Birth: 1828 in Poland
Death: July 4, 1904 (age 75-76) in Victoria, B.C.
Born in Kolar, Poland in 1828 and named Lewis Jeretzky. He was brought to England by his uncle when he was nine and attended school there. In 1845 when he was about 17 years old, he went to New York. Lewis worked in a wholesale jewellery firm in about 2 years. News of the discovery of gold attracted him west. He travelled by way of Cape Horn on the ship Robert Bone and arrived in San Francisco on August 26 1849. He changed his name to Lewis Lewis at some point after leaving New York.
Lewis was in California for 9 years. Because of his brief stint in the gold mines, he has been described as one of the earliest Jewish gold seekers. He then moved to San Francisco and established a general business before moving to Sacramento where with partners he operated a clothing store. While in Sacramento he married Miss Rachael Nathan of Liverpool, England.
It’s difficult to account for Lewis Lewis’ movements until he established himself as a clothier at 42 Yates Street in 1863. 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 Humphreys 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 for his business and operated a saloon and hotel on the upper floors.
Not only was 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 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 served on the committee which gathered the necessary funds to prevent its foreclosure. For a total of 8 years, 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, Rachel 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 Masonic and Jewish ritual. The pallbearers were; F Landsberg, J Carey, J Mathews, I Podeck, W Whittaker, H E Levy.
Lewis Lewis’s history is shrouded in mystery and very conflicting information. Many of the claims about Lewis Lewis’s life that we thought we knew are not true:
1. It is doubtful that Lewis Lewis donated the land for the Jewish Cemetery. Copies of the deed for the cemetery do not contain his name. He was a member of the Building Committee of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. Their role was to get the synagogue built. There was a Cemetery Committee, but Lewis wasn’t on that committee.
2 While it took about four months to purchase the land and to create the Jewish Cemetery. Lewis Lewis might not have been in Victoria until 1860, well after the land for the cemetery had been purchased.
Minutes of the early Burial Society from 1863 do not include his name. However, Lewis Lewis is recorded in the minutes of the May 13th 1864 meeting as being a member of the committee.
3. Lewis Lewis was not a founding member of the Masonic lodge in Victoria. He joined the Vancouver & Quadra Lodge No. 2 in Victoria in 1860 after it had already been established.
4. Some biographical information claims that Lewis Lewis was a gold prospector, and therefore one of the earliest “Jewish gold seekers.” These sources 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.
5. When and where Lewis Lewis changed his name is unclear. There is a story that there was a misunderstanding either at immigration or when he was naturalized in New York which led to his name to be recorded as Lewis Lewis. Some sources contend that Lewis Lewis was in England for a part of his childhood. If true, his English would have been good enough to answer the questions regarding his name correctly.
People coming to the United States were required to present documents at the time that they purchased tickets. Those names were then recorded on the ships manifests and records that would have been available to immigration officers.
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.
Gravesite Details: Row E – Plot 14
פּ״נ (Here lies)
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
Died July 4th 1904
Aged 77 Years
Rachel Abraham Lewis (1825-)
Rosina Lewis Nathan (1856–1931)
Philip Lewis (1858–1884)
Aaron Lewis (unknown-1916)
Vancouver Island Masonic History Project:
Jewish Museum of the American West:
Lewis Lewis: Early Pioneer Business & Jewish Community Leader of Victoria, BC
Interview with great-granddaughter Louisa Nathan Levy: