A Personal Umbrella History - by Corry Flader


To speak of umbrellas in the Flader family is to talk about the blood that runs through our veins, and the family politics, dysfunctionalism, and how I learned to cuss like a sailor. My grandfather Isadore Flader, a Jewish immigrant from a small shtetl in Poland, moved with his family to Toronto somewhere around 1910. He was about 10 years old. There he grew up, met and married Ida, and fixed umbrellas door to door to make a living. One day he met a train porter who told him of the rainforest surrounding Vancouver and that was that. Izzy packed up the wife (she probably did all the packing), his 4 young children, all their belongings, kosher food for 5 days journey, and hit the rails. 

Upon arriving in Vancouver, the family was left at the train station to wait while Izzy found them a room. One was secured in a boarding house run by Mrs. Nemetz, who rented to Jews and had a proper kosher home. From what I can patch together, this was in the downtown area near Chinatown, for most of the other areas of Vancouver were not yet open to ethnics in 1935. In a day or three, Izzy found a house that was condemned on Howe Street. He tracked down the landlord, struck a deal and commenced to put his two eldest sons, Norman and Samuel (then about 13 and 10 years old respectively) to work to build a shop and home. Thus, Vancouver Umbrella (and homestead) was born. 

The family moved around a lot these first couple of years but by the early 1940's they had bought a building on Pender & Howe, where they housed the factory with retail frontage for the next 30 odd years. Norman, when he came back from the service in the early 40's, was the handle specialist. My memories of him are of the smell of glue and the shop coat he wore while carefully drilling wood handles to fit on solid German frames. He would also pick the right style of handle from the extensive handle room; to create what he felt would sell the best. He was very kind to my dad, his little brother Charlie, but I remember him as being nervous, quick to raise his voice with his wife and kids. We never spoke of the war or what he saw. I heard he spent a good deal of time relaxing in Hawaii, where he married his wife, Maxine, another person who did not mind a good holler. Norman died in the early 1980's after moving to LA in the 70's and having a long fight with cancer. His wife and kids remained in LA but gave up on the Flader family when Izzy died in 1996. 

Sam was the family's salesman. Always good with money, he was ready to talk to people to negotiate a deal. He brought his son in law, Peter, into the business in the late 1960's, as a salesman and provider for his family. 

My dad Charlie was the factory "boy" and, after a frustrating attempt at being a practicing lawyer, became head cutter. Even though he was a son, Izzy did not permit my dad any ownership until 1972, when Norman and Izzy sold the property and their shares of the business. This left Sam to run the family heritage with his little brother and his son in law. Charlie was then allowed to buy a share of the family business. A few years later it was time for Sam to retire. He sold his business shares on the condition that Peter would receive 40 percent and the rest to Charlie. 

As Charlie felt retirement nearing, in the 1980's, Peter bought out all the shares of the Vancouver Umbrella legacy. By 1986, Peter was forced to give up the business holdings to the bank and Vancouver Umbrella filed for bankruptcy. Glen, Charlie's son who had been working for Peter in the factory, and his wife, Nancy, bought the old umbrella manufacturing machinery from the bailiff. Thus, The Umbrella Shop was born and found a new home on Pender and Seymour. 

Peter, his wife Cheryl and daughter, Shawna, with great determination went back to the umbrella business, this time as an importer and distributor only. Today his family has resurrected the Vancouver Umbrella namesake that he rightfully purchased years ago. 

The Umbrella Shop moved from downtown in early 2000, as the neighborhood began to become crime ridden. At the same time, Glen and Nancy's marriage was failing and Glen went it alone on West Broadway. Joined by his sister, Corry, in 2003, The Umbrella Shop, now the last umbrella makers in Canada, began to spread their retail roots to Granville Island. A year later, the West Vancouver store was opened, and in the spring of 2007, the Pender Street block welcomed the shop back again.  West Vancouver has now closed its doors (April 2010), as the internet has taken over service beyond the city boundaries.

Please feel free to email me at corry@theumbrellashop.com. I love to hear from umbrella fans and all that are also concerned about sustainable business practices.