The Samuel Family, 1881-1898

The Samuel family, 1881-1898
November 26, 2023

Samuel Wasbutzki (1849-1908) was born in Serey, Suwalki province, Russian Poland (now Seirijai, Lithuania). He came to Montréal about 1864 and became known as Harris Samuel. Harris worked as a bookkeeper at the pawnbrokers Kellert & Friedman, and in time married the boss’s daughter Sarah Kellert (1850-1929).

Harris and Sarah had a happy and fruitful life together, establishing a successful dry goods business in Montréal and raising 11 children to adulthood. About 1881, they and their five eldest children moved to Sherbrooke. Harris built up a dry goods business at 147 Wellington St. North, described in 1887 as “Wholesale and Retail of Dry Goods, Clothing, Fancy Goods and Furnishing”. They lived on Wellington, and had six more children in Sherbrooke between 1881 and 1889.

By the mid-1880s, Harris’s brother Bernard (1865-1905) had come to Canada and was living with the family, while Sarah’s parents Louis (1831-1895) and Rebecca (1825-1897) Kellert had moved to Sherbrooke from Montréal, likely with their four unmarried children. The Kellerts lived on Gordon St. and had a footwear business at 151 Wellington St. North.

By 1894, Harris’s store was at 147 Wellington St. North, “The Palace Store of the Sign of the Horse Shoe”. It now boasted “The finest and best selected stock of Dry Goods, Carpets and Fine Millinery in the Eastern Townships” and had two telephone lines.

Meanwhile, Joseph Levinson (1862-1946), born probably in Maryampol, Suwalki province (now Marijampole, Lithuania), had come to Sherbrooke and opened a clothing and footwear store at 153 Wellington St. North, later at 163. In 1886, he married Louis and Rebecca’s daughter Hannah (Annie) (1864-1949) at the Sherbrooke House Hotel, and they lived on Wellington. There they had three children, one of whom died as an infant.

About 1891, Louis Kellert and family returned to Montréal.

By 1896, Harris Samuel was on the council of the Sherbrooke Board of Trade. The next year, he was elected to City Council, one of only a very few Jews to be elected to public office in 19th century Canada. The girls attended the Academy of the Congregation of Notre-Dame (though strictly instructed about staying immune to Catholic dogma). Son Jack served in the militia.

Harris sold his business and the family moved back to Montréal about 1898; he resigned from City Council at the end of that year. Joseph Levinson and family also moved to Montréal about the same time. The family lore is that the Samuels moved to the big city to improve the Jewish marriageability of their children, none yet married.

But Sherbrooke was not forgotten. The Samuel children always fondly recalled their Sherbrooke years. Annie Samuel eventually married Sherbrooke-raised Samuel Saxe, whose father Michael Sax was already running a dry goods store on Wellington when the Samuels arrived. And Joseph Levinson’s Sherbrooke-born son Harry married Sherbrooke’s Bertha Echenberg.

It is interesting to note that when both Louis Kellert and Joseph Levinson’s brother Solomon immigrated to Canada, they first set up in the Lancaster (Glengarry County) area of Ontario – as did the Echenberg pioneer, Moses.

– Anthony Usher