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Charlie | Nemetz Family


At the age of 20, in 1908, Charlie sailed out of a Russian port on a cattle boat bound for South America. Family stories recall that a cow was sold to facilitate his departure. Arriving in Buenos Aires, Charlie got a job in a packing plant that paid a dollar a day.

A year and a half later, he was the manager. However, shortly after that, Charlie returned to Russia to do military service for his brother Sam so that Sam would not have to quit engineering school in Odessa.

After serving four difficult years in the frozen wastelands of Siberia, Charlie left for Canada to join his brothers Samuel and David, who were already living in Winnipeg.

Arriving in the middle of winter, Charlie bought a horse and sleigh with the help from a Jewish relief organization, launching himself as a fish and fur trader.

In 1914, Charlie made his way to Watrous, Saskatchewan, a popular resort town on the old Grand Trunk Railway, with a population of about 800. Sam and Dave had relocated there, and Charlie joined them in various business ventures.

Charlie’s life was full of ups and downs. His adventures led him to the retail business, power plants, cafés, automobile dealerships and real estate.

Charlie, Sam and Dave bought a series of power plants in Watrous and nearby towns. Charlie was the “businessman.” Sam had the education, having gone to technical school in Odessa, and Dave, as the handyman who could build or fix anything, became the lineman. With new diesel engines and switchboards, electricity livened up the town of Watrous and the surrounding area of Manitou Beach.

The Nemetz brothers went to Big River, Saskatchewan, and acquired additional poles, wires and five large transformers from a company that had gone bankrupt. In 1925, controlling the power from Watrous to Manitou Beach, they bought a plant in Biggar, Saskatchewan.

Charlie became convinced they could be “millionaires” by taking the company public on the New York Stock Exchange. According to Dave Nemetz’ memoirs, with a “drunken lawyer advising them,” they lost control to “some New York brokers,” selling out for very little.

Some sources state that the Nemetz-owned power company was sold to Canadian Utilities in 1927, and in 1930 the network of Canadian Utilities companies was purchased by Dominion Gas and Electric, a subsidiary of the American Commonwealth Power Corporation based in New York. In 1931, the Saskatchewan government power commission purchased the equipment from Canadian Utilities, which at that time was owned by the U.S. company.

By 1915, Charlie had also purchased Watrous Trading Co. (established 1908), which was destroyed by fire the same year. In 1918, together with his brother Harry, he opened the White House Department Store, operating it until 1925.

In 1926, Charlie built a 12-room lodge, called the California Rooms. He also had the Princess Café, putting his name on the café china. Also in 1926, together with his brother Harry, Charlie opened the dealership for Essex, Hudson, Overland and Chrysler cars.

Relocating to Vancouver in 1928 to join the rest of the family, Charlie, together with his brother Sam, opened Nemetz Motors Ltd. at 405 Columbia St., New Westminster, exclusive dealers for the Whippet and Willys-Knight automobiles. The car business closed later that year.

Charlie was always a bit of a deal maker. He left Vancouver in 1933, his ventures taking him to Mexico, India and back to the Argentine. On one trip to Argentina, he brought back two Pekinese dogs, one for his sister Esther and one for his niece Ada Nemetz.

Later, Charlie lived in Nevada and Oregon, where he bought the Pendleton Hotel. In 1942, he moved to Los Angeles, often returning to Vancouver to visit family. His wife Annie (nee Levson) remained in Vancouver.

Charlie remained flamboyant throughout his entire life and had a million stories to tell. When he could, he spread his generosity around. He had a soft spot for his youngest sister, Esther, whom he showered with gowns and furs sent from wherever his life’s journeys took him. He was an elegant man, always “dressed to the nines.” He proudly maintained his affiliations with various lodges – the Elks, Masons and Shriners – and was a member of the Vancouver Achduth Co-operative Society (Jewish credit union). Charlie permanently relocated to Vancouver in 1969, where he spent his final years, lovingly supported by his brothers, who had never forgotten his earlier generosity.

Charlie and Annie had three sons, Harry, Hymie and Arnold. Harry married Lee Gula, a distant cousin. They opened a war surplus business in Tacoma and raised two daughters Tobyann and Charlene.

Hymie married Edith Levin, a widow with two small boys, Lou and Edward, whom he adopted. He opened a business in Tacoma before moving to California, where he and Edith had two more sons, Mark and Gary.

Arnold stayed in Vancouver, becoming a doctor. He married Faye Gordon and had two sons, Steven and Larry.

There were 12 great-grandchildren to Charlie and Annie and 14 great-great-grandchildren. Most live in New York, California, Virginia Beach and Toronto.

Charlie died in 1973, Annie in 1980. Both were laid to rest in the family plot at the Schara Tzedeck cemetery, in New Westminster, B.C.