Mendel Good, Holocaust survivor and Apotex resident, is one of the 2,000 tailors who was brought over to Canada as part of The Tailor Project
, the first project that enabled Jews to enter Canada after the Second World War, which was chaired by Max Enkin 70 years ago.
Today, Larry Enkin, Max Enkin’s son, is making it his mission to find the tailors his father recruited and document their lives.
Mendel Good was just 14 years old when the Second World War broke out. During the six years that the Holocaust took place, Mendel spent time in seven different concentration camps, was separated from his entire family and is the only one of them who survived.
Liberation was meant to be a time of celebration and happiness. However, for Mendel, and many others, this was a time for grief and sadness. The suffering was not over as survivors had to mourn their losses. When the war was over, survivors were sent to displaced persons camps, where illnesses were treated and food and other resources were provided. Mendel was sent to Austria, in the mountains, where he suffered from and was treated for Tuberculosis. When a commissioner from Canada came looking for different kinds of tradespeople, Mendel registered as a tailor, an industry he didn’t have any firsthand experience in.
After registering as a tailor in an attempt to come to Canada, Mendel had to appear before the Canadian Council where he was questioned on his credibility. The individuals interviewing him felt he looked very young and wondered how he could have learned to be a tailor during the war. At the end of the interview, Mendel was given a test. They asked him if he was able to stitch a suit out of sand. When Mendel answered yes, they asked him how, to which he responded “If you cut it for me, I’ll stitch it.” One of the gentlemen interviewing him stood up from his chair and said “Young man, you are going to Canada. We need guys like you in Canada.” This is where Mendel’s journey to Canada began.
Mendel boarded the USS General M.B. Stewart and made it to Canada in September of 1948. Upon arriving by boat in Halifax, everyone was given a number which corresponded to the part of the train you were supposed to go on and where in Canada you were meant to end up. Mendel’s number indicated that he was going to Vancouver but when a man approached him asking if he could trade, he said of course. He didn’t care where he was going, he was just grateful for the opportunity.
Since Mendel was supposed to be in Vancouver, there was no assigned placement for him when he arrived in the outskirts of Montreal, Quebec. Mr. Hoggenmine, a man who travelled with them, called out everyone’s numbers to inform them where they were headed next. When Mendel was the last one standing there, with nowhere to go because his number had not been called, Mr. Hoggenmine got upset with Mendel, accusing him of starting trouble, and as a result left him to sleep outside. The next day, a taxicab pulled up and Mr. Hoggenmine got out of it, this time, with good news. He told Mendel that he was taking him to Ottawa and that he had asked his friend Mr. Fleisher, who was a tailor, to give him a job. Because Mendel wasn’t actually a tailor he had a lot to learn. He explained to Mr. Fleisher that he came from the old country, but as long as he was shown what to do once, he would be satisfied with his work.
While working for Mr. Fleisher, Mendel also worked for two other tailors during the evening to make some extra money. When Mendel wasn’t working, he spent his evenings taking English classes, where he met his now late wife, Valerie. “The first night I went to school there was a girl standing there and when I looked at her my knees went under me,” he said. “I walked over to this young lady, I took her hand and introduced myself.” That night he took her home on the bus and two and a half years later, they were married.
After working for Mr. Fleisher for a year and half, and around three years after marrying Valerie, Mendel was able to start a business of his own. At first, Mendel was strictly doing made-to-measure and found himself having a difficult time making a living. It took him anywhere from four to five weeks to make one suit or coat, which is why he decided to offer alternations and picked up 32 accounts. Mendel’s business was located very close to the market, a key area in Ottawa. He ended up hiring nine employees to work with him and was very successful.
Mendel and Valerie have three children, two daughters, Bev and Gloria, and a son, Bernie. Bev attended high school in Ottawa before moving to New York City for University and worked as a medical lab technician for many years. She currently lives in New York with her two daughters, who are both married, and between the two of them have three children. Like her sister, Gloria also completed high school in Ottawa but moved to Toronto in the early 1980’s to attend Ryerson University where she studied hotel and restaurant administration. After working in the hospitality industry for many years, Gloria went on to work in human resources for the City of Toronto and later for the Province of Ontario. Gloria and her husband married in Toronto and together have three sons. Bernie, the youngest, moved to Montreal on his own to finish high school. Once he completed high school, Bernie moved to Israel for a year. From there, he moved to New York where he attended the Yeshiva University to further his Jewish education. After attending school in New York, Bernie moved back to Montreal and studied at McGill University, where he graduated from the commerce program, wrote the Chartered Accountant exams and was a practicing accountant for many years before moving to Toronto in 1985. Once Bernie had moved to Toronto, his accounting career didn’t last very long. He decided that he wanted to have a business of his own, which is what led him to buy St. Urbain Bagel 32 years ago. Bernie and his wife, whom he met in Toronto, got married in 1992 and have three children together, two sons and a daughter.
Ensuring that his children all attended University and received a proper education was very important to Mendel. He wanted to make sure that his children took advantage of the opportunities he was unable to. His children then passed this mentality onto their children. All of Mendel’s grandchildren have either completed or are in the process of completing a University degree and graduate school to become professionals in their respective fields of choice. Mendel’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are his greatest success, the joy of his life, and he is so beyond proud to call them his family.
After many years of owning and running a business, and 52 years in Ottawa, Mendel’s age caught up to him. He had no choice but to sell his business. In 2006, he and Valerie packed up their life in Ottawa to join one of their daughters and their son in Toronto.
If it weren’t for The Tailor Project, and for his great sense of humor that got him through the toughest of times, Mendel would not be where he is today. The Tailor Project made it possible for him to start his life over, pursue a career as a tailor, meet his wife and start a family.