A 24 year old military man born and raised.
A 25 year old secretary at the Jewish Community Centre.
A chance meeting that would begin a whirlwind 24 years together.
A world war, two mobilizations, three depots.
A mother and two children left behind in the wake of a tragedy.
And so begins their story.
In 1931, Ralph Fromson and Ann Goldberg meet and begin exchanging letters; Ralph and Ann are introduced on one of Ralph’s visits to Vancouver and, while there are no details of their introduction, the “estimable Bertha” seems to have been their much-appreciated matchmaker. Ralph is an active member of the Victoria B’nai B’rith Lodge, where he would later become president. He is also a military man born and bred, his father Eli was a member of the Canadian gunnery division, residing next to the Canadian Forces Military Base and Ordnance Depot in Esquimalt B.C. Ann Goldberg is a Vancouverite, and the executive secretary of the Jewish Community Centre. The letters exchanged, and accompanying ferry trips, between Victoria and Vancouver accumulate as their love blossoms.
Letters exchanged between Ralph Fromson and Ann Goldberg, 1931-1933.
Ann, also known as Anna, types Ralph a letter on sneakily swiped stationary from her place of employment, the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre. Ann frequently sends Ralph letters typewritten on this stationary as it is her preferred writing method. Conversely, Ralph mentions in one of his letters that he prefers to hand write, because he finds that using a typewriter is too tedious and “no fun.”
Ann opens the exchange with the words, “[t]he radio is playing the most beautiful music, and that sort of thing is always so much more precious when shared.” She continues that “the lovely music is inspiring me to become poetic and sentimental, but am doing my best to curb those instincts.” Ann, in an attempt to regain composure, notes, “I really should have started this letter by thanking you for your kindness to me, instead of getting all keyed up about your forthcoming visit.”
Ralph sheepishly writes Ann a very delayed letter, 10 whole weeks!, exclaiming that he “feel[s] like the very devil” for not having written her a reply sooner; he makes the excuse that he is very busy at work and that is why it took him so long to reply. Ralph hopes that Ann will not keep him waiting as long for a reply as he left her.
Ann pokes fun at how long it takes Ralph to reply to her letters; she writes, “[w]ould you believe it! I received a letter from dear old Ralph Fromson a few days ago.” Ann also congratulates Ralph on his newly achieved position of Vice President of the Victoria B’nai B’rith Lodge and for winning the local bridge prize. She ends her letter by inviting Ralph to a New Year’s party that she is hosting, writing that she “would be very glad” to have him come.
Ann devotedly writes Ralph that she met with her good friend Anita the previous night. She confesses that she was very tempted to tell her their “secret”, possibly their clandestine engagement that transpired when Ralph came to visit in the New Year, but refrained from doing so. Ann signs off her letter with the affectionate words, “I love you darling. Will write more tomorrow.”
Four months after being named Vice President of the Victoria B’nai B’rith Lodge, Ralph is promoted to the position of President. What ensues is a mock formal letter from Ann congratulating Ralph on his newly acquired “position of dignity and responsibility”. Ann sends Ralph her “sincere wishes that you may meet with every success in leading your Lodge this coming year.”
A year later, Ann and Ralph were engaged when she went to visit him in Victoria for the New Year. Shortly thereafter, Ann writes to Ralph confessing that she let it slip to her mother that, “you would be over as soon as you could raise the cash wherewith to buy a ring.” She writes that her mother replied, “if we cared for each other, she would give us one of her diamond ear-rings, to make a ring. Of course that will be up to you.”
Ann types Ralph a letter expressing her excitement on their recent engagement and the news that she will receive Jane Fromson’s diamond. Ann has attached a poem titled “I Love Words” to more eloquently indicate her love and affection for him. She writes, “I never knew love could do this to me – make every day seem like a year. Do you think I’ll ever get over it? I hope not.” Ann ends her letter by expressing her regret on not being able to attend his B’nai B’rith speech, stating that “at this moment I need some of Mr. Bean’s good swear words. Because I feel that I should be there instead of here.”
Ralph and Ann exchange telegrams rarely: only when they need to send word last minute or have urgent news to share. In this telegram Ralph notifies Ann that he will be in Vancouver to visit her the following morning, implying that he hopes that she will come meet him at the boat. The telegram is adorned with a stamp in the bottom left corner noting that the telegram was telephoned in and is to be delivered for quick receipt.
Ann reports that she has taken to heart Ralph’s advice not to work too hard. She playfully writes that “I am really neglecting my work in the most unbecoming manner, and am not even worrying about it. Maybe I’ll gain those five pounds that I lost last month, and then you’ll have a fat lady on your hands – horrors!” Ann also asks Ralph for a photograph so she might use her “influence” to get their pictures and news of their engagement into the “Bulletin”.
Ralph types Ann a letter using letterhead from Ordnance Services at the Department of National Defense, as he works out of Reserve Ordnance Stores building in Signal Hill. Ralph writes that “a letter from you makes the day seem brighter, and is just like seeing your most wonderful smile.” Though their engagement has not been publicly announced as of yet, Ralph mentions that their friends in Victoria are hearing about it; he writes that “the phone in the office is working overtime, the office boy is just about ready to give me a black-eye if I get any more calls, but I love it for every time they call me I know how much I love you.”
As promised in her previous letter, Ann manages to get their pictures into the paper. On page 3 of Vol 3. No. 41 of the Jewish Western Bulletin, published on January 19, 1933, under the Special and Club News section, is an excerpt announcing Ralph and Ann’s engagement. The excerpt names their betrothal “an engagement of wide interest” as they are both very active members in the local Jewish community.
Ralph writes Ann, on stationary from work, that he is so preoccupied with thinking of her that his work is really taking a beating for it. He writes that he “just received the most luscious bawling out from the chief clerk for incorrect spelling, he told me that if it happened again that they were going to send me to school to learn to spell all over again.” Ralph also adds that “the photographs [in the paper] are just dandy”, adding that her picture looks particularly lovely.
Ann writes that she is yearning to be with Ralph, and in her practical manner pens that “it will be heavenly to be together, but in the meantime, we must carry on our work, and not let our lonesomeness and longing master us too much.” Ann writes that she hopes that they will get married on April 9th, and as a result she will finish work on March 15th in order to prepare for her new role as wife and (hopefully) mother. Ann “(whispers)” that after her recent visit to see him in Victoria she has put on weight. She jokingly writes, “I am not exactly a fat lady yet, but I did manage to gain about a pound and a half, now weigh 104½ lbs. When I reach 115 I’ll start to worry about it, and we’ll both go on a diet together. We’ll start to like cabbage, or will we?”
Ann pokes fun at Ralph, for in a previous letter he had complained that her letters to him were on the whole too brief. She cheekily writes, “in my most ardent endeavour to please you my lord and master, I herewith shall write a long letter, long enough I trust to satisfy even your dear self.” Ann then realizes that she has been too busy teasing Ralph to remember that “every letter has to start with I love you – and has to finish with I love you.” Ann then exclaims “I’ll fix it!”, and promptly amends the start of the letter by inserting an “I LOVE YOU.”
Ralph picks up the thread from Ann’s previous letter by beginning with “Again I say I love you with all my heart.” He goes on to express his joy at their upcoming marriage, and sweetly asks Ann “how does it feel to be leaving your job to take another one for life. I hope you’ll like it.” This is a role that Ann takes to heart; in her reply letter, she comments that she has bought them two dozen dish cloths and two breakfast cloths, stating that “[i]t will give me great pleasure darling to introduce you to these things, particularly as you have shown such marked ability at dish-washing, etc.”
Ralph continues his letter by remarking on the weather, noting that, “the weather is being auspicious to our wedding day and as far as it is in my power the sun will always shine for you.”
Ann writes Ralph a letter while on the boat trip back to Vancouver; she is making the journey back early in order to prepare for the wedding. In her letter, Ann divulges that she is getting pre-wedding jitters, and will be glad to get the wedding over with and settle into married life.
The couple eventually marry on April 5th 1933, and settle in Victoria where they have two children: Elaine and Teddy. Their story would be far from over.
Ralph & Ann’s letters resume from 1942-1946 when Ralph, an officer in the Canadian Army (Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps), is sent to Regina, Saskatchewan.
Ralph Fromson joined the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (R.C.O.C), a division of the Canadian Army, in 1924 at the age of 16. The R.C.O.C. was concerned with providing the troops with the equipment to fight; they provided artillery, uniforms, and various other types of weapons and equipment. Ralph carried out his duties at the Reserve Ordnance Stores building In Signal Hill, Esquimalt until 1942, when the No. 12 Ordnance Depot at which he worked was mobilized in Regina. At this time, Ralph is promoted to the position of Staff Conductor with the rank of Warrant Officer Class One (WO1), and acts as the “foreman” at the Ordnance Depot.
Between 1942 and 1946 Ralph carries out his duties as a Warrant Officer of the First Class in the R.C.O.C. at the Ordnance Depot and military base located in Regina. He sends letters back home to Ann and the kids, and for this set of letters we have only Ralph’s perspective. Upon arriving in Regina, Ralph sends his first letter to Ann to let her know that he has arrived safely, and to give an account of his journey over. In it he remarks on the weather in Regina, and then in brackets humorously remarks that “I’ve been here 3 hrs so I am an authority on the weather.” He also adds that he has (accidentally) left all of his undershirts at home “just for luck”, but “didn’t seem to have left anything else.” Ralph notes that he recognizes several of the other officers here in Regina, so he is certain that he should get on fine.
In this letter to Ann, Ralph encloses a poem by James Whitcomb Riley titled “When She Comes Home”; he feels that it expresses his feelings for her better than he ever could. Ralph is counting down the days until Ann, and eventually the kids, move to Regina to live there with him for the duration of the war. The family does eventually move to Regina later that year, and the letters once again cease, not to resume until 1946.
The letters to Ann resume in 1946, when Ann and the kids move back to Vancouver, and Ralph hopes to be discharged and join them soon; he is now almost 40 and, he feels, is getting too old for the army. Ralph writes Ann a letter from the Commercial Hotel, letting her know that he has arrived safely in Maple Creek. In WWII Maple Creek was home to an army training camp and Ordnance Depot, as was Regina, so it is likely army business that brought Ralph there. Ralph is just writing a quick note to tell Ann that he loves her, but tells her not to bother to write him there as he hopes to be finished the job here, and back in Regina, very soon.
On December 14, 1946 Ralph is issued his official certificate of discharge from the National Department of Defense, and returns to civilian life and his family in Vancouver .
Tragically, Ralph Fromson passed away suddenly on October 25, 1955, at the age of 47. Though their life together was cut short these letters show their mutual sense of humour and affection for each other.
Ann and Ralph were both involved with B’nai B’rith during their time together, a tradition which Ann continued after his death, eventually becoming Sisterhood president. Ann would also be awarded a lifetime membership in Hadassah-WIZO in 1970. Elaine would continue this tradition in B’nai B’rith Girls, and the family was involved in Congregation Beth Israel for many years.
On April1 16th 1975, almost twenty years after Ralph’s passing, Ann Fromson remarried. This time she married a gentleman named Martin Muskovitch, who, likewise, was a widower. Both in their seventies, Ann and Martin were lucky enough to live out the rest of their lives together. Ralph & Ann’s daughter Elaine, a professor at Yale University, married Joe Glass, while their son Teddy married Jill Cardy.
This collection of letters is a testament to their love more than 80 years after they first met. The collection was donated to the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia in 2016 by Teddy Fromson, who wanted to preserve his parents’ love and memories forever.
This project has been made possible by the BC History Digitization program.
The Fromson Family fonds was digitized by Alexa Barran under the supervision of archivist Alysa Routtenberg. This exhibit was guided by Alysa Routtenberg and Michael Schwartz.