Laying the cornerstone
The Masonic Lodge and The Ceremony of Laying the Cornerstone
Lewis Lewis (1828‐1904) was typical of the Jewish pioneers of Victoria and British Columbia. His dry goods business was established in 1861, and prospered until his retirement in 1900. Lewis was one of the more prominent citizens in Victoria, affiliated with many local organizations, and was a member of the city’s first volunteer fire brigade. He was also prominent in Victoria’s Jewish community. Lewis was president of Congregation Emanu‐el for eight years, and donated the land for the establishment of the Jewish Cemetery. He was also a founder of the first Masonic lodge in Victoria.
Synagogue Emanu‐El, circa 1866‐70 [British Columbia Archives A‐05964]
The construction of a house of worship was a tremendous undertaking for a small Jewish congregation composed of fewer than fifty members. A building committee was established to canvass the community for donations, which were successfully received from a diversity of local Victorians. A piece of land “suitable in all respects” for a future synagogue was purchased for $730 at the corner of Blanshard and Pandora. Current membership was 49, but it was clearly anticipated that the rapid increase in population would continue.
“The Hebrews of Victoria are both numerous, wealthy and public spirited. They intend to erect a fine building on the corner of Government (sic) and Pandora Streets for a synagogue. The building will seat some 350 persons, and in its galleries perhaps 200 more. The lot is 60 feet by 200 feet on which it will be built. It is paid for already, and $900 has been subscribed towards the Synagogue. A committee will shortly go around to take up subscriptions in aid of the object. We trust that a generous response will be made.”
British Colonist, 26 November 1862, page 3.
The Ceremony of Laying the Cornerstone
Ads were published in the Daily Colonist as a means of invitation to cornerstone laying ceremonies – two notices alerted residents of a postponement of the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone. The ceremony was successfully carried out on June 2, 1863 with the Daily Colonist reporting on June 3 that “…the sun shone bright, and the previous showers had conferred some benefit by cooling the atmosphere and laying the dust, which would otherwise have proved disagreeable.”
The ceremony was claimed as the first public activity to attract official attendance of Victoria’s Masonic fraternity. In addition, the cornerstone that was laid is recognized as signifying the first foundation of a place of Jewish worship in Queen Victoria’s West Pacific dominions. Invitations to participate in the parade and ceremony of June 2, 1863 were accepted by the French Benevolent Society, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, Germania Sing Verein (German Singing Club), St. Andrew’s Society, and the Fraternity of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons. The large group made for a decorative and diverse procession, and the noise en route to the Synagogue site was magnified by the music of a Royal Navy band from the H.M.S. Topaze.
“As this stone which we are about to lay will be the foundation upon which this structure will rest, so let peace and harmony be the foundation stone of your hearts…”
Mr. S. Hoffman, Vice President of Congregation Emanu‐El, at the laying of the Synagogue cornerstone, 2 June 1863
“Thus terminated an eventful day in the history of the Jews in Vancouver Island, and it must be a source of infinite gratification to that body, that the ceremonies of this day, partaking as they did of a purely denominational character, were participated in by all classes of our community with a hearty goodwill and brotherly feeling, evidenced in acts more powerful than words the high esteem in which they were held by their fellow townsmen of the City of Victoria’”
British Colonist, 3 June 1863, page 3.
Two cornerstones were laid at the Synagogue site. The first was set in place by Mr. Malowanski, a member of the Synagogue Building Committee, and the second laid by the Worshipful Master of a local Masonic Order. Responding to the Masonic Officers and participants present at the afternoon ceremony, the Right Worshipful Master of Masons stated “I beg to express the honor we feel in being invited to take part in any ceremony having a holy useful, or benevolent design and more particularly in aiding in the erection of a Temple to be dedicated to the glory of God and his Holy name.”
The jointly coordinated activities of the Synagogue ceremony reflect the historic relationship between the Jewish community and members of the Masonic Craft, dating back to the construction of Solomon’s Temple. The laying of the Synagogue cornerstone on Pandora Street was extolled as an important community gathering for the people of Victoria. The newspaper notes that English, Hebrew, and German languages were all spoken aloud as the Synagogue ceremonies progressed through the afternoon, and Mr. S. Hoffman was quoted as stating “For, as I look around me, I behold adherents to every creed…” The pride articulated in this statement suggests that the participatory nature of the ceremonies was deliberate and well‐intentioned. Alongside the important Jewish documents that were deposited below the cornerstone, the French Benevolent Society and Germania Sing Verein were given an opportunity to deposit their membership lists as well. The laying of the cornerstones for the Synagogue of Congregation Emanu‐El should be understood as an important event in the history of Victoria, highlighting the complex intersection of race, culture, business, and community.
British Colonist, 6 June 1859, page 2
“A meeting was held yesterday by the Israelites of Victoria who organized a benevolent society under the name of the “First Victoria Hebrew Benevolent Society”. The constitution and bye‐laws were unanimously adopted, and the following gentlemen elected officers for the ensuing year – A. Blackman, President; L. Davis, V. President; S.S Hymes, Sec.; K. Gambitz, Treas.; Messrs. Cohn, L. Lewis, A. Philips, S. Wolf, and I. Tashe, Trustees, and Moses Abram, messenger.”
British Colonist, 26 November 1862, page 3
“HEBREW SYNAGOGUE – The Hebrews of Victoria are both numerous, wealthy, and public spirited. They intend to erect a fine building on the corner of Government and Pandora streets for a Synagogue. The building will seat below some 350 persons, and in the gallery perhaps 200 more. The lot is 60×120 feet on which it will be built. It is paid for already and $900 has been subscribed towards the Synagogue. A committee will shortly go around to take up subscriptions and aid of the object. We trust that a generous response will be made.”