Vancouver Island Masonic History Project

As part of our Vancouver Island Masonic History Project, with its sections on Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments and Deceased Brethren, here is a page on Lewis Lewis (died 1904, aged 77), who is buried in the Victoria Jewish Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

Lewis Lewis was a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge, No.2 in Victoria, B.C. He was a leading figure in Victoria’s Jewish community. Among other community activities, he served for eight years as President of Congregation Emanu-El, the oldest synagogue in western Canada, which provided us with the photo below.

Lewis Lewis (died 1904, aged 77) was a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge No. 2 in Victoria. He was a leading member of Victoria's Jewish community (photo courtesy of Congregation Beth Emanu-El)
Lewis Lewis (died 1904, aged 77) was a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge No. 2 in Victoria. He was a leading member of Victoria’s Jewish community (photo courtesy of Congregation Emanu-El)

We have had correspondence with the Congregation Emanu-El historian who has told us that:

“ABOUT LEWIS LEWIS:  There are a lot of myths about him.  One is that he got his name because of a mix-up at immigration and his not being able to understand English.  That’s wrong, on both accounts.  His name on the immigration papers is listed as Lewis Jeretzky.  I’m not sure when or why he changed his name, but it surely wasn’t at immigration.

The other myth is that he donated the land for the Jewish Cemetery.  I’ve seen copies of the original deed and other papers relating to the early days of the Jewish Cemetery and non of them bear his name.  It is true that he was very involved in the Jewish Community and an active member of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and also was on the board of the [Congregation Emanu-El] synagogue. …..

Lewis Lewis and his wife, Selina, arrived in Victoria in June 1858. From 1861 until his retirement in 1900, Lewis operated various businesses, including a dry goods store,  a saloon, and a tailor shop. Lewis was a prominent citizen, affiliated with many local organizations, and was a member of the city’s first volunteer fire brigade…….”

“He was naturalized in New York in 1844 – According to his naturalization index card, from 1842 until 1848 he was living in New York at the same address, 497 Broome street, and I have a note that he was a lampmaker….

He arrived in San Francisco 31 Aug 1849. He’s in Sacramento by 1851, and is still there in the 1852-53 directory, with a note that he was formerly from New York. On 25 May 1855 he becomes a U.S. citizen, then marries Rachel Nathan on 21 Nov of the same year.”

Here is the latest research on Lewis Lewis from the Congregation Emanu-El Historian, reproduced here with permission:

“Lewis Lewis (1828-1904)  – plot E-14 of Victoria Jewish Cemetery

Much of the information about Lewis Lewis is either contradictory, incomplete and in some instances false. Sources seem to agree that he was born in Poland, perhaps in 1828, perhaps in Kopar. His last name was possibly Jeretzky. Where, when, and why he changed his name is unknown. It is possible that he was taken to London by his uncle when he was nine, and was educated there.

There are records of Lewis Lewis in Sacramento California in 1851. According to clippings in the local paper, the co-partnership between Lewis Lewis, George Abrahamson and Osian Unz was dissolved November 1851. The other two partners continued to operate the dry goods and clothing store.

It seems that Lewis Lewis teamed up with George Abrahamson in another business and finally opened a clothing business of his own. In 1858 Lewis Lewis was over $14,000 in debt. He filed for bankruptcy which was granted in the middle of June of 1858. Records indicate that Lewis Lewis left Sacramento for BC at the end of June 1858. He might have first moved to Fort Yale before settling in Victoria.

In 1861 he opened a dry goods business on Yates Street. Lewis Lewis managed a number of different businesses including a clothing store and tailor shop. His operations extended Up-Island though Cowichan to Somenos and onto Salt Spring Island. He advertised in the Caribou papers during the Caribou Gold Rush to attract the attention of the miners. Lewis Lewis was successful in business and retired in 1900.

Almost simultaneously Caroline Humphrey and Lewis Lewis commissioned the firm of architects Hooper and Goddard to design and build on 566-68 Yates Street. Featuring a Romanesque Revival style, this Victorian-era building is one of the few surviving designs by the partnership of Hooper and Goddard. Known as the historic Lewis and Humphrey’s block, it was originally two separate structures. The Humphrey building slightly predates the L. Lewis building. Lewis Lewis first used the ground floor of 566 as a dry goods store. He later turned it into a tailor shop. There was a saloon and hotel on the upper floors. Lewis Lewis lost the building during the great depression.
Not only was Lewis Lewis prominent in the business world of the pioneers, he was also heavily involved in many local organizations and a part of Jewish life. He was a member of Victoria’s first volunteer fire brigade, and donated money to build the Jubilee Hospital. Lewis Lewis took a strong stand against joining Canada. In 1868 he signed a petition for the annexation of British Columbia to the United States. In 1870 he opposed the Yale Convention which favored Confederation.

Lewis Lewis was also an active member of a number of fraternal organizations. While in California, in 1850 Lewis Lewis became a Freemason and joined the Masonic Lodge in Victoria in 1860. In 1868 he joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He was elected trustee when the Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed in 1859. His other involvement in the Jewish community included being a charter member of the organizing committee to build the synagogue. In 1862 he was elected to help solicit subscriptions, (contributions), to build the building. In 1865 he was elected Treasurer of Congregation (Temple) Emanu-el. The following year the synagogue experienced financial difficulties and Lewis Lewis served on the committee which gathered the necessary funds to prevent its foreclosure. For a total of 8 years, Lewis Lewis was President of Congregation (Temple) Emanu-el. He was first elected 1869, and then again in 1881. During his second term he presided over another monetary crisis which required reorganization of the synagogue’s financial affairs.

His wife, Rachael Lewis was a member of the Hebrew Ladies Society in 1864. They had two sons and a daughter. Their son Philip had been in St. Joseph’s hospital for some time. He died on March 23, 1884 as a result of internal injuries which he sustained after falling from a horse.

Lewis Lewis died in 1904. There was a large attendance at his funeral. He was buried beside his son Philip with both Masonic and Jewish rituals.”

Here is another comment from the Congregation Emanu-El Historian:

“Myth Busting about Lewis Lewis

 Researching the life of Lewis Lewis was a fascinating exercise in sorting through conflicting “facts” to discover some of the truth of his life. Many of the aspects of Lewis Lewis’s life that we thought we knew are not true:

  • It is doubtful that Lewis Lewis donated the land for the Jewish Cemetery. He was a member of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. In order to establish the Jewish community, the society formed two committees. The building committee looked after the building of the synagogue, while the other was responsible for the Jewish Cemetery. Lewis Lewis was a member of the building committee.

While it took about four months to purchase the land and to concentrate the Jewish Cemetery, it took about 5 years before the Building Committee had finished their work.  Lewis Lewis might not have been in Victoria until 1860, well after the land for the cemetery had been purchased.

    • He was not a founding member of the Masonic lodge. He was an early member, but not a founding member.
    • Some biographical information claims that Lewis Lewis was a gold prospector, and therefore one of the earliest “Jewish gold seekers.” Some biographies also claim that, when he left New York, his gold fever took him to Brazil and later to Peru before he arrived in San Francisco. To date, there is no evidence to support this claim
  • When and where Lewis Lewis changed his name is still unclear. There is a story that there was a misunderstanding either at immigration or when he was naturalized in the United States which led to his name to be recorded as Lewis Lewis.  However, this seems unlikely as it is probably true that Lewis Lewis was in England for a part of his childhood.  His English would have been good enough to at least answer the questions correctly.

According to the family lore, Lewis Lewis was one of 4 brothers who immigrated to the United States.  Two brothers came to California with the last name Lewis, while the other two brothers remained in New York under the name of Jeretzky.”

Here is some information about Lewis Lewis taken from various contemporary sources:

“Lewis, Lewis (Victoria), was born in Poland, in 1828, and when nine years of age was taken to England by an uncle. He remained in England for over eight years during which time he attend­ed school. He then came to America and obtained a position in a large wholesale jewellery establishment in New York, where he remained for two years. At the end of that time he went to Brazil and from Brazil to Peru. In 1849 he removed to California where he spent the next nine years. For a portion of this time he was interested in mining, then in general business in San Francisco, and towards the latter part of the time he conducted a dry goods store in Sacramento. While in Sacramento he married Miss Rachael Nathan. He came to British Columbia in June, 1858, and first visited Fort Yale. In the following year he opened a grocery business in Victoria. He continued at this for eighteen months and then started the dry goods business he now conducts. Mr, Lewis has been a member of the Masonic fraternity since 1850, and of the Oddfellows’ Society for twenty-two years. He is a member of the Hebrew Society and an adherent of that religion.”

(Source: Kerr – Biographical Dictionary of B.C. – note: according to current research done by the Congregation Emanu-El Historian, some of Kerr’s comments may be wrong.)

“Progress on Yates Street – The plans for Mr. Lewis Lewis’ new building on Yates street show that it will be three stories high, in the same style as the Humphrey’s building adjoining. It will have a frontage of 30 feet, by a depth of 72 feet. The ground floor will be devoted to two stores; the second will be divided into six large rooms suitable for offices or the display of samples, and the upper flat will make an excellent society lodge room. Tenders, it is expected, will be invited at once and the contract let in about two weeks.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 16 May 1891, page 5)

566-570 Yates Street, Victoria, B.C. Built for Lewis Lewis by architect Thomas Hooper in 1891.
566-570 Yates Street, Victoria, B.C. Built for Lewis Lewis by architect Thomas Hooper in 1891. The “L.Lewis” on the cornice refers to Lewis Lewis.

“Another Pioneer Gone – The death occurred last evening at 7:30 of Lewis Lewis of 65 Pandora street, this city. Deceased was born in Kolar, Russian Poland, in 1828. He left home when only nine years of age, and after a few years residence in Germany, emigrated to England, where he remained five years, when he left the latter country and went to New York. Before he had been in that city long news came of the discovery of gold in California, to which place he went by way of Cape Horn in the ship Robert Bone, and arrived at the City of the Golden Gate on August 26, 1849. He came to Victoria with the rush of goldseekers in 1858, and immediately embarked in business, which he successfully carried on until he retired in 1894. Mr. Lewis was a member of the first volunteer fire brigade, was a member of Victoria Lodge, No. 1, I.O.O.F., and a member of the Jewish Congregation Emanu-El, of which he was its president for eight years. He leaves to mourn his loss one son and one daughter (Mrs. E.P. Nathan), besides a large circle of friends. The funeral will take place from his late residence on Wednesday next at 2 p.m.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 5 July 1904, page 5)

“Pioneer’s Funeral – There was a large attendance at the funeral of the late Lewis Lewis, which took place yesterday afternoon from the Odd Fellows’ hall, Douglas street, at 2 o’clock. The services of the order were solemnized by the several officers, and the Jewish services were conducted by Mr. Salmon. Beautiful flowers were presented and the following acted as pallbearers: Messrs. F. Landsberg, J. Carey, J. Mathews, I. Podeck, W. Whittaker and H.E. Levy.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 7 July 1904, page 5)

Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue, 1461 Blanshard Street, Victoria, B.C.
Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue, 1461 Blanshard Street, Victoria, B.C. Lewis Lewis was President of Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue for eight years.

Lewis Lewis is buried in Victoria Jewish Cemetery.

Lewis Lewis grave, Victoria Jewish Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Lewis Lewis grave, Victoria Jewish Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Inscription on Lewis Lewis grave, Victoria Jewish Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Inscription on Lewis Lewis grave, Victoria Jewish Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

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