Francis Joseph & Ceclia Sylvester: Early Jewish Settlers & “Community Givers” of Victoria, BC

Frank Joseph & Cecelia Sylvester

Values Codes: I-E-L-P

Frank Sylvester, #WS0332

Frank Sylvester,


Frank Joseph Sylvester was born in New York in 1837.

At 20 years of age he made his way to San Francisco, California in late 1857.



Sailing aboard the SS Pacific, he landed six days later in Victoria, BC, Canada in 1858.

Frank Sylvester’s  first night was spent in a tent on Yates Street.

Shortly afterwards Frank Sylvester leased a narrow 15 foot lot from Amor DeCosmos, and built a small store.

The business was financed by his brother-in-law, M. Prag of San Francisco.

Competition was keen and business was poor so Frank Sylvester surrendered the building for “rent due.”


Frank Sylvester then trekked to the gold fields in July 1859.

He returned to Victoria around 1862, and in 1863 was employed by auctioneer, Judah P. Davies.


After about 15 years, Frank Sylvester opened his own accounting firm.



In the early years, Frank Sylvester was an officer of the volunteer fire fighting, Tiger Engine Co. No. 2.

Tiger Engine Co #2, H. Levy standing left, Frank Sylvester in middle.

Tiger Engine Co #2, H. Levy is standing left, Frank Sylvester is seated in the middle.

He was a original  member of  the Natural History Society and  Victoria’s Pioneer Association.

Frank Sylvester was a founder of Victoria, BC’s Congregation Emanu-El, (1863).

Frank Sylvester left a legacy of interesting diaries and papers.



In 1869, Frank Sylvester married Cecelia Davies, (b. 1848), of Sydney, N.S.W., Australia.

Cecelia Sylvester #WS0334

Cecelia Sylvester

She was the daughter of Judah P. Davies, Frank‘s employer at the time.

Both were among the first Jewish arrivals in Victoria.

Her family lived in California before they settled in Victoria in 1863.


Cecelia was an early member of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire.

She worked for the little pioneer French hospital and then served on the Executive Board of the new Provincial Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Cecelia and Frank  Sylvester were prominent in Victoria circles, entertaining key figures.


They had eight children: Elizabeth, Louise, William, Clarence, May, Jesse, Rachel and Ruby.


Frank Sylvester died in 1908.

Cecelia Sylvester died in 1935.


Interesting Quotes & Memoirs from Frank Sylvester’s diary:

The Fraser Gold Rush

July 1859, Frank Sylvester headed for the Fraser gold fields. A description from his diary describes the hazards he encountered:

“At one time I had to cross a narrow saddle on a trail not less than a thousand feet above the river, a trail not over a foot wide, and the least misstep would have went me into the boiling river, faintly seen below.”

To the Frazer River goldfields along the "Indian" and HBC trails, (JMABC)

To the Frazer River goldfields along the “Indian” and HBC trails, (JMABC)

The Cariboo Gold Rush

Frank Sylvester made a number of trips by stagecoach to what is now Seattle, and told hair-raising tales how he sat beside the driver with a pair of six-shooters to guard the bullion from the Cariboo diggings.

San Francisco Trips

Frank Sylvester frequently sailed back to San Francisco, writing of his love of the sea, and experiences on board ship.

In 1866, Frank Sylvester left San Francisco on the paddle steamer Labouchere, bound for Victoria. It struck a reef in dense fog, four miles off Point Reyes. He and the crew were the last to be rescued from the sinking ship.

General Sources:

  • Pioneer Jews of British Columbia, Cyril Leonoff, editor, Western States Jewish History, Vol. 37, Issue 3/4
  • Lured North of the 49th, Jewish Colonial Roots, by Sarah H. Tobe, Western States Jewish History, Vol. 46, Issue 2/3
  • Archives of H. Tobe, Cyril E. Leonoff, Christopher J.P. Hanna, and David Rome.

Sarah H. Tobe is Curator of this Frank Joseph & Ceclia Sylvester Exhibit.

David Brock also added information on Frank Sylvester’s involvement in the founding of Victoria’s synagogue.

Family Pictures would be appreciated.