JOSEPH, ABRAHAM, commission merchant, banker, and municipal politician; b. 14 Nov. 1815 in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Lower Canada, third son of Henry (Harry) Joseph*, shipowner and trader, and Rachel Solomons (Solomon), daughter of Lucius Levy Solomons*; m. 18 Nov. 1846 Sophia David, granddaughter of Aaron Hart* of Trois-Rivières, Canada East, and they had five sons and eight daughters; d. 20 March 1886 in Quebec City, and interred in Montreal, Que., in the cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
Abraham Joseph received a thorough training in the principles and traditions of the Jewish faith from his parents, but little is known of his formal education except that he attended the Académie de Berthier where he was head of his class in 1828. Two years later the family, which included nine children, left Berthier-en-Haut for Montreal. In 1832, after Henry Joseph and his eldest son both died the same day from cholera, the eldest surviving son, Jacob, adopted his father’s name and was thenceforth known as Jacob Henry. He inherited his father’s extensive tobacco and snuff import business, begun by the Solomons more than 30 years earlier, and operated it with the assistance of Abraham and their mother. The tobacco was purchased in the United States on regular buying trips. In 1836 Abraham moved to Quebec City to oversee the firm’s interests there, and on 1 April 1837 he became a partner in the firm with a one-fifth interest. The business in Montreal was described in 1844 as H. Joseph and Company, “wholesale manufacturers and importers of Tobacco, 144 St. Paul Street.” By 1851 the office in Quebec City was listed in the city directory as A. Joseph and Company, general merchants, and in 1854 it was described as “dealers in tobacco, general agents and commission merchants, on Napoleon Wharf.” The partnership was terminated on 31 March 1859; Jacob Henry then carried on business on his own in Montreal and Abraham took charge of the company in Quebec City.
Joseph was also interested in shipping and with his brother Jacob Henry and his cousin Theodore Hart was an owner of the barque Benjamin Hart, built in Quebec City in 1839. In addition, Joseph was one of the incorporators of the St Lawrence Navigation Company in 1861, serving as its president in 1879–80, and he was active for many years in the Quebec Marine Insurance Company (founded in 1862) and the St Lawrence Tow Boat Company (1863), holding the offices of president, director, and then vice-president of the latter from at least 1867 to 1873. In 1866 he was appointed a provisional director of the British American Steamship Company, established to carry mail weekly between Quebec City and Pictou, N.S.; the company represented an attempt by Quebec City merchants to establish shipping links with the Maritime colonies at the time of the impending union of the British North American colonies. In 1871 he was appointed a director of the Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company (in service from 1867), and he continued as a director when the firm became the Quebec Steamship Company in 1880.
Joseph was also active in the development of the financial institutions of Quebec City. His first involvement was with the District Bank of Quebec, a small savings bank established in 1847 by 40 members of the Quebec business community, both English-speaking and French-speaking. We then find Joseph as a director, from 1854 to 1858, and as president, from 1859 to 1865, of the Union Building Society which handled mortgages and provided long-term capital for property acquisitions. In 1860 he was elected to the board of directors of the Banque Nationale which he had helped to establish two years before [see François Vézina]; he and six other directors remained on the board for 14 years. He resigned in 1874 to become president of the Stadacona Bank which had been accorded a capital reserve of $1,000,000 when it was incorporated in 1873.
To safeguard his commercial interests Joseph became a member of the Quebec Board of Trade in 1848. His election as president in 1863 was recognition of his importance in the city’s business community. As president he chaired the dinner on 15 Oct. 1864 attended by the delegates from the Atlantic colonies to the Quebec Conference. The Quebec Mercury reported that in his speech he stated that “the merchants of Quebec . . . all heartily desired some change in our present position – they desired a thorough commercial union – they desired that the unequal and hostile tariffs of the several provinces should disappear. . . . We wanted a commercial union in order to bring about closer ties, and we wanted that union under one flag. . . .” On the death of his wife in 1866, he refused re-election as president of the board of trade; however, he remained active in it, and was to become vice-president, from 1876 to 1878, of the Dominion Board of Trade, formed in 1873.
Joseph never took part in provincial politics. In 1837, although he was of the opinion that Louis-Joseph Papineau* was “as far as his private conduct goes . . . a good enough fellow, far from being haughty,” he volunteered with the Quebec Light Infantry at the outbreak of the rebellion and attained the rank of major before resigning in 1839. On 27 Sept. 1846 he became a justice of the peace and in January 1847 a magistrate. He was also involved in municipal politics. Elected to the Quebec City Council in Saint-Louis Ward in 1854, he was to serve on the roads, waterworks, and finance committees. On two occasions, in 1858 and in 1860, he unsuccessfully contested the mayoralty; he retired from politics after his second attempt. In 1856 he became the vice-consul at Quebec City for Belgium (his younger brother Jesse had been consul at Montreal since 1850) and he retained the post until his death. He was also a member of the St George’s Society and served as its president in 1855–56.
By the end of the 1860s Joseph had become a well-established businessman in Quebec City, with a wholesale grocery specializing in imported foods and whisky, its principal customers being shipping companies, militia units, and country grocers. He was, however, severely affected by the economic depression which began in 1874. The Stadacona Bank lost $75,000 because of bad debts and had to draw upon its reserves and lower its dividends by 6 per cent in 1876 and by 2 per cent in June 1879. One month later the bank liquidated its assets at the request of the shareholders, who were paid in full. His own business was also transformed in 1878: two sons, Montefiore and Andrew Cohen, acceded to the management of the firm and its name was changed to A. Joseph and Sons. The two sons carried on the Business after Abraham’s death. Also in 1878, at the age of 63, Abraham resigned many of his directorships but retained interests in shipping and banking. In addition, at various times after 1871, he was president of the De Léry Gold Mining Company, and he owned considerable property, especially in Quebec City. When he died in 1886 the Montreal Gazette noted that death had claimed one of Quebec City’s “oldest citizens” who would be “greatly missed in business and social circles.”
[Abraham Joseph kept a diary from 1834 to 1876 which provides a great deal of information on political, economic, and social life in Quebec during this period. The PAC has a copy as well as other documents on the Joseph family in MG 24, I61. Genealogical information was supplied by the Jewish Public Library in Montreal. a.r.w.]
AC, Québec, Minutiers, E. G. Meredith, 29 March, 31 May 1886; 13 Jan., 26, 27 May, 18 June, 6 Dec. 1887; 28 April 1891. ANQ-M, Minutiers, G. D. Arnoldi, 6, 25 avril 1836; I. J. Gibb, 6 avril 1837. Can., prov. du, Statuts, 1847, c.113; 1861, c.99; 1862, c.71; février–mai 1863, c.59. Can., Statuts, mars–août 1873, c.66, c.73, c.108; 1880, c.62. Gazette (Montreal), 22 March 1886. Quebec Daily Mercury, 17 Oct. 1864. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888), 274–75. Quebec directory, 1847–86. The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed., A. D. Hart, (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). E. C. Woodley, The house of Joseph in the life of Quebec: the record of a century and a half (Quebec, 1946). Martin Wolff, “The Jews of Canada,” American Jewish year book (Philadelphia), 27 (1925–26): 154–229.