H.E. Levy

Henry Emanuel “H.E.” Levy

RBC museum

Birth: 1843 in New Zealand

Death: July 4, 1929 (age 85-86) in Victoria, B.C.

Henry Emanuel Levy (also known as H.E.) was one of the first Jewish pioneers to come to what is now Canada’s West Coast. H.E. was an entrepreneur who made and lost a number of fortunes in his career and established a restaurant which became an institution, a legacy which survived him.

H.E. was born to an expat Londoner and a woman sent to Wellington, New Zealand, on a Jewish bride ship. The family moved to Sydney, Australia so that his father, Benjamin, could escape being drafted to serve in the Maori Rebellion. A carpenter by trade, Benjamin helped construct a custom-built house for a wealthy San Francisco residents. The house was built and assembled in Sydney, then disassembled and shipped to San Francisco. In 1849. Benjamin and his family accompanied on such shipment.

Benjamin did well in San Francisco. In 1852, the family returned to England where Benjamin continued to prosper. In 1853, after his wealth had been depleted, and the family embarked on their second trip to San Francisco. However, Benjamin contracted typhoid while crossing the Isthmus of Panama and died en route. His wife, Esther, arrived in San Francisco with six children and about to give birth to a seventh. Esther became financially devastated. Jewish charities in London raised the funds necessary to bring the family back to England.

At the age of 14, H.E. went to New York alone and worked as a shoemaker. At 16, H.E. arrived penniless in San Francisco. All he could find was a job offer as a porter in Victoria.

H.E. arrived in Victoria in 1859 with 25 cents in his pocket. After arriving in Victoria, answered an ad in the Colonist newspaper for the Merchant Police under A.F. Pemberton. He lied about his age so he could meet the age requirement to join the police force. He later become one of the earliest officers of the twelve man force and it’s longest surviving member.

In 1863 H.E. became a member of the Victoria Fire Department. He volunteered with the Tiger Engine Company and would later serve as an officer. A member of the Fire Wardens of Victoria and Chiefs of both the Fire and Police departments were pallbearers at his funeral.

In 1863, he took possession of a friend’s claim. He tried panning for gold on his claim on the Leech River. The day that he arrived at Leech River H.E. panned for gold. His efforts netted him 75 cents and he returned to Victoria the following year. He resumed his position on the police force, and sold his interest in the Merchant Police in 1864.

In 1865, H.E. established Levy’s Arcade Oyster Saloon at what is today 1316-18 Government Street in Victoria. The restaurant stood beside the luxury New England Hotel and was at first, one of the poshest dining establishments in town. Levy’s Arcade and Oyster Saloon was also one of the earliest to have a liquor license.

In 1868, with the profits from the business, H.E. moved his mother and siblings from London to Victoria. After the family settled, H.E. made his elder brother Joseph (Joe) a business partner in the restaurant. Soon after, H.E. turned the restaurant over to Joe and left Victoria to pursue other entrepreneurial interests in Seattle and Olympia

H.E. Levy was involved in a number of businesses in Washington and British Columbia, some more successful than others. Leaving the restaurant with his brother Joe, in 1887, H.E. went to seek his fortune in Washington. He opened soda water factories in Seattle and in Olympia. Later he operated a Salmon cannery and was part owner of a hop field in Snoqualmie. It was reputed to be the largest operation of its kind on the West Coast. As many as 1500 people, mostly Native Americans, were employed for the picking season. Other businesses included a shipyard and a bazaar in Seattle as well as various real estate investments in Victoria and Seattle.

While living in Seattle, H.E. Levy married the socialite Eva Rostein on October 29, 1882. She was roughly 20 years his junior. Sons Arthur and and Benjamin (Bennie) were born in Seattle. The couple ran Levy Enterprises but they suffered great losses in the fire of 1889 as much of their property, including what is now Pike’s Place Market, was uninsured. The Levy’s then moved to Victoria and H.E. returned to Levy’s Restaurant. In 1891, their son Victor was born in Victoria.

Joe and H.E. dissolved their partnership in 1897-8 so that Joe could follow his mercantile interests during the Klondike gold rush. H.E was the sole proprietor until 1903 when he brought his son, Arthur, into the business. When H.E. retired in 1907, Arthur became full manager. Arthur sold the business in 1912 and opened the Poodle Dog Café on Yates Street, near Government Street. The new owners of Levy’s were able to keep the restaurant open for a few years but permanently closed its doors in 1916.

Success in business left H.E. Levy a wealthy man. He and his family lived comfortably at 1022 Pemberton Road. The house still stands. He drove one the first motorcars in town; a two cylinder Maxwell.

H.E. was irreligious. He listed himself as an “unbeliever” in the 1901 census. However, his contribution to Jewish life was notable. His mother, Esther, and wife, Eva, were both religious women. Eva was a very active member of the Hebrew Ladies Society and taught in the Hebrew School. She received a number of awards to acknowledge her contribution in both arenas.

He was a member of the Odd Fellows.

In 1885 a special meeting was held at the synagogue to discuss the creation of a choir and the purchase of an organ. The latter generated a heated debate which remained unresolved until 1891 when H.E. took the initiative and bought an organ for $92. The congregation accepted his offer to sell the organ to them at his cost.

Henry died on July 4, 1929 and is buried in the family plot.

Gravesite Details: Row F – Plot 18

In Loving Memory of
Henry Emanuel
1843 – 1929

Esther Solomon Levy (1824–1911)
Benjamin Levy (1819–1853)

Eva Rostein Levy (1862-1946)

Benjamin Levy (1883–1905)
Arthur Levy (1885–1961)
Victor Abraham Levy (1891–1939)

Joseph “Joe” Levy (1841-
Samuel L. Levy (1845-1923)
Jacob “Jack” Levy (1848-1913)
Phoebe Levy Levy (1854-1926)
Abraham Levy (died 1874)

Jewish Museum of the American West website:
Henry Emanuel Levy: Early Jewish Pioneer Businessman, and Purveyor of Comox Oysters in Victoria, BC

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