BORN RECHITSA, RUSSIA, MIDMARCH, 1913. DIED TORONTO, JULY 9, 2008, AGED 95.
BY BUILDING a chain of nearly 70 Holiday Inns around the world, including some half-dozen in England, David Rubinoff became one of Canada’s major hoteliers and helped usher in the 1960s era of mass travel, writes Bill Gladstone.
A long-time resident of the farm belt around London, Ontario, Rubinoff had been impressed with the Holiday Inns he had seen in the USA.
After earlier successes as a garment merchant and land developer, he erected a chain of 50 hotels across Canada in the 1960s and 1970s.
His company, Commonwealth Holiday Inns, also built hotels in London, at Marble Arch and Swiss Cottage, as well as in Bristol, Plymouth and Slough, near Windsor.
Others went up in France, Portugal, on six Caribbean islands and in two US states. Under Rubinoff’s guidance, the firm became a publicly-traded company with 10,000 employees and nearly 15,000 hotel rooms. He sold his interest in 1979 but kept busy managing numerous investment properties.
David Rubinoff was born in 1913 in Rechitsa, a village in what is now Belarus. The exact date, under the prerevolutionary Russian calendar, is not recorded.
His father left for Canada before his birth and, due to the First World War and other factors, did not send for the family for another decade.
David lived through war, revolution, famine, pogroms and extreme poverty. One of his brightest childhood memories was seeing the first electric lightbulb in Rechitsa being lit in an aunt’s home.
He arrived in Toronto with his mother and sister in 1923, as a boy of 10, and met his father for the first time. The family moved for a while to the US, to Detroit, where David delivered flowers and sold newspapers for three cents apiece. In the early Depression, he worked in a supermarket and used cardboard to fill the holes in his shoes.
After his marriage to Rachel Rosenberg in 1936, he started a dress manufacturing business on Toronto’s Spadina Avenue, but it went bankrupt.
Borrowing $500 from a relative, he relocated to London, Ontario, in 1939 and opened a ladies’ wear store, the first of several successful dress shops he went on to operate.
He always claimed that he became a land developer by accident. Wanting to raise his family in a rural setting, he paid $300 down to purchase a 50-acre farm, acquiring adjacent lands as they became available.
He began building small plazas and apartment blocks, which turned into a new suburb as the city crept towards his property after the Second World War. He remained a major supporter of the local Jewish community, even after moving back to Toronto in 1985.
Known for his positive assessment of people, he had a high reputation in the business world. His word or handshake on a deal was like an iron-clad guarantee, according to many.
“I’d sooner have David’s word on a matter than some other men’s signatures,” a London, Ontario, alderman once said.
He is survived by his wife of 72 years, Rae; four children, Robert, Penny, Jeffrey and Philip; five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
David Rubinoff: from stetl to hotel