Joseph Boscowitz

Birth: October 25, 1835 in Floss, Bavaria, Germany or on October 15, 1835

Death: March 20, 1923 in Victoria, B.C.

Joseph Boscowitz was born in Bavaria. In his youth he immigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco, where in circa 1846 he married Leah Phillips. They moved to Victoria in 1862. He became a Naturalization Canadian in November, 1895.

Joe Boscowitcz went into the fur trading business and would become one of its key players for over fifty years. He held a number of shares of stock in various fur trading companies. In 1870, he used the lucrative profits from his 1868 sale of his holdings to invest in the emerging sealing industry.

By 1871 Joseph Boscowitz had stores in Clayoqout Sound, Northern Vancouver Island and in Washington State. Along with partners including sea captains, Joe Boscowitcz formed the Boscowitz Steamship Co. By 1886 his company was a leader in the sealing industry and was operating a fleet of steam schooners. Joe Boscowitz owned three ship including the Barbara Boscowitz, which was named after his eldest daughter. The schooners sailed the North Pacific and Bering Sea, catching pelagic seals and selling their pelts in Victoria, San Francisco, New York and London.

Joe Boscowitz was also a partner in The British Columbia Merchants Line, which offered semi-monthly scheduled runs between Victoria, Nanaimo, New Westminster and San Francisco.

Joe Boscowitz was also involved in a number of international and local court cases which took years to settle. Some cases involved the fur trade, some even brought against other Jews. There were also cases related to his other business interests.

Profits from Joe Boscowitz’s various businesses were channelled into a number of mining and real estate developments.  By 1896, Joe Boscowitz and his sons David and Leopold were early investors and developers of the Britannia copper mine in Howe Sound. Joe Boscowitz named one of his claims after his daughter Jane. The Boscowitz’s sold their interest to a syndicate in 1903. The Britannia mine would become one of the largest copper mines in British Columbia.  When the mine closed in 1974 it had produced more than fifty million tons of 1.25% copper ore, yielding in excess of one billion pounds of copper for the world market.

Throughout his business life, Joe continued to run a store on lower Yates Street, first known as Boscowitz & Son, then J. Boscowitz, and finally as J. & A. Boscowitz.

His wife, Leah, not buried in the cemetery, was a prominent member of the Hebrew Ladies Society.  She was the sister of the soda manufacturer and matzoh maker, Alex Aaron Phillips.

Joseph Boscowitz’s grave is a silent witness to the Jewish participation in Victoria’s fur trade. The Great Jewish Fur Rush 1858-1910* is an important part of Victoria’s history and economic development.

Repressive, harsh, and discriminatory anti-Jewish laws in Europe left Jews with few options for earning a living. However, skilled trades including fur dressing, tanning, tailoring and millinery work were fields that were open to Jews. When men who had held those jobs in Europe arrived in Victoria, they found opportunities to use their skills. Their business ties to San Francisco and Europe, along with their expertise in preparing furs for shipment, allowed Jews to bring their wares to market without the relying on the existing Hudson Bay Company’s networks.

Using their understanding of furs and knowledge of what was fashionable, Jews were willing to pay higher prices for good quality pelts. This lead to Jewish fur traders developing a reputation for offering good value for furs. Some Indigenous people made the long trip to Victoria to trade directly with Jewish merchants, many of whom, like Joe Boscowitcz, had stores on lower Yates Street or along Wharf Street.

*The term ‘Jewish Fur Rush’ was used by Sarah Tobe in The Scribe Volume XV, No.1 published February 1995 by the Jewish Museum and Archives

Gravesite Details: Row D – Plot 40

In Loving Memory of
Joseph Boscowitz
Died March 20, 1923
in his 89 year

Aron Boskowitz (1803–)
Bella Hoenigsberger (1811–)

Loeb Leopold Boskowitz (1832–1895)
Edel Boskowitz (1834–)
Ignatz Boskowitz (1837–1906)
Bella Boskowitz (1839–)
Miriam Boskowitz (1841–)
Adolf Aron Boskowitz (1842–1924)

Leah Phillips Boscowitz

David Aaron Boscowitz (born 1866)
Leopold Boscowitz (born 1868)
Barbara Boscowitz (born 1869)
Jane Boscowitz (born 1871)
William Boscowitz (1874-1876)

Jewish Museum of the American West:
Joseph Boscowitz, Early Jewish Pioneer of the Seal Fur and Mining Industries

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