Welcome to our new feature, Edmontonians in the Spotlight, in which we turn our attention to one of the many historical luminaries to have made Edmonton their home.
Today we look at a silver-tongued, gun-toting Edmontonian raconteur who rose to become a General in the Chinese Army!
Morris Abraham “Two-Gun” Cohen (1887-1970) was born in England, the son of two Polish Jews. He moved to the Canadian West and became a circus barker, a pickpocket and a card shark. Cohen was known for his honesty and loyalty as well as for the image he carefully cultivated as an exciting, dangerous man, amplified by carrying two large caliber pistols with him at all times.
Two-Gun was introduced to Edmonton in 1909, where he swiftly became a manager of one of the city’s most prominent real estate agencies. Edmonton’s Boom Years, which we represent on 1905 Street, saw a ridiculously heated real estate market and many new immigrants. While housing was difficult to obtain, the rapidly expanding city had other easily obtainable modern amenities such as electricity, running water, and central heating. In a market like this, a fast-talking and charming gentleman like Cohen could make a great deal of money buying and selling real estate.
Two-Gun wrote that Edmonton was a place where there was “good money to be made in city building lots at $250 a time. I often sold four lots in a day and once or twice I handled as many as twenty in a week; at ten percent commission that made five hundred smackers for Morris¦”
The local Chinese community established a very good relationship with the rakish gadabout. They often worked real estate deals through him and invited him to their lodge meetings. Eventually they introduced him to the famous revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who was touring Canada to raise funds for an uprising against the Qing Emperors.
Cohen eventually became one of Yat-sen’s two main bodyguards, and would later travel to China and help train Kuomintang soldiers as a General.
Cohen spent many years teaching the troops, all without actually speaking a word of Chinese!
Bieber Entertainment has purchased the rights to make a film about the life of Two-Gun, but whether this amazing gentleman and his Edmonton connection will make it the silver screen is unclear.
Come down to Tent City on 1905 Street next summer and you can meet Mr. Cohen’s contemporaries in the Jewish community. Join them Fridays in their preparations for Shabbat and hear about the Thrill Ride that was pre-war Edmonton.
References: Linda Goyette’s Edmonton In Our Own Words and The First Century of Jewish Life in Edmonton and Northern Alberta