Branko talks immigration, art and gold

Although it’s true that everybody has a story, some are more blessed with an abundance of stories – and the willingness to share those stories – than others.

Branko Resimich is one such individual. Resimich came to Canada in 1952 from Trieste, on the border of Slovenia in northern Italy, after being beat up in school in Zagreb. His first job was firefighting in the bush in northern Ontario.

Branko Resimich with one of his terra cotta sculptures.
“They called me into the office after a month, and said ‘okay, here’s your $10.’ I said ‘what?’ They said ‘you’ve got to pay for the pants and the hat and everything’,” said Resimich. “And the guy looked at me and he said ‘here’s your money, you’re fired’.”

Not speaking much English at the time, he looked around for the fire, until it was explained that he was now out of work. He then headed south, through Thunder Bay to Hamilton, eventually ending up in Toronto. Resimich spent a year at the Ontario College of Art, but left school to support a new family.

“I didn’t have a nickel to my name, I was so hungry,” he said.

Although he never finished art school, Resimich never stopped working, and continues to sculpt and paint to this day despite a lack of major commercial success. However, the stories Resimich has to tell aren’t limited only to the immigrant experience and the art world. For many years, he ran a coin and second-hand store on Church Street, dealing in coins, jewelry and art amongst other items. And here is where the stories start to become even more fascinating.

“I know everything about diamonds, gold, paintings,” he said.

According to Resimich, a nameless representative of the Bank of America used to come in every week for gold, which the representative claimed was being put into a bank vault until it could be legally imported into the U.S. Shortly after regulations changed and the man stopped coming by his store, two RCMP officers came to the shop, and told Resimich to lock the door and take the phone off the hook.

“They said ‘Branko, you’re the biggest smuggler of gold in the world’. I said, ‘what, me?’”

Resimich said millions of dollars worth in gold had been funnelled through his store, eventually making its way to Fort Knox. However, when he told the RCMP officers that he was paying income taxes, they let him off the hook.

He told a story of buying a watch from a man off the street, of a brand he had never heard of at the time. Immediately after paying $200 for the watch, he sold it for $1,000. Three months later it sold again for $10,000, he said. The watch brand? Patek Phillipe.

Another story is of a painting that came into the shop, which was traded for a diamond ring. Years later, the painting sold for $15,000; it was allegedly worth $250,000, and had been stolen from Westminster Abbey.

There are doubtless many other stories to be told, but as Resimich said, “that’s a part of the story. The rest is going to be in the book.”

He’s hoping to find an editor or ghost writer to help him set his stories down in print. If his visit to the Beach Metro News office is any indication, Resimich has a well of stories that could easily fill a book without a dull moment.

The question some readers might be asking is whether any of these stories are true. It’s said that every story has at least a grain of truth. With the resources available here, there’s no way to double-check all the facts; but whether his stories are accurate recollections or exaggerated memories, they are still stories worth telling.

Maybe Resimich summed it up best himself, mixing North American and translated Croatian idioms, when he finished by saying, “Life’s not a bowl of cherries, don’t take it seriously…Today we’re here, tomorrow we’re gone, and the day after that, God knows where we are.”

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