In the 1970s Bob Bossin walked into a deli on Spadina Avenue in Toronto and asked the man at the counter if he knew about the Bossin family.
“He reeled off a bunch of names including my dad,” Bossin said. “I told him that Davy was my father and he said ‘yeah, we used to call him Davy the Punk.”’
Although he didn’t know it at the time, the exchange would be the beginning of a long journey of exploration into the history of his father, Davy Bossin.
Bossin’s father died in 1963 when he was only 17 years old and over the decades he collected stories and information about his dad. However, it wasn’t until eight years ago that he decided to write a book.
“Off and on over the years I always tried to collect stories about my dad and then when I turned 60 … I just had this little epiphany that if there was always something you wanted to do and you’re 60 years old and you haven’t started it yet, when do you plan to start it?” Bossin said.
At the Gabriola library on Saturday (March 29) Bossin, an author and singer/songwriter, will be speaking and reading from his newest book titled Davy the Punk, which documents his father and the Canadian gambling scene.
Davy The Punk is the culmination of countless hours and years that Bossin spent researching about his father and the gambling industry.
“I was able to get through freedom of information an inch-thick file of police and prosecution documents from trials that [Davy Bossin] had,” Bossin said. “In 1951 there was a Parliamentary Commission looking into crime and they had something like 10,000 pages of testimony but they never reported it because the government fell … but among those pages of testimony there were hundreds of pages about my dad.”
Although not nearly as publicized as the American scene, the Canadian gambling scene was itself similar to the its U.S. counterpart.
“In someways it’s like the scene out of Guys and Dolls,” Bossin said.
Bossin’s father, known as Davy the Punk, would provide instant racing information that came off the telegraph and distribute the information to various bookies either by phone or in person.
“If you think about it, it’s pretty bloody innocent but the cops in the ’30s had a theory that was very widespread across North America, which was that racing information was absolutely essential to the bookies. That the bookies were essential to gambling and that gambling was the cash cow for organized crime. If they could knock out the race wire, which is what my dad’s business was called, they could stop organized crime,” Bossin said.
Gambling became increasingly popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s and was fuelled by the increasing use of the telegraph and a wave of immigration.
“One of the absolute main uses of the telegraph was reporting horse race results immediately after the race at the track,” Bossin said. “The thing that was so significant about that was that it … turned [gambling on horse racing] into an industry because if you couldn’t get the results for a couple of days how would you know if you won or lost? How would the bookie know how he was doing and how much action he could continue to take? But when the telegraph came along they could know that stuff and they could get results.”
Bossin has fond memories of his father, who was a quiet and conservative man during the 1950s. He remembered a phrase his father once said.
“What you don’t say can’t be held against you.”