Immigrating to Selkirk
Abraham Rifkin immigrated from Shadrinsk, Russia to New York, USA. His wife and children, Louis, Izzy, Benny, Sarah, Harry, and Gordon slowly followed, one or two at a time. When Harry immigrated in 1908, he was 14 years old. The family settled in Galancy, a Jewish borough of New York. Abraham and his sons worked as carpenters constructing apartment blocks, but this work was short-lived when Abraham suffered a fall. Friends offered the Rifkin family work in Selkirk so Abraham, his wife, Benny, Sarah, and Harry relocated, while the other siblings stayed in the United States. Once in Selkirk, Harry was employed as a stoker on the CGSS Bradbury for nine years. He also worked on other notable boats such as the Lady of the Lake and the Wolverine.
In 1918, Harry enlisted with the First Depot Battalion, Manitoba Regiment and served on the front lines in Ypres, France. During the following six months Harry was transferred to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops repairing railway lines which moved troops and equipment across the Europe. He was discharged in 1919.
When Harry returned from war he continued to work on the ships, however, he also took up trapping and fur trading in the winters. In 1920, he and his Indigenous guide, Percy Williams travelled around the north by dog-sled buying, selling, and trading furs. Harry also ran a trading post near Netley Creek for muskrat trappers and would sell the pelts in Winnipeg.
Freda Berg was born in Troškūnai, Lithuania in 1894. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 caused great turmoil in the years following so Freda and her three sisters sought refuge in Canada. Rachel Berg was the first sister to arrive in Canada at a homestead in Melrose, Saskatchewan. She would later marry Max Meyerowitz who was incidental in the beginnings of Rifkin’s Department Store on Manitoba Avenue. After moving to Selkirk, Rachel encouraged her sisters to join her. Freda arrived in Selkirk in 1922. Harry and Freda were married on July 22nd, 1922 through an arranged marriage. They had three children, Max in 1923, Rose in 1924, and Saul in 1930.
Ship work and trapping were seasonal, and Harry and Freda needed more consistent work. Together they opened Rifkin’s General Store on Main Street in 1927 with only $200. The building was rented from the Schleins and was located on the corner of Main Street and Morris Avenue. The Rifkin’s sold a little bit of everything, such as hardware, clothing, groceries, and confectionary.
“But Rifkins was more than just a place that sold everything from dry goods to pins and needles. ‘”When you came into the store, you used to discuss politics first, sit around the heat stove, and have a cup of tea. Then you bought your groceries.”’ – Max Rifkin, Selkirk Journal.
In 1932 the Rifkin’s relocated the store to Main Street and Superior Avenue. They purchased the property from Dr. Gibbs for $4100 which they paid off in 8 and a half years at $40 a month. The Rifkin’s were hard workers, with the entire family working to keep the shop open seven days a week. They also provided a taxi service, installed and operated a hand operated gas pump in front of the store, and ran a hot dog stand.
The family’s accommodations were humble, located at the back of the store where there was a wood burning stove. However, modest-living paid off as over time the Rifkin’s purchased neighbouring properties such as Bruneau’s Taxi and Segal’s Meat Market. In 1945 they sold the three properties combined to purchase the final Rifkin’s location at 212 Manitoba Avenue from brother-in-law, Max Meyerowitz.
New Generation, New Ideas
Harry and Freda’s eldest son, Max had a special interest in the store, having been employed from a young age. With only a grade four education Max was the shop bookkeeper, as he was the only one who could decipher relief vouchers during the Great Depression.
In 1942, Max enlisted in the RCAF and served for four years in Alaska, England, and Germany. When he returned to Selkirk, he married Lucy Coop in 1948 and had two daughters, Jacqueline in 1950 and Naomi in 1953.
As Harry approached retirement, Max began taking over management of Rifkin’s during a five-year period from 1955-1960. When Harry retired, Max changed the shop’s name to Rikin’s Department Store and narrowed the product lines down to ladies’ fashion. His wife, Lucy was an ‘artist with an eye for the fashion future’ and was an asset when ordering new pieces. The shop underwent a complete renovation in 1955, marking it as one of the most up-to-date shops in Selkirk. The store remained a fashion statement for another 30 years.
After a total of 61 years of business the store closed in 1988. 43 of those years were spent on Manitoba Avenue. Joanne and Marlene McGill purchased the shop and transformed the building into a beauty salon, Merel Norman Cosmetics.
Rifkin's Department Store Collection
Selkirk Pioneers and Their Heritage, Kenneth G. Howard
Selkirk Heritage Advisory Committee Building Inventory
Selkirk Journal, 1987
Selkirk Enterprise 1955 and 1965
The Berk Family of Troskunai