Newfoundlander and Holocaust survivors’ son reunite in Toronto


The hug was decades in the making.

On Sunday, Newfoundlander Ernest Condon embraced the son of his longtime friends, Lewis and Grunia Ferman — Jewish resistance fighters who survived the Holocaust and sought refuge in St. John’s.

« Oh my gosh, Eileen, he looks like Lewis, » Condon, 75, said excitedly to his wife as Alan Ferman walked toward him at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto.

« This is going to be too emotional for me … Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. »

Watch the reunion:

Newfoundlander Ernest Condon recently reunited with the son of his longtime friends – Jewish resistance fighters who survived the Holocaust and sought refuge in St. John’s. 2:04

Ferman was equally delighted.

« So good to see you, b’y, » he said before hugging Condon.

« Your family and my family were so close. »

Ferman’s family history in Newfoundland is finally coming to light after a sign for his family’s clothing store, Lewis Ferman and Co., was recently uncovered in downtown St. John’s. 

Alan said many people are now contacting him with stories about his parents. Lewis and Grunia both escaped Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland and survived the war. Afterwards, they moved to Austria, Venice and Rome before learning they had family in St. John’s. They crossed the Atlantic in 1947.

Despite the horror that sent his parents to Newfoundland, Alan said they were lucky to discover the place — even if they’d never heard of it before getting on the plane.

« When they landed in Newfoundland, they told me they felt so at home instantly, because people embraced them and were warm to them and kind to them, » he said.  

Alan and Condon had met briefly back in 1995, when Ferman’s parents were given honourary degrees at Memorial University, but hadn’t been in touch since. That had gnawed at Condon, who still had stories to share with the younger Ferman.

The Lewis Ferman & Co. sign as it looked when intact. it had been hidden under the signage for a Subway restaurant in downtown St. John’s and was recently uncovered. (Provided by Brad Collins)

Condon, who now lives in Ottawa, saw CBC Newfoundland’s stories about the store sign and made it a mission to contact Ferman when he next visited Toronto.

Last week, he marched to the CBC broadcast centre and asked to speak to any Newfoundlander in the Toronto newsroom.

By Sunday, after a few phone calls, Condon was arm in arm with his friend. 

They shared some happy memories, like Condon’s family taking the Fermans trout fishing near their home in the tiny town of Calvert, Nfld.

Lewis and Grunia Ferman met during the Second World War and became resistance fighters who formed a community in the Belarusian woods. (Provided by Michael Ferman)

Others are harrowing.

Condon told Ferman how his father had kept his own’ father’s jacket. It had a bullet hole in the chest from where he was shot to death. 

Ferman knew that his parents had watched their families be killed by the Nazis, but not more than that.

« I didn’t know that, » Ferman said. « It was terrible. »


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Newfoundlander has high hopes for his province’s pot industry


PORTUGAL COVE, NL — Newfoundland’s unique position in the North Atlantic one half-hour ahead of the rest of the country means there will be a desperate crush of retailers clamouring to record the first-ever legal sale of cannabis in Canada on the morning of Oct. 17, 2018, but local lore will judge Thomas Clarke as the homegrown folk hero who got out in front of the rest.

True, technically speaking, the path traced by the rising sun westward across the continent next Wednesday will ultimately grant bragging rights to that historic first sale to one of the handful of pot shops also set to open in downtown St. John’s and neighbouring Mount Pearl slightly to the east of Clarke’s budding THC Distribution setup in Portugal Cove, a picturesque oceanside burg just a hair’s breadth west of St. John’s and a mere 26 kilometres from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America.

Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.
Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.  (Paul Daly / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Corporate-marijuana giant Canopy Growth — about to open a $55-million, 150,000-square-foot grow op in St. John’s, licensed to supply the province with 12,000 kilograms of pot a year in addition to a half-dozen branded outlets scattered across the Rock — is already making a big noise about how one of its own outlets on Water St. will be the first place to sell a legal gram of cannabis in Canada.

CEO Bruce Linton will be on the ground to mark the moment before “ending his day at our headquarters here in Smiths Falls for a huge celebration,” a Canopy representative affirms.

That hasn’t stopped Clarke from doing a masterful job of stealing Canopy’s thunder in the local media — even in the pages of long-lived American pothead bible High Times magazine — for months now, however. And he’s still at it.

“I’ll be the first independent, locally owned guy to make a sale in Canada and I think that’s a way better story than Tweed sells their weed to their f — in’ CEO,” he laughed good-naturedly down the line from Portugal Cove over Thanksgiving weekend, audibly beaming at the news that the St. John’s CBC-Radio affiliate would be broadcasting both its morning show and its noon-hour call-in show, Cross Talk, live from THC Distribution on Legalization Day.

Any way you cut it, Clarke’s successful bid to turn his former home at 1614 Portugal Cove Rd. into a legitimate shop selling cannabis and cannabis accessories counts as a victory.

This has arguably been his destiny for most of his 43 years, even though his birth certificate might quibble with his assertions that he chose the name THC Distribution for his business because his middle name is “Herb.”

Clarke, 43, and a father of three children aged 11, 2 and 1, has put in his time in the marijuana game, even done time for it. He’s been selling weed in and around St. John’s since he was in junior high, got busted at 18, when a customer got caught with two ounces of hashish and ratted him out as the source and, despite never actually getting pinched with any physical product himself, spent 30 days in prison for his troubles the next year.

He’s been a public voice for reasonable cannabis laws ever since and, once the Trudeau government decided to follow through on its election promise to make weed legal, also became a constant, loud presence in the St. John’s media and in the faces of local politicians demanding that Newfoundland growers and business owners get a fair share of the pie.

His experience on the file, as it were, no doubt contributed to the success of the stringent, multi-faceted business plan he submitted to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).

“Because I’ve been working on this basically my whole life I guess I had a really good plan put together, right?” he says.

“I’ve been around the cannabis industry for 30 years. I started selling weed when I was in Grade 8. It’s always been my passion and something I’ve been a social-justice advocate for my whole life. So once Justin Trudeau was elected and I saw that, holy sh-, this is really happening I said ‘I have to start talking to people about this’ so Newfoundland could have a good foothold when legalization happened and that we went in the right direction, which I think would be having local product and local business owners opening shops. That’s a way to have the cannabis industry grow in Newfoundland and try to keep the industry as localized as possible.”

Most of THC Distribution’s initial, immediate competition will consist of miniature NLC-run outlets attached to Loblaws-owned Dominion supermarkets around the city, Ontario-based Canopy’s five planned storefronts in St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Conception Bay South and a few scattered weed-retail counters in convenience stores and “wellness” boutiques.

Clarke is the only person who received a licence for a “standalone, strictly cannabis shop” on the Avalon Peninsula — there’s another on the way in Labrador and one more to come on the west coast of Newfoundland, apparently, although as of Oct. 5, the NLC itself could only vaguely peg the number of outlets that might be approved in time to open for Legalization Day at around 20 — so that will, by virtue of geography, make his the first truly independent small business to sell legal marijuana in Canadian history on Legalization Day. He’s counting on Newfoundland pride to put him over the top.

He’s already trademarked the name “Wild Newfoundland Blueberry Cannabis Company” in hopes of eventually selling varieties of the Canadian-born cannabis strain known as “blueberry” — ideally to be someday grown right in Newfoundland — to pot-starved international tourists bused out to Portugal Cove from the cruise ships that routinely dock in St. John’s harbour. He dreams of marketing locally grown weed “grown with the oldest, freshest water in the world” sourced from wandering icebergs.

“The options for cannabis for 300,000 people on the Avalon are going to be either the Dominion grocery store or the Tweed/Canopy weed-corporation giants or the local cannabis expert in Portugal Cove,” he says. “So I think I’m gonna do okay.”

Clarke hasn’t had the easiest time getting THC Distribution off the ground. This past August, a petition circulated by some of his neighbours in Portugal Cove and last-minute fretting by the local council over his business application suddenly had his $125,000 investment up in the air. The Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s municipal government swung back around to his side on Oct. 2, though, voting 5-2 in favour of him opening his doors on Oct. 17.

Now, like every other legal pot retailer in Canada, he’s stuck worrying about how many of the licensed producers he’s required to buy his stock from through the NLC will actually have product available in time for Legalization Day.

The margins are going to be tight, any way you cut it, since Newfoundland law allows for only an 8-per-cent commission on product sold; of the $66,847 Clarke has spent on Canopy weed for opening day, he only stands to make about $5,000.

“If I’m not ready to open on the 17th it’s gonna break my f — ing heart. But I’m 99.999 per cent sure I will be,” he says. “The NLC had seven licensed producers signed up and only two of them have weed to ship for the 17th. I know I’ll have Canopy stuff and I think I’ll have Aurora, but that’s it. Everyone else has delays because of packaging problems or problems with the weed they grew or problems with their Health Canada licences for selling it and stuff, so there’s a lot of f — in’ tangly problems down here. If I don’t run out of weed on the first day, I’m pretty sure I will on the second or third day.

“It’s definitely a long-haul venture.”


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