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Samuel Sniderman: Musician, drum teacher, tailor… and kiltmaker extraordinaire!

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The wedding photo of Samuel and Diana Sniderman, after their marriage in 1942. Photo: Sniderman family archive

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Growing up on Vaughan Road near St. Clair Avenue in Toronto, I spent many happy afternoons in the home of my friend, Bette Elle, née Sniderman, whose parents were multi-talented musicians.

Her mother Diana, born into a traditional Jewish home in 1920, played piano from the time she was a child, composed songs, and was a vocalist and musical performer. Her father Samuel, born in 1913, played percussion in several Jewish bands in Toronto and Ottawa. He eventually opened up a studio in his home where he taught drums to students, many of whom went on to become professional musicians in their own right.

Being around them was a wonderful time as the entire extended family was also highly accomplished in the music industry.

Samuel’s brother, Jack Snider, was a professional Vaudeville drummer who also performed for many silent movies, and was the founding conductor of the Young Judea orchestra in Ottawa. He taught piano in Toronto until age 78, both privately and at the United Music School opened by his son Art.

In the course of his own career, Art managed many singers (among them, briefly, Gordon Lightfoot) and was a partner in the Red Leaf Records label that scored a major hit in 1965 with My Girl Sloopy. Jack’s son Dave, a trumpeter, was an original partner in the school before buying it out and renaming it to the Dave Snider Music Centre, with his wife Alice running the very successful sheet music division. The third son of Jack’s, Lou, was a composer and recording artist with a long association with CBC Radio, who played piano in cocktail lounges in the Toronto area, and in 1978 and 1979 he was the accompanist for Suzanne Stevens on the Global TV show For Lovers Only.

But enough of my friend Bette’s uncle and cousins. Let’s go back to the story of her father, Samuel.

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Samuel and Jack’s father had been a tailor and fashion designer in Russia. Samuel learned the trade from him, so in addition to being an accomplished musical performer and instructor, he started a successful dry-cleaning business in 1933 which was sold shortly after he enlisted in the army in 1942. At that point, he and Diana had only been married for three weeks. 

Notably, Samuel became a professional tailor who sewed and repaired military uniforms for Canadian soldiers.

After the war ended, Samuel met a Scotsman named Sgt. Sandy Smith from Aberdeen, who was the kiltmaker for the 48th Highlanders. Sandy, who was by then in his eighties, taught him the art of kilt-making. After his death, Sam took over as a regimental kiltmaker. He loved the work and according to his grandson Jordan, was “meticulous and spent a lot of time and energy to make the kilts as perfect as possible.”

Eventually, Sam was sewing kilts for regiments throughout Canada as well as for such celebrities as Gordon Sinclair, Pierre Berton and Sir Thomas Fleet. Customers came from England, Scotland and many parts of Canada to have kilts made. Sam received numerous letters of gratitude from people throughout the world, and was honoured with an award for his excellent craftsmanship.

On Christmas Night night of 1966, Samuel appeared on the American television program What’s My Line and stumped the panel, made up of Suzy Knickerbocker, Bennett Cerf, Martin Gabel, and his wife Arlene Francis. The witty Cerf was dumbfounded to learn that there were actually kiltmakers in Canada. 

Here is the episode featuring Samuel (at the 10:00 mark), as well as renowned Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint, and a special Christmas surprise for one of the panel members.

A man of many careers and many interests, his grandson Jordan describes how Samuel “had the ability to find creative solutions to problems and could actually design and build a tool if one were needed in order to fix a sewing machine or build a cabinet.”  He recalls his grandfather as a personable and caring man who was approachable by anyone and, within five minutes would be carrying on a meaningful conversation with them.

Before he did What’s My Line, Samuel did have one other known experience with being in the headlines, in 1961.

In a Canadian Press story dated Nov. 4, Sniderman derided a Winnipeg Scots militia unit “apparently begging permission on their frozen knees to wear tartan trews (trousers) to keep out cold prairie winds.”

“In the northwest turret of Toronto’s University Avenue Armories, a military tailor who has been sewing kilts for 16 years sadly shook his head. ‘Trews have none of the eye appeal of a kilt’,” objects Mr. Sniderman. “‘There’s nothing to compare with the swing of a kilt when a regiment is on the march.’”

I want to mention that last December, Sam’s daughter and my friend Bette Elle, who is an author and film maker, published a book, “Dinah’s Piano,” that spotlights the extraordinary lives of her parents through the genre of historical fiction. She highlights her mother’s ability to break through society’s rigidly defined model of how an early-twentieth-century woman should behave. The book is available for purchase on Amazon, Hard Copy, Kindle and Audible and is also selling at Israel’s Judaica book store in Thornhill.

Judy Weinryb is a published author who facilitates a Creative Writing class on zoom at the Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living.

She has been a freelance writer for the Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish Tribune and the Markham Review. A social worker for many years, she has an interest in Jewish Community from both a professional and personal perspective.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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