Julius “Jukie” Shrier: Athlete. Entrepreneur. Storyteller. De Bullion Boy. Born May 17, 1933, in Montreal; died June 7, 2018, in Montreal; of heart failure; aged 85.
Jews like to say that God invented man because he loves stories. If that’s the case, my father earned a special place in his heart.
Jukie Shrier was more than a contemporary of Mordecai Richler; he was a larger-than-life character out of his books. He was the youngest of four boys born to an immigrant father who drank and gambled and provided little. He grew up on de Bullion Street, one of the poorest streets in the east end, and quit school at 15 to buy winter boots, because his father couldn’t.
He had to learn to fight. If not, he’d get beat up by French kids, Christian kids, his own brothers. At 18, he won the Quebec Golden Gloves middleweight championship. He was also a stud defenceman in hockey and prodigious hitter in baseball. When he hit two home runs in a game the same day as Montreal Royals star Duke Snider, Dad’s friends started calling him Duke, then Dukie. His Russian-born mother pronounced it Jukie, and a nickname was born.
For 55 years, Jukie worked as hard as any man could. He approached everything with drive, strength, imagination and will. As he moved through different businesses – dressmaking, sheepskins, hairweaving, real estate, nightclub owner – he became a star downtown. Half the Expos knew him. Tom Jones was a close friend who’d stay at his country house when in town.
In the club he owned, Jukie once introduced his son Howard to mafia boss Frank Cotroni and two of the toughest cops in town on the same night.
All his life, he stayed a tough guy. In his mid-50s, he knocked out a man 15 years younger after a fender-bender. One punch, of course.
But his wild side led him to do things without thinking them through. He endured three divorces, three bankruptcies and many other disappointments. For every new start in business, there was a bad ending.
He never saved because he thought he’d always earn. Or didn’t foresee living to 85. Sadly he lived his last 15 years as he did the first 15, haunted by need and insecurity.
Like his father, he brought four children into the world, but he tried a lot harder to provide. He was proud of Howard and Barbara, brothers Jonathan and Jamie, and his grandchildren Isadora, Aaron and Jesse. As his great athlete’s body broke down and chronic back pain shrunk him further, he still loved to read, work a crossword or tell a story about the old days, stories Howard lapped up and plundered for fiction.
At the end, his heart leaking fluid into his lungs, he died fighting to breathe. Three of his children helped him go; the fourth was on his way.
Jukie’s passing marks the end of an era, when guys were called Duddy, Boomie and Bazook. The boys of de Bullion are all but gone. There will never be another like him. If ever anyone deserved his rest, it’s the man Montreal knew by one name: Jukie.
Howard Shrier is the second of Jukie’s children.
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