a connection between this building and Hume school.

Stevenson in turn said his father Henry told him about the lightning strike: “He would have been in Grade 1 or 2 then. His class (maybe others as well) was temporarily housed in this building on Chatham Street.”

On Feb. 5, 1930, Fred Wendisch was granted a plumbing permit for Block 1, Lot 1, described as “store, residence.” Does this mean it had reverted to use as a store or that Wendisch planned to turn it back into one? I don’t know.

Fred Wendisch was listed in the 1930 civic directory as the proprietor of Wendisch’s Bakery at 515 Baker St. However, the business was very short lived. It was already absent from the civic directory the following year, as was Wendisch himself.

On Sept. 7, 1932, Herbert C. Gridley was issued a plumbing permit to add bathroom fixtures to the building, described as Block 1, Lots 1 and 2. Gridley’s name is interesting insofar as he was listed in 1929 as a baker at the Palace Confectionery at 204 Vernon St. while Samuel J. Gridley was listed as proprietor. In the same year’s directory, Wendisch was listed as a baker working for S. Gridley.

M.E. Beresford was issued another plumbing permit for the building on Sept. 21, 1944 by which time it was described as a brick duplex and assigned a fire number of 105 Chatham. It’s been residential ever since.

Updated on Jan. 31, 2020 to add the Nelson Daily Miner item about the building’s construction and biographical information about Edward H.H. Stanley. Updated on Feb. 7, 2020 with details about the building’s use as a temporary Hume school annex. Updated on April 2, 2020 to add details about Fred Wendisch and the Gridleys. Updated on Feb. 4, 2024 to add details about the birth of the Jiszkowiczs’ daughter and about their home at Willow and Front.

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