Aaron B. Estrin, Z’L – Yaffa Housing Society Patron

Aaron B. Estrin Z”l (April 21 1929 –July 1 2019)

The 7th of eight children, Aaron Bernard Estrin was born in Calgary, Alberta to parents Louise Ariyeh Estrin and Sarah (Konikov) Estrin, who emigrated from Mogilev and Gomel, Belarus, respectively. While still a toddler, Aaron’s family moved from Calgary to Lethbridge. Growing up in Lethbridge during the 1930’s, Aaron often accompanied his father Louise on his frequent road trips to outlying properties where Louise and Morris- the eldest of the eight children and Aaron’s senior by 15 years- negotiated cattle contracts between the local ranchers and cross border American concerns.

Years later Aaron would fondly recount his memories of these formative trips; nights in the outback, the hospitality of the country folk who would put them up during these visits, and images of his father and brother riding horseback to surveille the herds on the range. He told stories of native trappers arriving their home in Lethbridge to sell his father pelts (Louise Estrin’s passport dated 1923 indicates his profession as “Livestock Trader and Fur buyer”). These unannounced travelers were invariably invited to dinner and to sojourn the night after their long peregrinations by foot or mount. Decades on, Aaron would wistfully retell stories of watching First Nation boys corralling wild mustangs near his home; of getting lost as a young child wandering the coulees; of long and eventful road trips with everyone piled in the family jalopy, to visit relatives on the coast; negotiating primitive circuitous roads before the #1 Hwy fully extended out west.

As a boy Aaron worked part-time in his uncle Abe’s hardware store, and later for his elder brother Hy, at his dry-cleaning business. Later while attending the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Aaron worked out of Jasper, summers, surveying/civil engineering for the province on the still-under-construction Trans Canada highway and Ice Fields Parkway. He loved this job, and often reminisced about his summers in the fresh mountain air, camping out with his fellow surveyors, and hiking the Rockies which he so came to love.

Towards his last year at U of A, Aaron was offered a full-time position by the Alberta provincial civil engineering department, which he seriously considered, but ultimately declined. Instead, on completing his electrical engineering degree in 1950 at just 21 years of age, Aaron took a job with an Alberta oil exploration firm, working as a field engineer conducting borehole exploration well-logging for mining feasibility analyses. The following year, Aaron left his Alberta home and family to begin a new life and adventures in Ontario. Years later he would remember the emotion of waving good-bye to his parents and family from the train window, not knowing when or even if he would ever see them again.

Aaron took his first job back east with English Electric in Toronto, with whom he worked from 1951 until 1962. As Senior Development Engineer for the company, he designed computer applications for optimization of transformer and motor designs; invented and patented four electrical applications- one for a system of underground residential electric power distribution (patent #648658) which laid the foundation for power grids across north America and much of the globe. Modern civic power distribution systems today are still based on his original underground system and substation distribution design model.

Aaron worked for several years as the Canadian Liaison to English Electric head office in Europe, acting as the representative towards the major development, manufacture, and certification of electric power circuit breakers within the North American market. During this period he published several technical papers including “Coherence Functions and Correlation Techniques in Real Time for use in Submarine Detection”, featured in the U.S. Naval Journal – Underwater Acoustics.

His position also entailed spending consecutive months in England over various years, where he was introduced and quickly became enamoured with alpine skiing. He began organizing annual ski tours to the Austrian Alps, introducing small groups to the joys of downhill skiing. This all came to an abrupt halt one year after a ski accident at Hochkogel resort, which left him with a compound leg fracture and in traction for several weeks. Not knowing any German, Aaron was happy to discover he could communicate with the Austrian nurses in Yiddish, in which he had garnered some proficiency from his parents -both of whom spoke fluently, from Belarus.

In 1958 Aaron met his beautiful wife to be, Tzvia (Segal), recently immigrated from Jerusalem, Israel to Canada, with her family. They were married on June 21, 1959 and had four children together – Ron Shimon, (Joanne) Tamara, Marc Tevie, and Avie Morris. Four years later Aaron started working with Hale & Associates Ltd in Port Credit, ON as the Vice-President and Director of Engineering where he was primarily responsible for the direction of Canadian government research in the field of underwater acoustics including the development of sonar domes and variable depth towed sonar bodies for defence systems, and did similar related work in oceanographic surveying and prospecting applications. Also during this period Aaron collaborated on the invention of a prototype ‘stair climbing wheelchair’ (U.S. patent #3276531), which he later sold his rights to.

Aaron started his own Engineering consulting firm in 1970, assembling and leading a small team of six individuals with special expertise in defence systems. Estrin Associates Ltd was contracted for sonar dome design and testing by the Dutch Navy, was subcontracted by the West German naval department, and was principally contracted by various directorates of the Canadian Department of National Defence for naval underwater detection applications.

Aaron Estrin proudly points at the plan for Yaffa House, which he and wife Tzvia (far left) established as Canada’s first and only home dedicated towards the housing and support of Jewish adults with SMI (Serious Mental Illness

In 1975 Aaron moved with his wife and children back west to reunite with his family who had moved in the meantime from Edmonton to Vancouver, BC. He opened a retail music store in Vancouver which he operated with his wife Tzvia for several years, but soon returned to engineering work in 1981 as an independent consultant under the auspices of his new firm AVI Distributors. One year later Aaron accepted a position as Engineering Manager for Moli Energy Ltd., where he lead a development team focused on energy systems, components, and technology of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for application in the nascent EV industry.

After retiring from Moli Ltd. in the late 80’s, Aaron and his wife Tzvia dedicated most of the following decade towards planning and organizing the creation of Canada’s first and only home dedicated towards the housing and support of Jewish adults with SMI (Serious Mental Illness).

Many years of community fundraisers, private donor solicitations, and public grant applications provided the seed money necessary towards establishing the lease commitment and building renovation capital fundamental towards the home’s realization.

Aaron personally spear-headed the countless local government meetings, discussions, and negotiations to secure the operational funding to subsidize the home’s mental health staffing requirements. In 2000, with Aaron still as President, the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society opened its doors, welcoming its very first five residents.

Aaron continued to serve on the Yaffa Housing Society’s board over the next two decades. With the help of his vast experience and sage wisdom, he saw to the organization’s progressive growth and development from its original five residents to a total of 19 units. Following the society’s AGM on June 30 2019, Aaron along with his wife and fellow board director Tzvia, drove over to Yaffa House’s Womens’ facility- two years in the works and completed only 24 hours prior to the 2019 AGM.

Aaron Estrin and wife Tzvia atop glacier on their 60th wedding anniversary, joined by their son Avie and daughter-in law Aura on June 21, 2019

With his signature fastidiousness, Aaron checked all the rooms, inspected each appliance, and tested every switch. With equally typical quiet professionalism, he commented that the place “looked very good.” Anyone present might even have detected a discreet smile of satisfaction.

Aaron passed away one day later, July 1st 2019, at the age of 90 years, after having spent a sunny afternoon with his wife and youngest son and family along the Fraser riverfront celebrating Canada Day. Aaron’s last words to his son before driving himself and wife Tzvia back to their home were, “Thank you for a beautiful day”.

Aaron is survived by his wife Tzvia, his four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.