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A Jewish legacy of the northern Ontario gold rush

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Max Steinberg and Joe Mahn

When gold was discovered near Timmins, Ont., in 1909, the area attracted fortune hunters from all over the world. Many Jewish merchants headed to northern Ontario to set up stores in small towns and settlements throughout the region.

Two of those people were Max Steinberg and Joe Mahn. Steinberg, a German immigrant, went to the northern bush camps in 1918 to sell watches and clothing. In 1919, he and Mahn – they had met in Montreal – opened Steinberg & Mahn, a menswear store in Timmins.

This month, Steinberg & Mahn, Timmins’ longest-operating family owned menswear clothier, is marking its 100th anniversary. The Steinberg family has run the store continuously since 1919 and the fourth generation is now at the helm.

Two years after Mahn’s death in 1941, Steinberg’s son bought the business. Eli Steinberg, the father of two daughters, Anne Taylor and Rhonda Singer, ran the store until 1972. That year, Anne and Don Taylor, her husband, became the owners. They passed the business on to their eldest son, Darren Taylor, 24 years ago.

READ: TORONTO’S BEACH SHUL MARKS 100 YEARS

In a group telephone interview with Anne, Don and Darren Taylor, Anne spoke about her own childhood, growing up in Timmins’ close-knit Jewish community. “Many families were very involved in the community. Everybody knew everybody,” she said.

The synagogue closed in 1976, so when Darren Taylor’s two children became b’nai mitzvah, all the lessons were done via Skype, with clergy from Temple Sinai in Toronto.

Darren Taylor was living in Toronto, but returned to Timmins in 1996 to run Steinberg & Mahn. His parents were working in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., when they made a similar decision back in 1972.

“My father was not well,” Ann Taylor recounted. “In 1971, he thought he had sold the business, but the deal fell through. My husband and I thought we could go home and run the business.”

Her father was thrilled when they purchased the store, she said. “He spent a year with me. He said, ‘Make your mistake once and try not to make it again.”

She and her husband still maintain some involvement in the business, including maintaining the displays in the store’s seven windows.

Don Taylor – who also works as a percussionist in the Timmins Symphony Orchestra – said one of the strengths of the business was having a good staff that customers could depend on.

The store’s merchandise has also stayed current, he said. People dress more casually now, for example, so they sell fewer suits.

He said that the town has also changed. Wilson Avenue, where the store is located, is no longer the bustling downtown hub it was in earlier decades, when mining in the area was at its peak.

Back in those days, sales reps from the clothing manufacturers travelled to the various towns with trunks of samples, Anne Taylor said. “That has stopped. We have to go to the city and do the buying.”

Darren Taylor said he left Timmins in 1985 to go to school. “After I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to leave,” he recalled.

He later worked in Toronto at Freeman Formalwear, which he described as “a strong family business.”

He said he came to realize that he had also grown up in a strong family business. And so, in 1995, he began talking to his parents about coming back home. He returned to Timmins a year later.

As for the 100th anniversary festivities, he said every weekend in October, Steinberg & Mahn has been featuring a few of their major brands, and they had a large cocktail party on Oct. 24.

Anne Taylor said she feels fortunate that both her sons live in Timmins. “They both came back. We’re thrilled,” she said.

As for her older son carrying on the family business, she said that, “Darren is terrific in the store. He’s a natural.”

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