Davy the Punk comes to Gabriola for a final show

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, October 6 2015

Davy the Punk is back on Gabriola this Thanksgiving for one last show.

Bob Bossin stars in the one-man musical about his dad’s life in Canada’s gambling underworld of the 1930s.

The evening is a benefit for the Gabriola Museum.

The show had its debut as a one-act play at the 2012 Gabriola Theatre Festival. After 60 some performances across the country, it has grown a second act and added Bob’s mother as a major character.

Bob Bossin on stage during one of his performances of Davy the Punk. Photo courtesy Paul Kay

Asked why he wrote the show in the first place, Bossin explained it was something he’d wanted to do for 40 years.

“One day I walked into an old deli in Toronto, with an old man at the counter, and I started to kibbutz with him, asked if he knew my family. 

“He did, he started to name off my aunts, uncles and then he mentioned my dad; said they used to call him Davy the Punk.”

Bossin said the word used was actually Farbrecher - a Jewish term for a gangster.

“That [moment] was in the early 70s. I’ve always remembered that moment, and it is symbolic of my interest.”

Bossin’s father made no bones about his past as Bob was growing up.

“He wasn’t secretive or ashamed of it. So I knew of that milieu of that world, I knew he had precedent-setting court cases. I was always interested and drawn to something I wanted to write about. Every now and then I’ve done research, I’ve dug things up, then I’d go back to normal life.”

It was after Bossin turned 60 that he had an epiphany and realized that if he hadn’t done something he always wanted to do, and he was turning 60, the question was becoming when would he do it?

“So I really dug into it, did more research, then I started to write. I always knew I would write a book, but I wanted to put it on stage, because that’s what I do. I’m a performer.”

As to why, after so many successful shows and reviews he is putting it on the shelf, Bossin said, “I’m not putting it on the shelf as such. 

“I really enjoy doing the show, but all the administration around it, I tire of. Trying to dig up gigs in different parts of the country, coordinate the times. I love doing the show. If I could just go places and do the show, I would. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it. But it is the off-stage stuff that’s grating.”

Bossin says he wanted to bring it back to Gabriola one more time, “to give it back to the island, this is where it started. And the show has changed so much since three years ago when I premiered it. It is twice as long, with more characters.

“So if people saw the pilot, they can now see the completed series.” 

Bossin is happy to be performing as a fundraiser for the Gabriola Museum.

“People don’t know, but there is a terrible crunch happening for museums, libraries and archives. I used those resources to put those shows together. The book would be a very thin volume if I wasn’t able to find the stuff I did.”

The book version is currently nominated for the Heritage Toronto Award.

“I think that’s wonderful - because here’s this guy [Bossin’s dad Davy], who was a real pariah that the Attorney General’s office and cops chased for years.

“And now it is heritage, and it should be. Because the gambling industry, it was a significant industry. 

“Certainly there, it was one of the few places a smart immigrant kid whose way was blocked by racism or anti-Semitism could get a white-collar job and innovate and use their talents. The gambling industry grew up at the same time as the great migration and developed all kinds of information technology stuff.

“It tickles me that it is now up for a Heritage Award.”

Bossin explained there are comparisons - albeit subtle - people can make between the struggles of his father’s day and current events in Canada.

“My dad, for a while he was a layoff man, so that’s a bookie’s bookie. All the time he did that, he wasn’t in trouble. In the mid-1930s he went straighter. He started providing racing information to bookies. If you’re a bookie, you need to know who’s won the first race so you know how much money you have to work with for the last race.

“The authorities, they thought they could prevent the gambling by stopping the flow of information. But that information is the same information printed in the Toronto Star, so it was tricky as to what is freedom of information.

“That has very real parallels now. In my father’s court cases that was a lot of the battles. The Crown said he was providing information; it is illegal to help bookies. My dad said he was providing information, which isn’t illegal - they had to prove whether he was helping gamblers.

“That is so connected to C-51.

“At the time, the ruling was neither the police, phone company or government could take away your phone service because they didn’t like what you were doing with it - unless you were convicted with something illegal.

“That stood until C-51. Now with C-51, for the first time, they can take away your phone because they suspect something.”

Another theme in the show that is contemporary is that of going through the case books of those who were chasing Davy.

As Bossin said, “The law was perfectly happy to work beyond the law and it just happened because it was my father’s story, I was able to get through Freedom of Information; I got a fat file from the 1940s of my dad’s cases. 

“You see the way the people who were upholding the law were perfectly willing to bend it. Nothing has changed in that particular regard. I suppose this is less in the show than in the book, but the questions of racism and immigration are still there.

“I think it is in its own way a political show, but it is subtle. 

“It is a bygone era - there are wonderful stories and camaraderie; it’s also a story of these little guys frozen out of white collar work, they created a whole industry for themselves so they can work. They find a niche, the ‘old stock’ as Harper would call it, is in large measure turning away from. They created this world around horse racing in those years.”

Bossin says there is no second book coming from his pen and desk.

“This is a labour of love - I’ve wanted to do this for 40 years. I’ve worked 10 years writing the book and the show. It’s in large part because it is personal.

“I have no intention of writing another book. I wrote about this because it fascinated me as a person. Also my father was an extraordinary guy who died when I was 17 - of natural causes I would add. I interviewed people who say he was the smartest man they ever knew. He must have been pretty smart. He did what he did for years with all the force of the law pursuing him and kept eluding them. 

“I’m really drawn to the era - you are drawn to the era you grow up in. There’s something to a baseball in a glove or a hot dog that brings me back to being a kid. That was when my dad and his cronies were telling me stories about gambling and such.

“It was a whole era and feel - I love being able to go out on stage and show people a part of our history and a part of my own history that is genuinely meaningful to me and that I care about.

“I feel great talking about my dad - I think he represents an era that is worth remembering. He was an interesting guy that did interesting things. I’m happy to commemorate that and bring that back into the heritage.”

Davy the Punk will be on stage this Saturday, October 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Phoenix Auditorium at The Haven. As mentioned before, the evening is a benefit for the Gabriola Museum and Historical Society. Check out www.davythepunk.com for a trailer of the show and more information. Tickets are $17 at North Road Sports or at gabriolaplayers.ca or at the door for $20.