Monday, December 21, 2020

Tall Sol was a goliath among Davids on Jewish basketball team

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

December 22, 2020

Sol Tolchinsky was a goliath among Davids on his Young Men’s Hebrew Association basketball team.

Standing 6-foot-4, Tall Sol, as he was called, played centre and forward for the YMHA Blues when the Montreal team won the Dominion basketball championship in 1950. The triumph was celebrated by Jewish communities across Canada.

Two years earlier, he had represented Canada at the Olympics in a basketball tournament remembered for the duplicity of European officials and the disunity of the Canadian team.

Mr. Tolchinsky, who has died at 91, was known for his sharp passes and an accurate hook shot.

“We depended on him to help out with rebounding,” said Murray Waxman, who, at 95, is the last living member of the championship Blues team.

The centre also was a specialist in layups, driving to the net before pushing the ball up and in. Another of his skills was wisecracking for his teammates and trash talking his opponents. He fouled out often and engaged in fisticuffs in more than one game, perhaps inspired by his city’s fondness for such shenanigans on the ice.

After the trauma of the Second World War and the euphoria surrounding the founding of Israel, the Blues emerged as a team representing Jewish pride. Their team jerseys included a crest with a Star of David inside a maple leaf. 

“We were an all-Jewish team,” Mr. Waxman said. “We were all born in Montreal. Everybody knew us. We were well supported by the community.”

Two years earlier, in 1948, the Blues narrowly lost the Canadian title to the Vancouver Clover Leafs in a grueling, physical best-of-five series played at a packed Sir Arthur Currie Memorial gymnasium in Montreal.

The two teams met again two days later in the Olympic trials, a two-day knockout tournament at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The Blues got their revenge by defeating the Clover Leafs, only to lose to the upstart University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, a student team with fresh legs.

The Canadian Olympic basketball team ended up consisting of six Blues, seven Thunderbirds and Ole Bakken, the Norwegian-born star of the Clover Leafs.

The original plan was to play each group as a unit. In the end, the coaches mixed the players, but the teams had different styles and never performed smoothly together. The passing decades have not eased antipathy among the players.

“We had quite a good team,” Dr. Patrick McGeer, formerly of the Thunderbirds, said in 2012, “and a not-so-good team.”

“We were the lead team,” Mr. Tolchinsky insisted at that time.

The 1948 Olympics are remembered as the Austerity Games, as postwar London barely could supply the basics let alone luxuries. After a week-long sail across the Atlantic aboard the Aquatania, a Cunard liner stripped down for war service as a troopship, players settled into spare quarters at an air-force base in Uxbridge. Those players who neglected to bring a towel had to rent one from organizers. The spartan lifestyle was familiar to Mr. Tolchinsky, a 19-year-old student who held a low-paying job in the schmatta (clothing) business as a shipper. He was so tall his feet dangled off the end of the bunk bed.

The team managed to hold two practices in a church basement where both nets were blocked by posts.

The shared misery of the journey did not ease tensions in the squad. The Vancouver players were honoured at a luncheon at British Columbia House. The Montreal players did not attend. The Montreal players were feted at a luncheon at Maccabi House. The Vancouver players did not attend.

In the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament, Canada won three games and lost two, one of those by a single point. Though they finished in a three-way for second place, Canada was relegated to a consolation round because of points differential. They had deliberately not run the score up against an outclassed host British team, while others in the group had. Uruguay, also 3-2, advanced to the medal round even though Canada had beaten the South Americans by 52-50.

The Canadians then defeated Iran, Belgium and Peru to win the consolation bracket and finish ninth in the tournament, a bittersweet achievement.

One of Mr. Tolchinsky’s strongest memories was of scrimping to save $75 in spending money for the six-week trip. “There was nothing to buy,” he said of a London still struggling with rationing and shortages. “Nothing to spend it on. Nothing.” He returned home with $16 still in his pocket.

Two years later, the Blues again challenged for the national title. Mr. Tolchinsky scored 28 points in a 65-45 victory over the Ottawa Valley champion Glengarry (Ont.) Cameron Highlanders, whose top scorer was Pete Finlay, who also played professional football with the Ottawa Rough Riders. The second game ended 53-34 for a total points victory of 118-79.

The Blues then eliminated the Toronto Tri-Bells to claim the Eastern Canada title before defeating the University of Manitoba Bisons in four games in a best-of-five series. For the first time since it had been donated by a sporting club in 1926, the national Montreal Cup was awarded to a team from the city in which it originated.

The victory was hailed by Jewish fans across the country.

That summer, Mr. Tolchinsky joined four Montreal teammates and three Toronto players on the Canadian team attending the third annual Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. The United States defeated Canada 56-34 in the championship game that culminated the 18-nation Jewish Olympics.

Solly Tolchinsky, as his full name was officially registered by Rabbi J.L. Colton, was born in Montreal on Jan. 2, 1929. He was one of three children born to the former Nessie Cartman and Mendel (Max) Tolchinsky, a labourer and door-to-door salesman. The family, Ukrainian Jews from Odessa, immigrated to Canada in 1926.

An older brother, Shmuel, known as Sam, arrived in the new country at age 13 without knowing a word of English or French. A few years later, he was elected president of his high-school class, served in the Canadian army during the war by playing glockenspiel in a military band, then moved to New York where he became the head writer of Sid Caesar’s famous Your Show of Shows alongside Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. He also wrote for Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, and was story editor for the trailblazing 1970s sitcom All in the Family. “I’ve lived under the czar, Lenin, Stalin and Ronald Reagan,” he once quipped.

Sol Tolchinsky followed his brother by attending Commercial High, where he played on the school basketball team. He was still a teenager when named to the Canadian Olympic team.

In the fall of 1950, Mr. Tolchinsky registered at McGill University, where he played for the basketball team. He was also a writer for the McGill Daily student newspaper, although his most creative work was writing musical comedy for the Red and White Revue theatre group.

He befriended an aspiring actor by the name of William Shatner and was smitten by a chorus girl named Margot Blatt. They were married for 67 years. She survives Mr. Tolchinsky, who died in Montreal on Dec. 1 of complications related to Covid-19. He also leaves a son, two daughters, and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his brother, known as Mel Tolkin, who died in 2007, and his sister, Rae Frank, who died in 1966.

Away from the sporting arena, Mr. Tolchinsky, who was also known as Sol Tolkin, operated Exposervice Standard Inc., a trade-show contractor. In 1980, he became the first Canadian to serve as president of the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association, which is based in Dallas, Tex.

Though he displayed panache on the basketball court in his youth, Mr. Tochinsky was something of a klutz in civilian life, a big man in a small world who regularly knocked over wine glasses or scraped fenders in parking garages.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

2020 B.C. election prediction

With every poll suggesting a large BC NDP plurality in the vote total, perhaps even a rare majority, I predict the seat totals will be:

(Number won or lost compared to 2017 election)

B.C. Liberals: 28 (-15) 

B.C NDP: 58 (+17)

Greens: 0 (-3)

Independent: 1 (+1)

Ridings changing hands:

To NDP from Liberals:


Columbia River-Revelstoke






Richmond-South Centre


Coquitlam-Burke Mountain

Vancouver-False Creek


North Vancouver-Seymour


To NDP from Greens:

Cowichan Valley

Saanich North and the Islands

Oak Bay-Gordon Head

To Independent from Liberals:

Chilliwack-Kent (Laurie Throness)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Rosemary de Havilland (1904-2005)

Hollywood's famous feuding acting sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 6, 2005

By marrying Walter de Havilland, Rosemary Connor joined a family whose disharmony was striking even by Hollywood standards. Her stepdaughters were the glamorous thespians Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, sisters whose antipathy for each other was legend; as well, both were estranged from their father.
The newest addition to the feuding clan would not be immune from the discord. At their wedding in 1960, the groom was 87, the bride a youthful 55. The wedding ceremony attracted little press attention, unlike his previous two marriages.
Walter Augustus de Havilland, was a handsome British eccentric whose first proposal for marriage was captured in a memorable Washington Post headline: Flips Coin; Wins Her. Tired of her suitor's ardent pursuit, Lilian Augusta Ruse playfully agreed to a coin toss to settle the matter. Miss Rusé -- she disliked the literal meaning of the family name and so placed an accent aigu on the final letter, a ruse of her own -- soon became the first Mrs. de Havilland.
The couple settled in Tokyo, where he worked as a patent attorney. She bore him two daughters -- Olivia Mary, on July 1, 1916, and Joan de Beauvoir, on Oct. 22, 1917. The marriage ended soon after when she discovered her husband's affair with one of the maids. She raised her daughters in California, where they would not see their father for more than a decade.
In Tokyo, Mr. de Havilland found himself shunned by the European community for living with Yuki Matsu-Kura, whom he married in 1927.
The sibling rivalry between the sisters was made all the more acute by their success in Hollywood. When Joan Fontaine won the Academy Award for best actress against four rivals, including her sister, she neglected to praise her sister from the podium or in private. While Miss de Havilland would soon enough win two Oscars of her own, the breach was irreparable.
Mr. de Havilland and his Japanese bride moved to the United States in 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. When she was ordered to be interned, he arranged for a comfortable life for themselves at a Colorado hotel. After the war, they moved to Victoria, B.C., where Yuki died in 1958.
Two years later, he married for the third and final time. Mary Eliza Connor was born in Yorkshire, later taking for herself the name Rosemary. She was a nurse in England and Canada and met Mr. de Havilland in British Columbia. 
All the while, her husband's relationship with his daughters occasioned headlines, not all of them complimentary. He once went to Hollywood to seek money. Later, he enjoyed a rapprochement of sorts with Olivia, who indulged a newspaper photographer by greeting him with a hug at Union Station in Los Angeles in 1952. 
After Walter died in North Vancouver in 1968, his first wife and their two daughters journeyed to the English Channel island of Guernsey, the de Havilland family's ancestral home. "Our mission then was to scatter my father's ashes into the sea at dusk," Joan Fontaine wrote in No Bed of Roses , her 1978 autobiography. "But we managed to smuggle only two-thirds of Pater into St. Peter Port. In Canada, his third wife, Rose Mary (sic), had been adamant: The other third should nurture flowers in the soil near Vancouver where he had lived with her so happily, dying there at the age of 96. I remonstrated with her, suggesting Father was not a birthday cake to be parcelled out in such a manner. Nevertheless, she divided his remains meticulously into three packages, one for each daughter, the third for herself and British Columbia."
Even the passing of a late-in-life stepmother was not without its embarrassments. A paid death notice in the Vancouver Sun declared Olivia de Havilland to have predeceased her stepmother; in fact, the last living star of Gone With the Wind resides in Paris. By coincidence, she was the subject of the Proust Questionnaire on the final page of the March edition of Vanity Fair magazine. Asked how she would like to die, she responds: "I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise longue, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword."
At Rosemary de Havilland's passing, eight weeks before her 101st birthday, she was a resident of Evergreen House, a 292-bed facility for long-term patients in North Vancouver. "Rosemary was interested in the psychics," her paid death notice states, "and was famous for her paintings that were generated through her psychic visions."
Rosemary de Havilland was born on April 23, 1904, in Ellerby in Yorkshire, England. She died on Feb. 27, 2005, in North Vancouver, B.C. She was 100.