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Sophie Shinewald
photo: Kinnerit Rifkind Photography

Hy and Sophie Shinewald. Wedding Anniversary 1959
photo provided by Ed Shinewald

Sophie and MP Kevin Lamoureux

Sophie (in blue dress)and Hy Shinewald at the marriage of Ed and Sharon Shinewald October 1966.
photo provided by Ed Shinewald


by Rhonda Spivak, October 17, 2012

At the youthful age of 99, Sophie Shinewald became the oldest person in Canada this summer to receive the Queen's Diamond Gold Jubilee Award.

It's hard to know where to start with this article- there are a number of remarkable things about Sophie. Firstly at age 99 she lives independently with no help in the house!

Secondly, she has an amazing memory-- in short, she is a walking encyclopedia of Winnipeg Jewish history.

I don't know what I was expecting to learn when I called her, but I certainly didn't expect to learn something about my own family history that I knew nothing about.

As soon as we began the conversation, Sophie asked me -do you know a David Spivak?

"Yes, I replied. He's my brother, who now lives in Toronto."

No! she said. "Go back a few generations."

It was as if I had to press the "rewind" button in my brain.

O.K. I got it. David Spivak was my great grandfather, my father's grandfather whom I never met, but after whom my brother is named.

"That's right", she said. "And David Spivak bought my parent's farm in Stonewall."

“I had no idea," I said, rather stunned. I had known that Davis Spivak was a farmer for eight years, settling first in Birds Hill, before moving to Winnipeg but I didn't really know that he was buying other farms-which I now understand was the case since he was a cattle dealer.]
Sophie explains:
"My Dad [Shmul Aron] built the farm house, my mother [Ritza Aron] didn't want to go live out there. But in the end she did," Sophie recalls. "My Dad died fifty years ago. My uncle Zalman Slutsky started the farm. I used to go to the farm for summer holidays. I was 18 [Sophie was living with a relative in Winnipeg during the rest of the year]

Then Sophie says with a flash "and David Spivak sold the farm and did well on the deal." [My father is not so sure how well he did on the deal]

Born in Winnipeg in 1913, the middle of three children, Sophie lived on 943 Selkirk Avenue and attended King Edward, Issac Newton and St. John’s High School prior to attending Normal School to obtain her teacher’s certificate.
"I graduated as a teacher in the 30's but couldn't get a job as a school teacher because it was the Depression. I could sew [Sophie's father was a tailor] and do books and went to work for Al Cohen Fur Company."

Sophie's work as a dressmaker brought her a great deal of satisfaction.

Sophie goes on to ask me if I know Mariam Maltz and explains that Al Cohen is Miriam Maltz's father in law and that Al Cohen was married to Sylvia Sarbit." [and I think you get the drift that Sophie probably would have been able to trace the entire list of Al Cohen's descendants, and possible future descendants]

And then Sophie, whose sense of humour and sharp wit is easily seen says, "I worked for 7 dollars a week. Do you think I was overpaid? [With that line she has me laughing].

She has me smiling when she reminds me that in her day, "Street car tickets were 8 for a quarter, but who had a quarter?"

She also has me laughing when I ask her what her daily hours are. "I get up at 6 a.m.," she says.

"And when is bedtime?," I ask.

"Bedtime is anytime I sit down. Anytime I sit down I fall asleep."

Somewhere in the conversation, I am jotting down a note to make sure that I tell the Shinewald Family that they should make sure they get her on video telling her life story. Her mind is a treasure-and she is a living history book].

Sophie gets married to Hymie Shinewald, who is literally the boy next door living on Selkirk Avenue. The couple moves to 40 Lansdowne Avenue near Scotia Street, which becomes home for over fifty years

Sophie works for the Al Cohen Fur Company until she has her two Jackie and Ed.

Then in 1952 Sophie, with the encouragement of her husband and children, goes back to school to qualify for a teaching position within the Seven Oaks School Division. But she decides to substitute teach, since by then her husband Hy wasn't well. But she was so popular as a substitute that in the end "I substituted every single day."
Sharon Zalik, Executive Director of the Winnipeg Chapter of Hebrew University remembers that Sophie was one of her substitute teachers, "She was a great teacher. No question about it"

As Sheldon Glow says, “Sophie was my favourite substitute teacher!”

"Sophie was my substitute teacher at  West Kildonan Collegiate", and she ould come "with a bag of stuff," says Judith Putter,who is the sister of Sharon Shinewald z'l, and knew Sophie before she ever met Ed.

"With Sophie as the substitute teacher, the class  "wasn't a spare," whereas some of the "other [substitute teachers  it was definately a spare," Putter ads.

Sophie recognized her own personality as needing to be involved with people, which prompted her to become active in the Home and School Association, first at Luxton School and then to the position of Secretary for the National Home and School Association.

Ed Shinewald recalls that his father, who worked seventeen years in a factory, before selling advertisement for the Israelite Press, the only Yiddish paper in Western Canada ("It was a hard way to make a living"), got tuberculosis due as a result of his factory work.

Ed says that "My mother got her energy level from her father," describing her as a "dynamo." He went to his mother Sophie's for dinner this Erev Yom Kippur, as "she is going to cook."
Sophie is a reader of the Winnipeg Jewish Review and is very computer literate. "The biggest thing in her life next to her grandchildren is her computer." According to Ed, once he got Sophie a computer, "email, the web, she was on it."
In our conversation Sophie also mentioned that he is able to “skype” to her daughter and grandchildren in Calgary, and grandchildren who lie elsewhere. She can “skype” to her grandchildren in Toronto
Her grandson Benjie Shinewald also notes that his grandmother still has a "day job," and until recently has continued to read to children at Luxton School.
Sophie works (volunteer work) at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre twice a week "Tuesdays and Thursdays-answering phones and filing."
Sophie emphasizes that Gwen Secter is very important to seniors, and she wants to make sure that Jewish seniors can continue to have their programming at the Gwen Secter.  He says Marilyn Regiec, the executive director "can make anything happen," and wants to ensure that Gwen Secter stays open for seniors for a long time to come.
Sophie still takes Transit Tom on occasion to get around, although, she says it's getting harder since "my legs are a little wobbly waiting for the bus."
When asked to what she attributes her longevity, she says she doesn't know for sure, but "walking is important"--and her message to young people is to make sure they walk as often as they can. (Benjie Shinewald says that Sophie has walked form Gwen Secter to Safeway)
As for Saturdays, Sophie joins her son Ed every Saturday morning at Etz Chaim synagogue (she also happens to live right near the synagogue, at the Etz Chaim co-op for seniors.)
Sophie, with the help of Chana Thau, self-published her life story in a book Sophie's story, a copy of which can be found in the Kaufman Silverberg library.
"It may be time to do a second printing of her book," Ed says.
One of the highlights of her life was when Ed took Sophie to see an Opera in New York, where her grandson lives. She also remembers fondly her trips to Israel with JNF.

Sophie will turn a hundred this spring. "My kids are cooking up something for it," she says.
I try to ask Sophie a couple more questions. She answers, "You've gotten the story. What do you need me for? Once again, she has me laughing.

Congratulations Sophie!--until 120!
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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