Joseph H. Cohen

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Joseph H. Cohen CM OBC LL.D. CStJ (1921 – June 2011), born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was a Canadian entrepreneur, community builder, philanthropist, and Member of the Order of Canada. He served in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1944-1945. He was married to the late Frances Cohen (née Belzberg) and was the father of Lori, Bruce (deceased), and Phyllis (Haxby).


Joseph Cohen came from a poor immigrant family of eight, the son of Alexander and Rose (Diamond) Cohen.

Joseph's five brothers, John, Albert D. Cohen, Harry B. Cohen, Morley Cohen, and Samuel N. Cohen, set up a small retail store and, by 1939, the family had scraped together enough monies to create General Distributors Ltd., a wholesale import firm.

Sony and the Cohen Brothers[edit]

Cohen Brothers of Canada

By 1950, General Distributors sales amounted to $1 million. In the early Fifties, the company obtained exclusive Canadian rights for Paper Mate pens. Then, in 1955, brother Albert D. Cohen accomplished the most amazing feat of landing the Canadian distribution rights to Sony products. Spotting an ad in a Japanese newspaper seeking a distributor for a new portable transistor radio, Albert met with Sony co-founder, Akio Morita. On the basis of a handshake deal, Albert cemented a partnership that would last for decades. The Cohen brothers scattered across Canada in order to manage the national business, each brother establishing himself in a major city: Morley (Montreal), John (Toronto), Joe (Vancouver), Harry (Calgary), and both Sam and Albert setting up headquarters (Winnipeg).

SAAN, Metropolitan, real estate, and the Cohen Brothers[edit]

The six brothers expanded into real estate and retailing. Over the years, they established several hundred SAAN Stores and Metropolitan junior department stores in all provinces of Canada. The explosive growth of the SAAN Stores chain was guided by Samuel N. Cohen while Metropolitan's expansion was overseen by Morley Cohen. At one point, it is said the Cohen brothers owned downtown real estate in almost every major Canadian city. By 1983, the company was a diversified Canadian conglomerate, renamed Gendis.

Oil and gas and the Cohen Brothers[edit]

Under the guidance of Albert D. Cohen, the six brothers participated in various joint ventures and/or owned several minority interests in oil & gas exploration, development, and distribution. The companies included Tripet Resources; Chauvco Resources; Pioneer Natural Resources; Fort Chicago Energy Partners L.P.; and Tundra Oil & Gas.


Joseph Cohen was considered to be one of the major community builders/philanthropists in Vancouver.

Several of his notable accomplishments include:

Dr. Joseph H. Cohen Award[edit]

Established in 1998 in honour of Dr. Joseph H. Cohen, a founding member of the Justice Institute of British Columbia Board of Governors, this award is presented for outstanding contribution in the field of public safety. Past recipients include former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, singer/musician Bryan Adams, and former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Beverley Busson[2]