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JOSEPH, pioneer family in Canadian business and Jewish life. The Canadian-Jewish branch of the Joseph family (some converted to Catholicism and others intermarried with Protestants) was founded by HENRY JOSEPH (1775–1832), a nephew of Aaron Hart, regarded as the first permanent Jewish settler in Canada. In 1790, 15-year-old Henry arrived from England and settled in Berthier, Quebec, where he entered the fur trade. He later moved to Quebec City and established a chain of successful trading posts in the interior of the country (for a time, John Jacob Astor was one of his employees). He also became known as the "father of Canada's merchant marine" because of a shipping network he set up to move goods to and from his posts. He was one of three Jews among the founders of the Bank of Montreal in 1817, Canada's first bank. Henry Joseph and his son Samuel died in the cholera epidemic of 1832.

After Henry's death, his firm passed to his son ABRAHAM (1815–1886) of Quebec City. Besides the family business, Abraham served as president of the Quebec and Dominion Boards of Trade, a director of the Banque Nationale, president of the Stadacona Bank (when it failed during the panic of 1873, he used personal funds to repay investors and depositors), and a member of the Quebec city council (he failed in a bid for the mayoralty). He was a Grand Master of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Quebec and vice consul of Belgium in Quebec City. A memorial horse trough was erected there in his memory. Abraham's son, MONTEFIORE JOSEPH (1851–1943), took over the family firm, as, in turn, did his sons and grandson after him.

Two others of Henry Joseph's sons, JACOB HENRY (1814–1907) and JESSE (1817–1904) also made their mark in the Montreal business world. Jacob Henry Joseph, who married a niece of Rebecca *Gratz, the Philadelphia pioneer of Jewish Sunday school education, was a railway promoter and director with his brother, Jesse, organizing Canada's first railway, the Saint Lawrence and Champlain. He founded Canada's first telegraph line and was a partner in the Newfoundland Telegraph Company, president of the Montreal Elevator Company, vice president of the Montreal Board of Trade, a bank director, a real estate mogul, and a supporter of charitable and cultural institutions in Montreal.

Jesse Joseph, a life-long bachelor, studied law but eventually followed the family tradition into business. He served as president of both the Montreal Gas Company (he sold his interest in the Montreal Electric Company because he did not believe electricity had a future) and the City Passenger Railway, which formed the nucleus of Montreal's mass transit, and operated the Theatre Royale, the city's premier theater. A promoter of trade between Canada and Belgium, he was named Belgian consul in Montreal, and was one of the largest real-estate owners in the city. He was a member of the executive of the SPCA and known for giving lavish parties in the Sherbrooke Street mansion, which, after his death, became the McCord Museum of McGill University.

Like others of Canada's pre-1900 Jewish elite, the Josephs were proudly British and staunchly patriotic. Abraham Joseph belonged to the St. George's society, and his daughter-in-law, Annette Pinto Joseph, was a member of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. Henry, the family patriarch, fought in the War of 1812, and his son, Abraham, fought with the Royal Volunteers during the Rebellion of 1837. The family firm boasted of having provisioned the troops in every war from 1837 to World War II and never profiteered. Family members took full part in the social life of the English-speaking community in Quebec and seemed to suffer no discrimination because of their faith.

Although Henry's brother, Judah, became a Roman Catholic (one of his descendants, Joseph Olivier Joseph, was among the organizers of the French-Canadian, nationalist Saint Jean Baptiste Society in the 1870s), and some of Henry's grandchildren intermarried, the Josephs were remarkably faithful to their Jewish roots, despite the difficulties of practicing Judaism far from any sizeable community. Henry Joseph was a traditional Jew who instructed his children in Jewish living and taught himself ritual slaughtering so that the family would have a supply of kosher meat. His daughter, Esther (1823–1898), married Abraham *de Sola, the most significant Jewish minister of 19th century Canada; his son, Jesse, was a trustee of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal; and another son, GERSHOM (1820–1893), a lawyer and the first Jewish Queen's Counsel in Canada, served as president of that synagogue when his nephew, Meldola de Sola, succeeded his father, Abraham, as minister.


M. Brown, Jew or Juif (1987); A. Joseph, Heritage of a Patriarch (1995); Dictionary of Canadian Biography, S.V.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.