Birth: July 1, 1901 in Russia
Death: January 20, 1958 in Victoria, B.C.
David Berman’s family immigrated from eastern Europe to Canada early in the twentieth century. Young David married Minnie Ellen Shnitka in Edmonton in 1921; the couple made their home in Montreal where David graduated from McGill University’s School of Medicine in 1924. In 1925 he received a degree as a Doctor of Public Health from McGill. He taught bacteriology at his alma mater prior to accepting a position as a Professor of Hygiene at Antioch University in Ohio. Soon after, his career took him to Marshall County, West Virginia as Medical Health Officer and Field Agent for the U.S. Public Health Service.
On September 1, 1927 David accepted a position as a full time Medical Health Officer for the Municipality of Saanich.Among other duties, he was in charge of the Saanich War Memorial Health Center; overseeing a staff of four nurses.
Not long after he began his employment, David’s activities started to be covered by the local press. Early reports reveal that he had been called to the scene of a number of accidents, appeared at coroner’s inquests, was a speaker at a number of events and was involved with the Saanich City Council and Saanich School Board. Such reports dotted the newspapers during his tenure as Medical Health Officer.
Despite a level of opposition, in 1928, David was a strong and vocal advocate for the use of vaccines against Diphtheria, a bacterial disease with a very high mortality rate – especially among young children.
He took a special interest in providing dental services to children in school. In February 1928, David was active in creating a permanent location so that the dentist could install proper dental equipment rather than relying on portable devices. He arranged for transportation to that location and hired additional staff. David also raised funds so that dental services could be offered to children without charge, if necessary.
David also took note of the water conditions and regularly advocated for modernizing the sewers to allow for more sanitary conditions. In March 1928, David spoke before a special meeting for the residents of Moodyville and Brentwood. He warned that Typhoid Fever was likely to break out that summer if nothing was done to improve the conditions of the water supply and drainage especially in Moodyville. A committee was formed to investigate.
David was also very concerned about the sewage at Cadboro Bay and brought his concerns to Saanich Council. He noted that Cadboro Bay was a popular resort for campers in the summer and that sanitary conditions at low tide were very poor. David strongly recommended that changes be made in order to avoid an outbreak of a ‘dreaded’ disease. The Saanich Council appointed a committee to look into the matter.
In July 1928, David spoke to the Saanich School board to present the results of the first year of cooperation between the Rockefeller Institute and Saanich. In addition to receiving favorable comments for his work, David reported that affiliation with the Rockefeller Institute lead to more accurate records being kept, and more efficient control of communicable diseases.
On October 12, 1928, David, assisted by Miss A. G. Kelly of the Esquimalt Rural Nursing Service, offered the residents of Luxton, Happy Valley, Colwood, Albert Head and Langford the first one day medical clinic for examining pre-school aged children.
The Chilliwack paper reported on August 22, 1929 that the District Heath Nurse subcommittee of the Agricultural Association was going to sponsor the first ever Better Babies Contest. The aim of the three day event was to educate young mothers on proper well baby care. In addition, each child would receive a free one minute exam. David was one of the physicians who participated.
Follow up articles hailed the event as a great success. There had been a lot of interest in the information on hygiene, feeding and general development which were all “explained in full detail”. Additionally, 15 injections for immunization against diphtheria were given including, two for free.
With the assistance of nurses, David examined children approaching school age at clinics held on an ongoing basis in Saanich. He also dealt regularly with outbursts of infectious diseases such as whooping cough and chickenpox. He introduced measures which helped to curb the spread of influenza. He would often be the invited speaker to inform citizens about the nature of infectious diseases including their causes, treatments, and ways of prevention.
His assistance was requested on medical topics of all sorts including whether it was a health risk for children to bring wet over-clothes into the classroom.
With an understanding that health care was broad in scope, David’s involvement in a wide range of activities included:
a. joining a team of inspectors at fox farms. David recommended that foxes not be kept in residential neighborhoods as they posed a potential health risk.
b. being actively involved in developing policies that would lead to better health in the community including helping to set in motion a number of initiatives which improved the sanitation of milk which was sold in Saanich. Such measures included better filtering and bottling, and having only milk which came from Class A or Class B dairies sold in retail establishments.
c. lobbying for better zoning by-laws and building codes so that homes could be constructed on solid foundations with indoor plumbing.
d. fundraising to provide programs to benefit those with less financial means. This included David’s efforts in distributing glasses, offering free dental and medical treatments in schools, having food pantries subsidize healthier, more nutritional options, and in 1931 David made sure that every needy family in Saanich received a Christmas hamper.
f. teaching high school students how to rescue people who are drowning or having difficulty in the water including the proper technique for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. David also treated minor injuries in a field station at a Sports competition held in May, 1936 at Tillicum School.
David was well liked and highly regarded. He was acknowledged on many occasions during his career including being recognized at Saanich Council meetings for his work in helping “distressed residents” many of whom had not been billed for the services rendered.
David contributed to a wide variety of funds and along with his wife, he attended a number of high profile social events including being among the 30 guest invited to a surprise party hosted by the Central Conservative Association in September 1931. The evening was devoted to cards and music.
On March 1, 1939 David announced that he would resign as Medical Health Officer at the end of the month. After twelve years of service David decided to go into private practice in Victoria. However, World War II saw his return to public service. In 1940 he was among the doctors who were hired to examine nearly 1,000 young draftees at the Gordon Head military training center.
In November 1942, David was appointed Acting Health Officer of Victoria. In that capacity, in an effort to educate the public and destigmatize venereal disease, David gave a number of frank talks to organizations which included the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Kinsmen Club.
David continued his interest in water-borne disease by giving a report to the Health Committee of Victoria’s City Council in which he recommended that the water from Sooke and Goldstream lake be treated with chlorine. His rationale was based on the large increase of bacillus-coil germs in Victoria’s drinking water. He also expressed concern about the overcrowded conditions and increase of Tuberculosis among the local Chinese population.
He advocated on behalf of workers by endorsing a proposal by dry cleaning operators to be listed as an essential industry. David emphasized that the “abnormal increase in civilian population and inadequate housing conditions here would give rise to greater prevalence of communicable diseases and that curtailment of dry cleaning would present a health menace.”
David was also involved in a number of civic organizations. After his retirement, he remained engaged and continued to contribute to a variety of local charities. He was invited to give a talk on Hebrew Religion and Practices to the Liberal Religious Fellowship of Victoria (Unitarian) on Friday December 14. 1956. For a number of years David was also a member of the networking Pacific Club. As a Freemason, David was part of the education and research committee of Camosun Lodge, A.F. & A.M, No. 60 B.C.R.
David was married to Minnie Ellen Shnitka Berman and had twins. His son Michael became a doctor and moved to San Pedro, California. His daughter, Joy, moved to England. David died at St. Joseph Hospital in Victoria on January 20, 1958.
Camosun Lodge, A.F. & A.M, No. 60 B.C.R. announced in the Times Colonist on January 21, 1958 that David’s funeral would take place the next day at the Masonic Temple on Douglas Street. A cordial invitation was extended to members of sister lodges and sojourning brethren in good standing.
The Times Colonist on January 21, 1958 also announced that David’s funeral work take place at Hayward’s Funeral Home. It’s possible that the ceremony held at the Masonic Lodge was only for Freemasons and then the coffin was transferred to Hayward’s for a Jewish ceremony before burial in the Jewish Cemetery.
Gravesite Details: Row G – Plot 25
Born July 1, 1901
Died Jan. 20, Jan 1958
Called to Higher Service
Minnie Ellen Shnitka Berman
Vancouver Island Masonic History Project: