A History of British Columbia

Sehl, John J.

John J. Sehl is one of Victoria's prominent business men and a native son of the city, having been born on March 15, 1864, when this flourishing city was little more than a village. He is now actively associated with the managment of the extensive business which was built up by his father's energies and broad capacity for mercantile affairs. His father, recently deceased, during a career extending from the pioneer history of Victoria, made his name a synonym for success, integrity and conscientious devotion to every undertaking, and his life has much of inspiration and permanetn impress for good to the succeeding generations of Victoria's citizenship.

Born in Germany in 1832 and emigrating from the fatherland to New York when twelve years of age, Mr. Jacob Shel, the father, finished his education and learned thoroughly the cabinet-maker's trade in the latter city, but being full of enterprise and the spirit of adventure, he joined the hosts of forty-niners and took passage by way of the Panama route for the golden west. Arrived in San Franciso, he went directly to the gold diggings and tried for success in this exciting and strenuous occupation, but working in the water gave him rheumatism, and he then abandoned gold prospecting and mining and returned to San Francisco to take up his trade.

A few years later the discoveries on Fraser river in British Columbia again allured him to the attractions of placer mining, and in pursuit of this second golden phantom it chanced that he made his arrival in Victoria in the year 1859, when almost primeval conditions were on every hand.

From Victoria he went to Sooke, but again he was not long in concluding that gold mining was not his forte, and he then turned his attention to the manufacture of shingles at Sooke. He also did carpenter work. He had the honor of erecting the first house in Victoria to be covered with weather-boarding, all previous houses having been of logs.

Somewhat later Mr. Sehl entered into a partnership by which a furniture business was to be instituted in Victoria, but the partner, being intrusted with the joint money for the purpose of laying in stock at San Francisco, went off and was never again heard of. This left Mr. Sehl in straits for a time, but his known honesty and integrity proved to be capital for all the backing he needed. He went to San Francisco and secured a stock of goods on time from a dealer who had entire faith in him and who told him he might have all the goods he wanted.

The furniture business, once established in Victoria, met with well deserved success from the start, and the industry and honorable methods of its proprietor soon gave the enterprise an impetus toward becoming one of the foremost mercantile firms of the city. In time he acquired property on Government street on which he erected a large brick block forty-eight by one hundred and thirty-three feet, with three stories and a basement, this strucutre being used to accommodate his retail trade, and he also put up a three-story brick furniture factory. The entire business block is fulled throughout with stocks of furniture, crockery, glassware and house-furnishing goods, and is the best known emporium of the kind in Victoria, if not in the entire province. He devoted all his energies to this enterprise, and private business and the welfare of the city were the principal objects of his attention until his death. He organized the Sehl Hastie Furniture Company, but later became sole proprietor of the business.

The death of this pioneer and representative business man of Victoria occurred on June 18, 1904. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and also of the city volunteer fire department. His wife was Elizabeth (Van Allman) Sehl, a native of Iowa, and four of their children are still living, as follows: Elizabeth Sherwood, a resident of New York city; Dorothy Louisa, the wife of Julius Elizalda; and John J. and William, the two brothers being only about a year apart in age.

Both brothers are actively engaged in the business founded by their father, they having been educated in this city and brought up in the furniture establishment and honorably and successfully filling the place left vacant by their father. Mr. John L. Sehl is now manager for the other heirs. He was married in 1892 to Miss Celia Tiber, a native of North Dakota. He is affiliated with the Knights of the Maccabees and the Order of Pendox, being a trustee of the latter.
[Gosnell, History, pp. 397-398].


R. E. Gosnell, A History of British Columbia, (Vancouver, B. C.: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906).