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Ida Albo
Samantha Katz

Human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and B’nai Brith senior legal counsel David Matas presented the evening’s co-chairs Polly Craik, Ginny Devine, Sherraine Christopherson and Sandy Shindleman with special presentations for their charitable involvement and outstanding leadership
Samantha Katz

Crowd at Fort Gary Hotel.The following lit candles at the event: Simone Cohen Scott; Richard Swyston; Marfisia and Sebastian Bell (Ida Albo’s children); Rev. Rudy Fidel, co-chair of the B’nai Brith Manitoba Christian Jewish Roundtable; Rev. Raymond McLean, co-chair of the B’nai Brith Manitoba Jewish Aboriginal Roundtable; Chief Garrison Settee of Cross Lake, Chief Michael Yellowback of the Manto Sipi Settee Cree nation, MKO Grand Chief David Harper, 2003 Award of Merit recipient Bob Silver, 2010 Award of Merit recipient Janice Filmon, B’nai Brith midwest regional director Alan Yusim; Gail Asper, chair of the Friends of the Canadian Human Right Museum, and Larry and Tova Vickar
Samantha Katz

Ida Albo, recipient of this year’s B’nai Brith Award of Merit, receives a plaque from (left to right) Gary Doer, former Manitoba Premier and currently Canada’s ambassador to the US; Earl Barish, chair, B’nai Brith’s national executive board; and one of last year’s recipients Sandy Shindleman. (Photo: Samantha Katz)


Rhonda J. Prepes


by Rhonda Spivak and Rhonda Prepes, Jan 3, 2012

Hotelier, economist, restauranteur and volunteer, Ida Albo was honoured with the B'nai Brith Canada 2012 Award of Merit in Winnipeg on November 27, 2012. The Award of Merit is reserved for individuals who have contributed through their efforts to enhance the social, cultural, business or political life of Canada.

Sandy Shindleman, who was one of the recipients of the award of merit last year emceed the evening that was was attended by over 400 people. He made a few hilarious remarks,including a stern warning for the crowd to ensure he was relieved of his duties as an  emcee in order to enable him to survey the dessert table, before others arrived.

Dr. Frank Dimant, CEO, B’nai Brith Canada presented Albo with her award “in recognition and tribute to her personal and professional commitment to the further improvement of her city, province, and country…and her vision for a better tomorrow and devotion to the plight of others.”

“Since 1875 BB, the Jewish community's foremost human rights organization, has lit the menorah at the beginning of our programs to rededicate ourselves to the principles of our organizations: peace, hope, vision, justice, democracy, and truth,” said Chairman of National executive board of B’nai Brith Canada Earl Barish.

Gary Doer, former Manitoba premier and currently Canada’s ambassador to the US, arrived from Washington for the event. He spoke of the leadership and vision Albo demonstrated in her many undertakings, including the restoration of the Fort Garry Hotel, chair of Centre Venture Development Corporation, chair of the Guardian Angel Benefit Committee for Breast Cancer Research.

On Oct. 21,2012, a month before recepit of her B'nai Brith Award of Merit Albo received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Winnipeg’s Alumni Association during fall convocation ceremonies. [To read an article in the  Uniter about this, go to

Albo was introduced by her brother Frank, who delivered a touching and also humourous speech.

Albo spoke of her meagre beginnings as the daughter of uneducated but hard working Italian immigrants. Her personal story of success is a remarkable and inspiring one and for this reason the Winnipeg Jewish Review has chosen to reprint her remarks in full at the end of this article.


As I started preparing my notes for tonight’s speech my thoughts kept taking me back to the various forks in my road that have brought me here tonight in these grand ballrooms, attached to a National historic site with a world class spa that Rick and I have had the privilege of re-building and repositioning for the past 19 years. Growing up in Winnipeg’s inner city above a grocery store with parents that couldn’t read or write English or Italian I could never have imagined being here in front of you all, accompanied by husband, my children, my dad and my siblings.

The bio in the program is correct, at 52, I have been an economist, a restaurateur, a hotelier, an entrepreneur, a volunteer, and a yogi… all roles I am especially proud of, but don’t necessarily define me as a daughter to the most caring and loving parents, a wife to a husband who instilled in me the drive to never compromise and a finally and most importantly a mother because, I am not sure about the rest of you but it is often through my children’s trials and tribulations that my humanitarianism nature has flourished.

I am a first generation Canadian. My mother and father were southern Italian immigrants, who met and married in Winnipeg in 1958. Although neither had any formal education, - my mother may have completed Grade 2 and my father, slightly more refined, ascended to Grade 3 – When they immigrated to Canada, they were able to secure what they considered 'bery good' jobs.

My mother did piecework for Crown Cap; Her job was to sow the hard visor to the soft part of the cap and she could sow very fast. Although I couldn’t have been older than 4, I have fond memories of my mom ‘working from home’ and putting me to work snipping the hats apart and repacking the ‘finished product’. My dad too was entrepreneurial and hard working, with his main job, where he too made ‘good money’ was as a baker at Bryce Bakery.

By the time I was 6, my dad and his brother pooled enough money to open one of Winnipeg’s first Italian grocery stores on the corner of Bannatyne and Isabel. Our families, 10 in all, shared the apartment above the store, there was one bathroom and every room but the kitchen functioned as both a family room and a bedroom
Our parents worked hard and as soon as I was able to reach the cash register by standing on an inverted plastic milk box, I was ringing in grocery sales and learning to give change back without the assistance of an automated register. 

Besides working at the store I, also had a few side jobs the most lucrative of which took place each year in late June, when along with my cousins, we would go door-to-door shelping surplus Albo Meats and Grocery calendars. It did not phase us that half the year had come and gone; as we told our customers with summer here, Halloween coming and Christmas not that far off the best months were yet to come.

As we as a family started to grow, and it was about the time that my parents bought their own grocery store on Sargent and Dominion that I was not only a budding entrepreneur, but at the ripe age of 11 the seeds of my humanitarian spirit first gestated; albeit as a cunning karma vigilante.

A fist full of dimes, a trio of robust Italian girls, a boy for hire, and a bloody nose.

Our grocery store was kitty corner to Sargent Park School. As the oldest of three siblings, my job was not only to manage our extensive candy counter, but also to take my sisters for lunch afterwards to the Grill on Lipton and Sargent.

Despite our the brisk candy business, I was always mindful to hide a stash of long johns: cholesterol-reducing hot dog bun size donuts, sometimes filled with vanilla cream but always covered with milk chocolate, before they sold out. This snack was sustenance for our 4 block trek to the Lipton Grill; where lunch usually consisted of a Hot Turkey Sandwich, double-Bacon Cheese Burger, supplemented with a healthy fixing of fries with a side of gravy for dipping, and figure-enriching lemon meringue pie for dessert, but dessert only when lunch sales were such that we had to put back a couple of the long johns

Needless to say our lifestyle; managing a candy counter in a grocery store and our full meal deal daily lunch; not only ensured that we were all a bit rotund but also made one of my younger siblings the target of an unrelenting bully. As the matriarch of our sibling clan I took it upon myself to correct the situation. I grabbed a fist full of dimes from my candy cash stash; I hired the toughest six-grader I could find and had him take care of our problem. Needless to day, we were never bothered by this bully or all bully again.

Growing up my parents had only one house rule, go to school or work at the store. As puberty hit and given my parents not so through understanding of what it meant to ‘go to school’, I found numerous school-related activities to participate in, some sanctioned and some that were not. As for the sanctioned activities I tried out for and played for every sports team that didn’t cut me for my waif size;

And by the time Grade 10 came round I was playing volleyball, basketball, field hockey, running track and cycling competitively And while I was learning the importance of teamwork, fair play and leadership; my siblings were learning that they too should get active as they were soon covering all my shifts.

Participating in sports not only corrected my weight, but also leads me down the road that got me active in school politics. Not only at Daniel Macintyre where was I ran for and was elected high school president but also through to University.

The outcome of that imperative house rule, school or work, was that by the time I was 20, I was finishing a four-year double honors degree in economics and mathematics at the UW. And maybe because I always knew I had a job as a cashier and employed as secretary treasurer of student council at UW at the time, I wasn't really thinking about what I would do next.

The Good

How a seemly small gesture can garner exponential returns.

After winter break, Jane Snidal, the Head of the Department of economics, called me into her office. She had 3 applications that were already filled out: one to Queens, one to Western and one to UBC.  They were for graduate school and remarkably, they were for me. I know for some of you this may sounds naïve but I had no idea know growing up that people went away to school.

I got accepted to all three schools and when the replies came in Jane was ecstatic. She walked me through my options and recommended, given my mathematics background, that I strongly consider either UBC or Queens. I too was ecstatic, but choose Queens as they offered the most funding. The offer included $18,000 of funding; which was more than enough for tuition, lodging, meals, flights, everything! ??

But I now had a problem. I had not told my parents that I had applied to go away to university. I arrived home somewhat apprehensive but excited. Despite this extraordinary offer and opportunity, my dad was very upset. He was worried about what people would think. Specifically that I might be pregnant

With some coaxing, I eventually got my parents blessing. It was a very difficult period but also a growth period not just for myself but for my parents and siblings as well.

So back to a seemingly small gesture providing for exponential returns

Jane Snidal’s small gesture of going the few extra steps, the humanitarian gesture, opened not just my door but also the door for my siblings as well.

Brought up by parents that never had the opportunity to benefit from a formal education, all my siblings went on to get our first degrees at both the University of Winnipeg and Manitoba as well as graduate and professional degrees away.

We all are given opportunities, like the one the Jane had to help me. Doing Good is simple. Its recognizing and going that extra step, when you can. Small gestures can be very powerful and are the most rewarding humanitarian opportunity available to each and every one of us, regardless of our respective circumstances.

In part as a result of Jane’s gesture my brother Frank has a Doctorate in the History of Architecture from Cambridge University, Pina a Law Degree from Osgood and Masters in Law from University of Marseille and Belinda, a graduate degree in Interior Design and her own Boutique design firm in Toronto. And if you have visited Ten Spa or Yoga Public or crossed the link coming over from the Hotel, you can appreciate some of her work.

It is also because of the path Jane Snidal put me on, that I returned to Winnipeg and met my soul mate Rick Bel,?

Rick and I are the managing partners of the Fort Garry Hotel. However what is sometimes not properly understood is that while I am the hotel’s front man, a role that has afforded me the privilege to be active in and give back to the community from the both of us; it has been Rick’s dogged perseverance against many odds, day in and day out, that we are both here sharing this high honor.

Rick and I have been together for almost 30 years; and from the day we first met he has provided me with vetted reading list; The first book Rick gave me was called Illusions by Jonathan Bach and the page he dog eared several times over has the line.

Perspective, Use it or loose it

This is the mantra we live by but also an apt title to my last and most personal story. The Ugly

My parents have been instrumental in shaping not only who I am but also who I am raising my kids to be. As I mentioned earlier my dad is here tonight: 80 years old, handsome as always and tall by Italian standards, which was the singular reason my mom said she selected him from an armada of competing suitors over 50 years ago, He is no doubt enjoying this evening and the company of his kids and grandchildren.

We lost our mom and my dad his soul mate 17 years ago this month at the young age of 57. She died three very short months after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. It was and is an ugly story. We all miss her very much. Especially tonight because we know how proud she would have been, for me today and for how all her children turned out.

When a loved one passes on, they survive in legacy and memory through moments large like this and small like appreciating the processed taste of a Kraft cheese slice folded over twice with a glass of red donini wine for time to time.

Since my mom’s passing was not without painful rewards and I would like to pay forward tonight the gift that her passing gave to me. Her perspective, use it or loose it followed these basic principals

My mom never thought anyone was better than anyone else. She believed we all were given our own special lot and by golly we should each one of us make the best of it. . Take your road, if you like you keep; if you don’t you keep.

My mom never complained; she believed it was a waste of precious time; time that could be used to make the situation better;

In the face of meager resources, my mom was always reaching out to help someone less fortunate or in need. ‘No one was using it anyway’
And finally she always took the bad, the good and ugly in stride. Gesture regardless of the circumstances was ‘Thumb’s Up’

The courage and strength my mom showed in accepting her own diagnosis and prognosis gave me the same courage and strength when I was told my own cancer had come back last year. Fortunately and with much thanks to Cancer Care Manitoba my multiple surgeries and treatments have gone very well. My prognosis is good, I feel great and the ugly journey that cancer is has given me the gift to appreciate much more than I ever did before, all the little things people do and also the ones people don’t; for one another everyday.

Perspective, use it or lose

This mantra gifted to me by my husband and nurtured in me by my mother has allowed me not only to be an economist, hotelier, a restaurateur, entrepreneur, volunteer, yogi, mom, wife and daughter but through it all never to feel wanting, never to feel unworthy or unable and most of important of all never to believe that I was better than anyone else.

I would like to close by thanking the Bnai Brith (Frank Diamond, Earl Barish and Allan Yusim) for this most esteemed honor, my dinner chairs Sherraine Christopherson, Polly Craig, Ginny Devine and Sandy Shindleman

And for all of you for taking the time from your busy lives not only to support this worthy organization but also celebrate all that makes us humanitarians.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.