The Mall Medical Clinic building is now owned by the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (photo from wag100.ca)
The Mall Medical Clinic goes as far back as the final days of the Second World War, when two Manitoba doctors at an overseas army hospital (one ill and recovering, while the other was treating him) discussed what they would do after the war. They decided to create a joint medical practice for returning physicians.
The original group of doctors involved with establishing Winnipeg’s Mall Medical included Alan Klass, Charles Bermack, Laurie Rabson, Sam Easton, David Bruser, Ruvin Lyons and Manly Finklestein. Early in 1947, the Mall Medical Group purchased a piece of land at the northwest corner of The Mall (at 280 Memorial Blvd.) and hired architects Green Blankstein Russell to design their clinic. Construction started on the two-storey building with a full basement on March 4, 1947. The facility was open by January 1948.
Aside from doctor and dentist offices, the building housed a pharmacy, lab and diagnostic equipment rooms. By 1990, the Mall Medical Group also ran additional clinics at 1194 Jefferson Ave., 1717 Main St., and 1868 Portage Ave.
Dr. Norman Goldberg, 64, a pediatrician who was born and raised in Winnipeg, began working at the clinic in 1976.
“I looked around and saw that Mall Medical was a well-established group and was willing to take in a new colleague,” he said. “Not every group was able or willing to do this. I knew some of the Mall Medical doctors and there was a strong Jewish representation of doctors. They were accepting of Jewish physicians, whereas some were less welcoming.
“The Mall Medical Group all started when a group of Jewish doctors decided to start up a combination of family practice and specialists – to have a little more marketing power and to be able to help each other out,” to refer within the group to each other.
“There was certainly a Jewish influence there, and it was to counter some of the exclusionary practices at some of the other clinics.
“Over the years,” he added, “people joined us from various specialties, as well as general medicine. It [retained] less of a Jewish identity over time, because there were no longer exclusionary policies.” Even later, however, “there were still very few Jewish physicians at the Winnipeg or Manitoba Clinic. That has since improved.”
The Mall Medical Group dissolved around 1996. “We were finding it harder to recruit physicians,” Goldberg explained. “We were no longer able to compete in the market space as it was, in the space we were in. It was becoming too expensive to maintain the building and there were other reasons, too.
“We were all doing well and were busy, but we needed another eight or 10 physicians to make it really function well and we couldn’t recruit that number.”
At that point, Goldberg moved to the Manitoba Clinic. By then, he said, things had changed for Jewish physicians. At the Manitoba Clinic, for example, “They were very welcoming. I was pleased to be there and they were pleased to have me. I never felt any exclusion from the rest of the group. We all got along very well.”
Still, Goldberg remarked, “Today, you’re expected to forget past history, which isn’t always that comfortable. I think you still need to be a little aware of what past history was, although right now things are good.”
One of the other doctors in the Mall Medical clinic was Dr. Nassif Moharib. He was born in Egypt, where he became a doctor, and moved to Canada in 1967. “I’m a Christian and was hated because of that by extremist Muslims in Egypt,” said Moharib of his decision to move overseas.
After arriving in Winnipeg in 1967, the doctor did emergency work at Misericordia Hospital for six months, and then did over a year of training/residency in neurology.
“My wife was working as an operating room nurse at Children’s Hospital, when one of the doctors from Mall Medical was saying that the neurologist at Mall Medical was leaving the group, so they were looking for a new neurologist,” he recalled.
He went for an interview at the Mall and was accepted in 1970. “When I joined, there were only about three non-Jewish doctors of about 26 or 29 doctors there,” Moharib said. “The majority of doctors in the Mall Medical Group would refer their patients to me. We were all very friendly with each other. Dr. Phil Barnes delivered two of my children. It was a very good, friendly atmosphere.”
Today, Moharib is retired and is unimpressed with current wait times to see a doctor. “I think it’s gotten a lot worse – longer – than it used to be. When I was working, I didn’t let patients wait for more than five minutes but, in some doctor’s offices, people have to wait for two hours. It’s not right. I think it’s because doctors are booking too many patients.”
In 1992, the Mall Medical group vacated its original location on Memorial Boulevard. The following year, the Winnipeg Art Gallery purchased the lot and a $750,000 infrastructure grant helped convert it into the WAG Studio.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.