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Ida Albo, co-owner of the Fort Garry Hotel

Marsha Cowan, CEO Jewish Foundation of Manitoba introducing Albo

Ida Albo, co-owner of the Fort Garry Hotel speaking at the event

Fort Garry Hotel Co-Owner Ida Albo at Jewish Foundation's Luncheon: A Story of Entrepreneurship,Philanthropy, Community Service and Jewish Heritage-Albo is a Sephardic Jewish name

May 28, 2014

*Editor's note: This is the text of Ida Albo's remarks at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Women's Endowemnt Fund luncheon May 8, 2014. In the later part of the speech (approx 13 paragraphs from the end) Albo reveals that she is likely of Jewish Sephardic descent. In other words, it  is highly probable that her ancestors were Jews who fled the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 when many Jews took refuge in southern Italy under the protection of King Ferdinand I of Naples.



Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, and Friends: a story of entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and community service


I am extremely honored to speak to you this afternoon and to share some experiences, lessons, and anecdotes that have influenced and changed my life.


It is only fitting to begin with perhaps an obvious admission: I am a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur; and I don’t mean it incidentally. I am referring to a deep-seated innate propensity, Perhaps even a genetic predisposition towards being driven towards ambitious and enterprising projects. And coincidentally its also a deposition that can also be interpreted as naïve; which in some respects is also equally true.


My entreprenurail constitution holds a peculiar signature towards going that extra mile, seeking out a diamond in the rough or an idea and then to try to make it the best it can be.


And as interesting and exciting that this disposition has made my life so far make no mistake; having an entrepreneurial spirit is not for the faint of heart. The fact is  I am not supposed to be here


I presume like many of you, given the variety of twists and turns in your own life, you too can identify with this feeling that I am talking about. For example for some its just being here, in this very room, right here, right now, supporting a great cause, enjoying a lovely meal among friends in this grand historic ballroom.


If these walls could speak, they too would very likely revel in this shared sentiment. It can be easily argued that, this fabled Cinderella castle in the heart of the prairies was also not supposed to be here.


The Hotel Fort Garry is an entrepreneurial survival story par excellence. It is Robinson Crusoe with a green steeped roof and it’s no wonder we (both Rick and I and the Hotel) found each other in 1993.


More than once, the Fort Garry staved off demolition, the same fate that befell other cherished landmarks, such as the Royal Alexandra, and the Empire Hotels. Its managers ranged from pimps to hooligans; at least one of its chefs committed murder, and the once elegant beacon of grandeur, became a derelict eyesore and haunt for hapless gamblers and dejected ghosts.


Rick and I just opened the Prairie Oyster Cafe at the Forks and just as desperately as we needed a prep kitchen the dilapidated Hotel needed a food and beverage operator.


It was a match made in heaven, but consummated with long hours, lots of sweat, and often a few tears. Taking over the food and beverage operations at first was easy because In the winter of 1993, there was NO demand for any traditional hotel services.


The only source of steady income was the rent check from the Crystal Casino, which just happened to be threatening the “new and reluctant Hotel owners” to shut down and not renew its lease.


The only glimmer of hope rested in the fact that the new reluctant owners, the (who for certain felt like they were not suppose to be here) had about the same amount of Hotel experience that we had.


So following the most unpredictable circumstances ( the new and reluctant hotel owners English was not particularily strong at the time) , Rick and I found ourselves around the boardroom table at Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson, negotiating an improbable lease renewal.


Which surprisingly we secured with a significant increase in rent for the new owners to boot!


Did I mention, we were not supposed to be there?


After these serendipitous negotiations, the new and reluctant owners, presented us with an equally serendipitous offer: a nominal management contract in exchange for half the title on the Hotel, providing we recognized their initial investment.


Now given that we had absolutely no money, zero hotel management experience, and a still somewhat schetchy hospitality success record, we immediately said YES!


 Our lawyer at the time ( who we were paying ‘in kind’), as well as the industry at large, thought we were nuts. And in retrospect we probably were at the very least Naive.


This penchant for entrepreneurship and comfort with an organic destiny brings with it a certain type of neglect for customary rules. In my own life, I have seen these permutations in everything from my parenting and ethics to my philanthropy and commitment to community service.


The building of the Skate Park at the Forks is another one of those stories but for another time.


So it is on this note I would like to begin with a story when this realization first dawned, or should I say, flashed before my eyes at the height of a near fatal encounter earlier this year.


It was a few days after New Years and Rick and I were returning home from San Francisco. In Minneapolis our flights were cancelled due to blizzard conditions all the while with most of the mid west comparable to the surface of Mars. For the most part, North America was grounded, but Rick and I decided we would challenge the forces of nature and rented a car for the 8-hour trek through the frigid wasteland back home. At least then we would be in control.


About an hour north into our expedition, a semi truck pulled in front of us, and by a hair, Rick avoided an impending collision by quickly taking the ice and gravel packed shoulder. In our effort to cease control, we ironically lost all of it.


The car spun violently in circles and tumbled over in succession toward a snow packed ditch. To my surprise I had time to process a single stream of jumbled thoughts like:


Holy Shit!


“Is this how it's going to end for us?”


“Oh God, did we do a good enough job with our children.”


“Will they make it on their own?”


When the car finally stopped, Rick and I were hanging upside down suspended by our seatbelts in a ditch. I glanced over expecting the worse, but Rick was virtually unscathed. He said: “I think I am ok. What about you?” “I think I am Ok too?” I replied.


But secretly I thought: "I am not suppose to be here.”


You see, we all have innate drives and dispositions, but letting go and acceptance are the essential components of a truly entrepreneurial soul. Knowing when you have lost control is sometimes better than having control.


Perspective is to know what we can control and what we can't; separating what matters from what doesn't.


Try as we must to coax life in our favour, some things are outside of our human agency.


It was the Stoic philosopher Epictetus who first codified the Serenity Prayer.


For him, “happiness begins with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible.”


Hanging upside down in a totaled Hyunda rent a car can help garner some real perspective.


A few years ago my brother had another serendipitous conversation with one of his professors at the University of Toronto. Given his aptitude for Semitic languages, ( which we could never have predicted)  his professor was certain he was not only Jewish but also a distant relative of the great 15th century Rabbinic scholar Joseph Albo who lived in Spain.


Naturally, when Frank told us we all found the whole thing preposterous. Our father, an immigrant butcher from Calabria, was certainly not progeny material for the author of one of the foundation works of systematic Judaism.


However, being a curious scholar with a penchant for rabbit holes, Frank explored the matter further.


It turns out, it is not only likely, but also highly probable that our ancestors were Jews who fled the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 when Many Jews took refuge in southern Italy under the protection of King Ferdinand I of Naples.


Albo is a Sephardic name!


My forbearers fled to Calabria where they first practiced Crypto-Judaism, that is, they secretly adhered to the Hebrew faith while publicly professing to be Catholic. And according to one of my aunts, there has interestingly never been a priest in the larger Albo family.


And To this day, an entire neighbourhood in Grimaldi, from where my father hails, all shares the name Albo, and yet have no blood relation. My aunt Maria Albo married my uncle Ercolino Albo.


So how does this extraordinary saga relate to my initial admission – my so-called entrepreneurial soul?


A simple word: Perspective.


Some things truly ARE beyond our control. Happiness truly DOES come from acceptance, and life is not determined by fate, but rather, what is unavoidably INNATE!


Perhaps all credit should go those remote ancestors of mine who fled the brutal Inquisition in Spain. Maybe it was that one game-changing act of survival that gave me my hereditary drive to surmount the odds: avert insolvency, help rescue this historic landmark, beat cancer, parent my daughter, and most importantly, narrowly escape a grim end on that frozen ditch along the I-95.


That's right, perhaps that feeling that I often have, something akin to anxiety is all wrong –


I AM suppose to be here!


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