Francis Joseph & Cecelia 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, Californiain late 1857.



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

His first night was spent in a tent on Yates Street.

Shortly afterwards 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. Pragof San Francisco.

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

Sylvester next 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, 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.

Sylvester was an original  member of  the Natural History Society and  Victoria’s Pioneer Association.

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



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 Joseph Sylvester died in 1908. Cecelia Sylvester died in 1935.


Quotes & Memoirs from Frank Sylvester’s Diary

The Fraser Gold Rush

July 1859, Frank Sylvester headed for the Fraser gold fields. A page 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 about how he sat beside the driver with a pair of six-shooters to guard the bullion from the Cariboo diggings.


San Francisco Trips

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

In 1866, 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.



  • Cyril Leonoff, editor, “Pioneer Jews of British Columbia,” Western States Jewish History 37/3&4.
  • Sarah H. Tobe, “Lured North of the 49th, Jewish Colonial Roots,” Western States Jewish History 46/2&3.
  • Archives of H. Tobe, Cyril E. Leonoff, Christopher J.P. Hanna, and David Rome.
  • “Frank and Cecilia Sylvester family fonds,” University of Victoria Archives,;rad

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.