Esther

The youngest of nine, Esther did not know her older brothers, Charlie, Sam, David and Harry, nor her sister Sonia, until she arrived in Canada in 1922. 

After staying in Watrous, Saskatchewan, for a few years, Esther moved with her parents to Vancouver, first to a house on Inverness Street and later to 11th Avenue and Hemlock Street. Although her English was very poor, Esther was a whiz at arithmetic, able to add large columns of figures in her head. She got a job at the Army and Navy store as a cashier, leaving it after ten years to go into the clothing business.

With a partner, she opened The Beverly Shop on Robson Street, importing the finest of dresses and furs from New York.

At an early age, Esther volunteered to help newcomers to the city. Involved in Young Judaea, the Junior Section of the National Council of Jewish Women and B’nai B’rith, Esther organized and chaired many events. Doted on by her brothers, particularly Charlie, she became a glamorous woman. When she attended parties and events, she was well chaperoned by her brothers. Esther was the belle of the ball, engaged to be married twice.

In February 1931, Esther convened a Valentine’s Day ball at the Hotel Vancouver (where her brothers had done the electrical work). Baruch or “Boozie” Deezik (who later changed his name to Ben Dayson as he became Canadianized) saw her picture in a newspaper notice about the dance. Ben had come from the same village as Esther and had been a friend of her brothers in Svatatroiske. Sponsored by his cousins, the Schwartzmans, Ben was living in Myrnum, Alberta.

Ben knew Esther and her brothers lived in Vancouver and immediately called them. He traveled to Vancouver to visit and courted Esther for five years. In 1936, they married in a ceremony attended by 400 people at the old Jewish Community Centre on 11th Avenue and Oak Street. The bride looked stunning in a lace dress, which came from New York, of course!

They were highly regarded in the community and helped the war effort by raising money. Esther became the Worthy Matron (or President) of Eastern Star, an organization related to the Masonic lodges. Ben joined a curling league.

Ben purchased a second store, Hawkins Meat Market, in Saskatoon, where they lived for a year. Lonely for her family, Esther longed to move back to Vancouver and, in 1949, they left Saskatchewan with their two young children, Philip and Shirley.

In Vancouver, they were immediately submerged in “the family.” Their lovely new home on 48th Avenue and Hudson Street became part of the family hub where friends and family gathered to play kaluki or gin rummy. There were baking sprees with the sisters and large family gatherings.

Ben opened the Western Five and Ten store in Marpole and Esther created Shirley-Ann dolls. From the ’50s on, Ben and Esther were active in property development. Their business acumen rewarded them generously and Ben became a very successful land developer.

The community benefited from their devotion and philanthropy. Special interests in Jewish Social Services and the Jewish National Fund of Israel attracted their generosity. Esther’s activities in ORT and Hadassah became legendary through her sewing and handicraft work. Ben’s involvement in B’nai B’rith focused on packing and delivering food parcels to needy Jewish families.

Ben’s and Esther’s property development skills led to major acquisitions and Dayhu Investments Ltd. (now the Dayhu Group of Companies) was founded in 1956.

They created the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, which became a major supporter of not-for-profit housing initiatives, as well as many other causes.

Their two children carry on their role as community builders. Shirley works with Jewish Family Services, Hebrew Free Loan, the Jewish Museum and Archives and the Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View. Philip is active with the Habonim Youth Movement and Camp Miriam. Shirley married Peter Barnett and Philip married Iris Fader.

There are three grandchildren, Jonathan, David and James, all residing in Vancouver, and eight great-grandchildren.

Esther and Ben lived a full and long life. Although frail at the end of her life, Esther’s mind was always sharp and clear. She died at the age of 97, with Ben living until he was almost 101, going to his office daily until two days before he died.

They are both buried in the family plot at the Schara Tzedeck cemetery in New Westminster, B.C.

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