Max Leiser

Victoria Daily Times July 3, 1900

Birth: 1862 in Kerpen, Germany

Death: April 5, 1935 (age 72-72) in Victoria, B.C.

Biography:
Max Leiser was born in Kerpen, Germany in 1862. His elder brothers Simon and Gustav (Gus) had already immigrated to BC. In 1887 after re-establishing himself in Victoria, Simon persuaded Max to leave Germany and come to Victoria.

When Max came to Victoria, he became a salesman at his brother Simon’s grocery warehouse. He went on to purchase shares in the liquor business of Urquhart and Pither, founded in 1853. Max bought his partnership in 1893 and the name of the business was changed to Pither & Leiser. They were importers of Mumm champagne, Gordon’s gin and Johnnie Walker and Whyte & McKay whiskies.

The first Pither & Leiser warehouse was located at what is now 533 Yates, (corner of Yates and Commercial Alley). In was originally a 3 story building. Pither & Leiser’s second building at (535 Yates) was designed by architect Thomas Hooper in 1900. The final location for the Pither & Leiser Liquor Wholesalers was 1019 Wharf Street, (corner of Fort and Wharf Streets). Designed by the architectural firm of Thomas Hooper & C. Elwood Watkins, and built in 1906, the building is 6 stories and contains 72,000 sq. ft. It later became the Liquor Control Board.

Pither & Leiser was a prosperous company. In 1900 they opened a branch in Vancouver. In 1910, the English brewing family Guinness became interested in acquiring Pither & Leiser. The partners sold the business in March 1912 Luke Pither retired and lived with his wife on a farm in Saanich.

Max Leiser became a real estate investor and developer. He invested heavily in Victoria, mostly on Fort and Yates Streets and in Oak Bay. By June, 1912 Max Leiser purchased the Klondike Saloon at 1320-1324 Blanchard Street (corner Blanchard and Johnson Streets). Intended to be used as a hotel and bar, Architect Thomas Hooper designed a 4 story terra cotta building with 36 rooms. Max Leiser named it The Kaiserhof. It’s unclear if Max operated the hotel and bar, or if he leased the premises. The building has also been known as; The Blanshard Hotel, The Cecil Hotel and Kent Apartments.

Following the sinking of the British ocean liner, RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by a German U-boat off the Irish coast, anti German riots broke out in a small number of cities around the world. Victoria was one. Rioters gathered outside the German themed bar of the Kaiserhof Hotel and began three days of rioting and looting.

Following WWI, Max Leiser spent a considerable amount of money assisting his own and other Jewish families in Germany. He also began travelling with his first wife Sophia. Max married Sophia following the December 5, 1895 death of his younger brother Gustav (Gus). Gus died at the age of 40 leaving his childless wife Sophia Lenz Leiser. Not only was Sophia Leiser his sister-in-law, she was also Max’s cousin (uncle’s daughter). When he married her, Max fulfilled a now obsolete Jewish custom/tradition of providing for welfare called Yibbum, or levirate marriage. While travelling in Germany in 1919, Sophia Leiser died. Max Leiser remarried about 1930 to Clara/Clare Rothschild.

When a Jewish choir was formed in 1901, Max joined it. He was also part of the Jewish delegation that greeted the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary), on their royal visit to Victoria in October 1901.

Max was a Freemason. He died on April 5, 1935 leaving a sizeable fortune, and properties including the Kaiserhof Hotel. He was buried in the same family plot, beside his brother Gustav. When Clare Leiser died, on May 1, 1958, she was interred beside Gustav. The Leiser headstone was one of the 5 desecrated in 2011.

Gravesite Details: Row Q – Plot 1

Inscription:
In Loving Memory of
Gustav Leiser
Born in Germany
1856 – 1896
Max Leiser
Born in Germany
1862 – 1935

Spouse:
Sophia Lenz Leiser
Clara/Clare Rothschild

Siblings:
Simon Leiser (1851-1917)
Gustav (Gus) Leiser (1856-1896)

The Victoria Historical Society:
“The Leiser Brothers of Victoria, B.C.” by Ronald Greene (page 8)

Vancouver Island Masonic History Project:
templelodge33.ca/max-leiser-1862-1935

For more about the building:
https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=15534&pid=0


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