Where German Traditions Live On
Revue supporters run unique Roncesvalles shop with the best marzipan
by Ellen Moorhouse
Karin Smith, left, and her sister Helga Schuliakewich flank Revue Film Society treasurer Rose Scheler. The sisters, supporters of the Revue, run the unique Old Village Shop gift store on Roncesvalles.
Helga Schuliakewich was only 18 years old in 1955 when she left Germany for Toronto. She was on her own, spoke no English and had only 40 marks to her name.
“I was the runaway,” she says with a smile. But the people here were friendly and helpful, and, with no work and no place to stay, she managed to get a job cooking at a downtown mission. The rest of the family, including younger sister Karin Smith, soon followed Helga to Toronto.
The women run a unique establishment at 355 Roncesvalles Ave.: The Old Country Shop. It offers an assortment of German products, including food items, such as stollen cake and other delicacies, candies, German-style marzipan, a specialty of Lubeck, toys and kitchenware, marvellous collections of foil-wrapped chocolates for Christmas and Easter, and even garden gnomes.
The store was first a delicatessen, established by Helga and Karin’s parents in 1960. At the time, a wave of German immigrants were arriving, and the street was largely German-
speaking. The women recall the Berlin Café, with its Sunday lineups; the Gasthaus restaurant, Café May, owned by a Dutch couple, and the Revue Cinema, when it showed German films.
Helga and Karin are among the many Roncesvalles-area business owners who made donations to save The Revue when the theatre shut down in 2006. They notice the difference now that it has reopened. Says Helga, “I had a customer from The Revue who came by when we were closed, but came back later. He bought one of the gnomes.”
Their film connections go beyond The Revue. Karin’s husband, Leonard Smith, for years had his own Roncesvalles shop, the Hanover Centre, filled with German toys and music. A cinephile, he branched into videos, selling the classics. He knows films well. After all, he’s related to Victor McLaglen, a larger-than-life Brit who won an Oscar for his role in John Ford’s The Informer and earned another Oscar nomination for his role in The Quiet Man, where he played opposite John Wayne.
Karin was introduced to Leonard at Sam (the Record Man) Sniderman’s store. Helga and, later, Karin worked at Sniderman’s Music Hall at 714 College St. Karin calls Sam “my second father.” Adds Helga: “He was very proud of his girls. We wore skirts with musical notes around them.”
Meanwhile, as the sisters reminisce, Wright Avenue resident Mike Soegtrop drops by for some licorice for his children. His mother, a hardworking nurse who raised six children, used to do the same.
Karin and Helga say many customers are the offspring of the first German immigrants, looking for things they remember, such as marzipan potatoes for Christmas and good luck marzipan pigs for New Year’s. A new generation of well-travelled young people have also discovered the store, seeking out the delectable marzipan that Karin and Helga stock.
Roncesvalles may have changed to “the street for dogs and babies and coffee on the run,” says Helga. “But it’s cozy here.”