FREEMASONRY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
THE GRAND LODGE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
BY W. A. DE WOLF-SMITH, M. D.
Grand Librarian, Past Grand Historian, and Grand Secretary|
of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia.
FREEMASONRY in British Columbia traces its descent directly from the Grand Lodges of England and Scotland, and the honor of establishing the first Lodge in the Province belongs to the former. The first Warrant was issued to Bros. Southgate, Geo. Parkes, and W. Jeffray, authorizing them to hold a Lodge in the City of Victoria. The Warrant was signed by the Earl of Zetland, at that time Grand Master of England, dated March 19th, 1859. For some reason the Warrant did not arrive in the Colony for about a year and it was only on March 20th, 1860, that a notice in the "British Colonist" newspaper informed the Brethren that the long looked for document had at last arrived. Even then there were delays, and it was not until the 28th day of the following August that the Lodge was organized, the name selected being Victoria No. 1,085.
The regular annual meeting of the Lodge was held December 27th, 1860, when a visit was received from the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Washington Territory, M. W. Bro. E. Garfield. The W. M., Treas., and Tyler were elected for the ensuing year, and the day was celebrated by a grand ball in the evening. The ball was held in the Court House, James' Bay, and according to "The British Colonist" the company present was "large and highly respectable." His Excellency, Governor Douglas and the Grand Master of Washington Territory graced the occasion with their presence, and, to again quote from "The British Colonist," "the varied regalia of the Fraternity combined with the uniforms of the gallant representatives of the Royal Navy, and all set off with the beauty and charms of the fair sex, presented a picture of enjoyment, whilst whirling in the giddy waltz that could not well be surpassed."
About the time these events were taking place in Victoria, gold was discovered on the Thompson and Fraser rivers, and coal had been found at Nanaimo previously. This caused settlements to be established at Nanaimo, at Fort Yale, and at Fort Langley, the last mentioned place being the metropolis of the mainland, although the town was soon afterwards moved to New Westminster, which became the seat of government of British Columbia, while Victoria remained the capital of the colony of Vancouver Island. Cariboo also shared in the excitement, and attracted a large number of men.
It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that shortly after the establishment of Victoria Iodge, a second Lodge was organized, and this time at New Westminster. A meeting to organize a Lodge was held at New Westminster during the winter of 1860, and it was agreed to ask for a Warrant of Constitution from the Grand Master of England, the name selected for the new Lodge being "Union," because the petitioners came from different Grand Lodges. The petition was sent to England, but the Warrant was refused, because, according to the English Constitution, the first office-bearers must be registered in the books of the Grand Lodge of England, and the Brother chosen for the lst Junior Warden was a Scotch Mason. Subsequently some of the members of Victoria Lodge; whose names cannot now be ascertained, signed the petition, and a new, Junior Warden was selected, the result being that a Warrant was granted, dated 16th December, 1861, and the number was 1,201.
Unfortunately the earlier records of Union Lodge were lost in a fire which occured in 1886, and the details of its organization, and early proceedings are wanting.
The gold excitement, and perhaps other reasons, drew a large number of Americans to Victoria, and among them naturally a number of Freemasons. These, being unacquainted with the work practised by Victoria Lodge, desired to organize one which would use American work, and proposed to apply, if they did not actually apply, to the Grand Lodge of Washington for a dispensation. This did not suit the brethren of Victoria Lodge who held that as this was a British Colony, it was a close preserve for the British Grand Lodges, and on the 24th day of January, 1861, the Lodge passed the following resolution.
"Whereas, we have been informed that a party in this community has applied to the Grand Lodge of Washington Territory for a Dispensation or Warrant to organize a Lodge of F. & A. M. in this Town it is therefore
"Resolved that while we hail the Grand Lodge of Washington Territory, and all other Grand Lodges, as Brethren and Masons, we do not recognize their power to grant Dispensations or Warrants out of the district of their own country, and all Dispensations and Warrants emanating frorn any other source than the Grand Lodges of the Mother Country in this place we shall hold as clandestine, and all Masons visiting such Lodges cannot be recognized as Masons."
This discouraged the applicants and the project was abandoned. Shortly afterwards, however, a number of brethren decided to apply to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a Warrant, and asked Victoria Lodge to recommend their petition. The request was received by Victoria Lodge on the 15th day of May, 1862, and was granted, the Brethren being careful, however, to preserve the precedence of the Grand Lodge of England, as may be seen by the tenor of the following resolution:
"Resolved, that Victoria Lodge No. 1085, cordially responds to the petition of the Brethren desirous to establish a Lodge under the Grand Lodge of Scotland; but in doing so they reserve the precedence of the Grand Lodge of England in general Masonic affairs within the colony, and they communicate this Resolution to the Grand Lodge of England as a matter of record."
In due course a Warrant was granted, and on the 20th day of October, 1862, a meeting was held in the hall of Victoria Lodge to organize the new Lodge, which was known as Vancouver Lodge No. 421 on the Register of Scotland.
Some years then elapsed before a fourth Lodge was organized. During the year 1865 a meeting of Masons was held at Nanaimo, the names of those present being unknown. At this meeting it was decided that a petition for a Warrant for a Lodge, to be held at Namaimo, should be sent to the Grand Master of England, which was done. The Warrant was expected from England in the spring of the year 1866, and as there was no suitable hall in the town, a house was rented at $25 per month. The building was altered to adapt it to Masonic purposes, and the necessary furniture and equipment was procured. Considerable delay occurred, the Warrant having been lost with the steamer carrying the mails between San Francisco and Victoria. A duplicate Warrant was sent for, and eventually reached the colony in the spring of 1867. The meeting to organize the Lodge was held on the 18th day of May, 1867, and its Constitution was attended with considerable ceremony. On the 13th day of May, an Ernergent meeting of Victoria Lodge was held, at which the Worshipful Master stated that by virtue of a Dispensation from the Grand Master he was empowered to authorize the Brethren to proceed to Nanaimo in regalia for the purpose of Constituting the new Lodge. They accordingly embarked on the steamer "Sir James Douglas," with several members of Vancouver Lodge, and accompanied by the band of the volunteer Militia. The members of the new Lodge and the visitors from Victoria assembled on the morning of the 15th day of May, Brother Holbrook, of Union Lodge, New Westminster, also being present. Probably because Brother Holbrook had held an office in one of the Provincial Grand Lodges of England (Cheshire) he was requested to take charge of the proceedings, which he did, and the Lodge was duly constituted as Nanaimo Lodge No. 1090.
In 1867 another Lodge was Warranted in Victoria by the Grand Lodge of Fngland, under the name of British Columbia Lodge No. 1187, the date of the Warrant being 26th of july, 1867.
In this year the Grand Master of Scotland appointed a Provincial Grand Master for the Province, the Brother selected for the honour being Worshipful Brother I. W. Powell. Unfortunately the minutes of the Provincial Grand Lodge are not available, the only record of its meetings that I have been able to find being a small leaflet. R. W. Bro. Powell's Commission was dated the 6th May, 1867, but it was not until December of that year that he called the representatives of his Lodge together and organized a Provincial Grand Lodge. This meeting was held on the 24th day of December, and after the Provincial Grand Lodge had been called to order the Provincial Grand Master addressed the Brethren briefly, stating that he had already granted Dispensations for the formation of two Lodges, Cariboo at Barkerville, subsequently warranted as No. 469, and Caledonia, at Nanaimo, which. afterwards obtained a Warrant No. 478.
The brethren of the English Constitution had at an early date in their history endeavoured to secure the appointment of a District Grand Master, and at various times had passed resolutions and had sent petitions to the Grand Lodge of England urging such appointment. For some time, however, the Grand Master of England hesitated to grant the request. The reason at first given was that no District Grand Master would be appointed until there were at least three Lodges in the colony working under the English Constitution. This difficulty was removed early in 1866, when Nanaimo Lodge was constituted. In July, 1867, the British Columbia Lodge was warranted, making the number of English Lodges four, but still no Patent was granted. Shortly before that date, however, the Grand Master of Scotland had, as already mentioned, appointed a Provincial Grand Master for the colony, and the Grand Lodge of England may have feared that the precedence, so carefully reserved by Victoria Lodge, was in danger of being lost, for in the fall of 1867 a Patent dated 10th September, 1867, was issued to W. Bro. Robert Burnaby, appointing him District Grand Master for the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
Although dated September 10th, it is probable that the Patent was not received by Bro. Burnaby until early in 1868, for it was not until the spring of that year that he communicated to several Brethren the fact that he had received the Patent. On the 14th March, 1868, a meeting was held at Bro. Burnaby's residence to make the preliminary arrangements for the formation of a District Grand Lodge, and the District Grand Master announced the names of the Brethren he had nominated as officers.
The Provincial and District Grand Lodges being now in working order, matters proceeded smoothly enough, the Provincial and District Grand Masters being warm, personal friends, and each imbued with an ardent desire to promote the welfare of the Craft in general. The only thing that occurred to mar the harmony existing between the two jurisdictions, was a complaint made by certain Lodges in Victoria that material rejected by them had been accepted by Lodges of the other jurisdiction. This, however, was strongly denied by the Lodges concerned, and apparently the denial was accepted.
A fourth Lodge under the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed by Dispensation of the Provincial Grand Master Mount Hermon Lodge, which was organized at Hastings, in January, 1869. In anticipation of the Dispensation the Brethren of that place had erected "a handsome and commodious hall," and had furnished it with all the comforts and attractions of a model Lodge room." The Provincial Grand Master was invited to set the Lodge to work, and accordingly proceeded to Burrard Inlet on the 15th of January, 1869, when he instituted the Lodge and installed its officers, at the same time dedicating its hall. The Warrant from the Grand Lodge of Scotland is dated May 3rd, 1869, and the number assigned it was 491.
One other Dispensation for a new Lodge was issued by the Provincial Grand Master for Scotland that for Quadra Lodge but no new Lodge was formed under the English Constitution.
After some preliminary meetings the Brethren of Quadra Lodge were called together on the 7th January, 1871, when the Lodge was constituted and the officers installed by R. W. Bro. I. W. Powell. The Warrant from the Grand Lodge of Scotland probably arrived in due course, but it is doubtful whether the Lodge ever worked under it. It could not have arrived until late in the year, and by that time the formation of an independent Grand Lodge was being proceeded with. The minutes of the Lodge up to and including those of the 1st of December, 1871, are headed
"QUADRA LODGE NO. OF SCOTTISH FREEMASONS IN THE PROVINCE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA,"
while following the minutes of this meeting is a "Return of Intrants" pasted into the Minute Book in which the number of the Lodge is given as 508. The next meeting, a regular meeting held on the 8th of December, 1871, has its minutes headed
"QUADRA LODGE No. 8, ON THE REGISTRY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA."
I infer from this that the Warrant arrived shortly before the formation of the new Grand Lodge, but evidently after the convention to organize the new Grand Lodge had been held. It is probable that the numbers of the various Lodges taking part in the new organization were discussed and allotted at this convention, which would account for the Lodge attaching the number "8" to the Minutes two or three weeks before the Grand Lodge was actually organized.
Thus there were, early in 1871, four Lodges under the English Constitution, and five under the Scotch, governed, by a District Grand Lodge of England and a Provincial Grand Lodge of Scotland respectively. At the head of the District Grand Lodge was R. W. Bro. Robert Burnaby, and under him were the lodges: Victoria, No. 783. Union, No. 899. Nanaimo, No. 1,090, and British Columbia, No. 1,187.
Over the Provincial Grand Lodge R. W. Bro. I. W. Powell presided, and the Lodges in his charge were: Vancouver, No. 421. Cariboo, No. 469. Caledonia, No. 478. Mount Hermon, No. 491, and Quadra, U.D., or No. 508, as the case may be.
Some time before this a movement to organize an independent Grand Lodge for the colony had been started, Vancouver Lodge apparently taking the lead. On the 16th of December, 1868, a regular meeting of that Lodge was held, there being present thirty members of the Lodge and seven visitors, three of whom were from Cariboo Lodge and one from Union. A series of resolutions, too long to bc given here, were introduced, the mover, W. Bro. R. H. Adams, stating that he would bring them up for action at a subsequent meeting. Briefly, they recite the condition of Freemasonry as it then existed in the Colony; the difficulties that continually occurred because of the distance from the parent Grand Lodge, and the long delays in correspondence; and the desirability of, and the advantages. to be secured by the formation of an independent Grand Lodge.
These resolutions were accordingly brought up at a meeting of the Lodge held on the 2nd of january, 1869, and were adopted. They were forthwith communicated to, the other Lodges in the Colony, with the suggestion that each Lodge appoint a committee to confer with a committee from Vancouver Lodge, as to the best mode of carrying them into effect. They were variously received. Most of the Scotch Lodges at once fell in with the proposal and appointed delegates, Caledonia Lodge refusing to do so. The English Lodges, on the other hand, declined to entertain the proposition, with the exception of Victoria Lodge, whieh sent the resolutions to the District Grand Master with the request that he lay them before the Grand Lodge of England. This he did in a letter remarkable for its temperate and impartial statement of the case, addressed to the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England, who was, at that time, V. W. Bro. Hervey. The letter received by the District Grand Master in reply, expressed the regret of the Grand Secretary that the Brethren in the Colony should do anything which might tend to lessen the influence they possessed as members of the English Constitution, and the fear that a Grand Lodge of such limited membership, would simply be "the laughing-stock of the Masonic world."
The Provincial Grand Master of Scotland, although he fully recognized the desirability of an independent Grand Lodge, also declined to move in the matter without the consent of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and accordingly transmitted to his Grand Lodge a copy of the resolutions. If any reply to his communication was received there is no record of it.
Vancouver Lodge, however, seems to have gone ahead with the scheme and evidently submitted it to a number of Canadian and foreign Grand Lodges, with the view of ascertaining what kind of a reception a new Grand Lodge might expect. Apparently the result was encouraging, for at a meeting held on the 18th of January, 1871, it was announced that all the Grand Lodges communicated with had signified their sympathy with and approval of the project. Thereupon a committee was appointed to arrange for the meeting of a Convention of the Masters, Wardens, and Past Masters of the different Lodges in the Colony.
The Committee accordingly issued a call for a Convention to be held in the City of Victoria on the 18th of March, 1871. Again Victoria Lodge was the only English Lodge which favoured the movement, and upon receipt of the communication from Vancouver Lodge forwarded it to the District Grand Master, with a request that the Lodge be allowed to attend the meeting. The District Grand Master submitted the correspondence to the District Board of General Purposes which, after due consideration decided that the time was not opportune for the formation of an independent Grand Lodge, although such a step might be advisable in the future, and acting on this advice the District Grand Master refused to allow his Lodges to send delegates to the Convention.
Notwithstanding the aloofness of the English Brethren, the representatives of the Scotch Lodges held the Convention on March 18th, 1871, according to schedule, and decided to form a Grand Lodge for the Colony. There is no record of the meeting, and it is not known who were present. R. W. Bro. I. W. Powell, who, however, was absent from the colony at the time, was elected Grand Master and Bro. H. F. Heisterman, Grand Secretary, and an invitation was sent to and accepted by M. W. Bro. the Hon. Elwood Evans, P.G.M. of Washington, to attend and install the officers of the new Grand Lodge. An invitation to be present was also sent to R. W. Bro Burnaby, whereupon he instructed the District Grand Secretary to attend the meeting and protest against its proceedings. This he did, and the protest was effectual, for the representatives of Caledonia Lodge returned home with the information that the formation of a Grand Lodge had been indefinitely postponed.
Some time during the summer of 1871, R. W. Bro. Powell returned from England and found the Craft in a state of dissension and discord. Feelings were high, and the two sections of the Craft were hardly on speaking terms. He and R. W. Bro. Burnaby held several consultations on the subject, and after, agreeing between themselves that the formation of an independent Grand Lodge was advisable, decided to submit the question to a vote of all the members of their respective jurisdictions. It was stipulated and understood by the Brethren that in the event of the Craft voting in favour of an independent Grand Lodge, either Bro. Powell or Bro. Burnaby would be the first Grand Master, and whichever was not elected Grand Master, would be made Past Grand Master.
A circular was accordingly issued by the District and Provincial Grand Masters to their respective Lodges, instructing the Brethren to vote on the question of forming an independent Grand Lodge. The result of the vote was 194 in favour and 28 against the proposition. The result of the vote being so overwhe1mingly in favor of forming a Grand Lodge, another Convention was called, and was held in Victoria on the 21st of October, 1871, there being present the representatives of all the Lodges in the Province, with the exception of Union Lodge, which declined to join. Brother James A. Graham, of Quadra Lodge, was appointed Chairman of the meeting, and Brother H. F. Heisterman, of the same Lodge, Secretary. A resolution declaring it expedient to form a Grand Lodge in and for the Province of British Columbia, was carried unanimously, and with great applause, and immediately afterwards another declaring the Grand Lodge of British Columbia to be formed was-also carried unanimously. R. W. Bro. I. W. Powell was elected Grand Master, and in consideration of their valuable services R. W. Bro. Burnaby was made an Honourary Past Grand Master, and W. Bro. James A. Graham, an Honourary Past Deputy Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge. After some formal business was transacted, the meeting adjourned, and was called together again on the 26th of December, 1871, when the officer select were installed by R. W. Bro. Burnaby.
Nanaimo Lodge and Caledonia Lodge displayed some reluctance to accept Warrants from the new Grand Lodge, fearing that they would bc called upon to change their rituals (and in the case of Caledonia Lodge, their clothing). However, a letter from the Grand Master was read in Nanaimo Lodge, and one from the Grand Secretary in Caledonia Lodge, stating that all the Lodges could practice their own rituals so long as they desired, which seemed to dispel the fear of the Brethren, and the new Warrants were accepted.
The first special or emergent meeting of Grand Lodge was held in the city of New Westminster on the 30th of July, 1872, the occasion being the laying of the cornerstone of the Mortuary Chapel of the Masonie cemetery at Sapperton. Besides the Grand Lodge officers, there were present about sixty of the Brethren, and the stone was laid in due and ancient form by the Grand Master, M. W. Bro. I. W. Powell.
At the time of this meeting, Union Lodge was still on the English Registry. It shortly afterwards joined the new Grand Lodge, for at the Annual Communication held on December 7th, 1872, the Grand Master expressed his gratification that unification of the Craft had been accomplished by Union Lodge transferring its allegiance. The fraternal feeling displayed by the new Grand Lodge in laying the cornerstone for Union Lodge and probably the persuasive eloquence of Brothers Powell and Burnaby no doubt hastened the action of Union Lodge in the matter, for M. W. Bro. Powell stated in his address that it was only a few days after the Emergent meeting that a request for admission to the fold was received from the Lodge. The few months delay, however, lost Union Lodge its place on the roll, and instead of being No. 2 it had to be content with No. 9.
At this Communication the Grand Master reported that all the Grand Lodges of the Dominion and all those of the United States, with the exception of Indiana, had "extended a hearty recognition and warm welcome" to the new Grand Lodge. Indiana had not refused to reconize them, but was waiting to see what action would bc taken by the British Grand Lodges.
At the Annual Communication in 1873 the Board provided for the establishment of two funds a Benevolent Fund and a Widows' and Orphans' Fund. These were to be inaugurated by contributions from each Lodge of $2.00 for every member on its roll, and the same for every Brother affiliated. The support of the funds was provided for by levying an assessment of $3.00 per annum on every member. Of the money so collected, three-fourths was to be devoted to the fund of Benevolence, and one-fourth to the Widows' and Orphans' Fund.
In this year 1873 on the fifth of November, the two Lodges in Nanaimo, Nanaimo No. 3 and Caledonia No. 6, agreed to amalgamate, and their request to be allowed to do so was granted by Grand Lodge on the 8th of December. At the same time the name of the Lodge was changed to Ashlar, the number of Nanaimo Lodge being retained.
Some objection having been made to the date of meeting of Grand Lodge, no Annual Communication was held in 1874, but an Emergent meeting was held at Nanaimo on the 21st of October of that year, to lay the cornerstone of the new Masonic hall at that place. Although this is called a special Communication of Grand Lodge, it does not appear that Grand Lodge was opened at all. The Grand Master opened Ashlar Lodge, and laid the corner-stone, after which he surrendered the gavel to the W. M. of Ashlar Lodge, who conferred the Entered Apprentice Degree upon a candidate. When this had been done, the Lodge was called to refreshment, to partake of the inevitable banquet, after which labor was resumed and the Lodge drunk the health of the Queen, Prince of Wales, the Grand Master, and of anyone else whose name happened to occur to them. At this meeting, whether one of Grand Lodge or Ashlar Lodge, the announcement was made that the Grand Lodge of England had extended recognition to the new Grand Lodge.
Affairs Masonic proceeded uneventfully until the meeting of Grand Lodge in February, 1878, the Craft holding its own but making no material advance. At this Communication it was announced that the four Lodges in Victoria had amalgamated into two Victoria and British Columbia Lodges uniting to form Victoria-Columbia Lodge, No. 1, and Vancouver and Quadra Lodges joining to make Vancouver and Quadra Lodge, No. 2.
In 1879 another change was made in the time of meeting of Grand Lodge, the date being altered from February to June.
Although application for recognition had been made to the Grand Lodge of Scotland immediately upon the formation of Grand Lodge, that Grand Lodge, for some unknown reason, but in a manner quite consistent with its constant practice, paid no attention to the Communication, and in the addresses of different Grand Masters we find reference to this apparent lack of courtesy. However, in 1880 M. W. Bro. Harrison informed Grand Lodge that the Grand Lodge of Scotland had at last recognized the Grand Lodge of British Columbia nine years after the request had been made. Even then it was a conditional recognition, Scotland claiming the right
Ist. To protect the interests of any of its Lodges which might exist in the Province, and
2nd. To protect the rights of any Lodges which might subsequently be fomied in the Province under its authority.
To the first claim, as M. W. Bro. Harrison pointed out, there could bc no exception, as no Scotch Lodges remained, but to the second he entered a strong protest, in which he was heartily supported by the committee on his address. The Grand Lodge, too, adopted a resolution denying the right of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, or of any other Grand Lodge, to warrant Lodges in the Province. It is satisfactory to note that the Grand Lodge of Scotland has made no attempt to invade the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia.
In spite of the expectations of rapid progress which obtained when the Grand Lodge was organized, no attempt was made for some years to institute a new Lodge in the jurisdiction. In 1881 the Board of General Purposes reported that the preliminary steps had been taken to organize a new Lodge at Yale, which was then a flourishing town. The Board stated that the requirements of the Constitution had been complied with, and recommended that a Warrant be issued. Fifteen brethren joined in the petition for the new Lodge, a Dispensation for which was issued on the 22nd of June, 1881, under the name of Cascade Lodge, No. 10. On the 5th of July, 1881 a more extended Dispensation was issued, and on the 29th of October, 1881, by order of the Grand Master, a Warrant was given it. Its existence was of short duration, a fire at Yale and the changes incident to railway construction having made it expedient to return the Warrant to Grand Lodge inside of a year. The Board of General Purposes in 1882, in reporting the fact, stated that in view of the circumstances under which the Warrant had been returned, it had been agreed to issue a new Warrant free of charge to a sufficient number of the original Petitioners at any time during the ensuing twelve months, should it be thought advisable. Unfortunately the happy hour never came, and the first-born of the Grand Lodge died in infancy.
The membership of the jurisdiction, too, remained practically stationary for a number of years. At the time of its organization in 1871, the Grand Lodge had under its jurisdiction 293 members, and it was not until 1886 that the Grand Master was able to report any substantial gain. In that year the returns showed 333 members on the roll, and the Grand Secretary reported the formation of a new Lodge, this time at Kamloops, under the name of Kamloops Lodge, No. 10, the number of the defunet Lodge at Yale.
In 1886 the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed through to the coast, bringing with it a large number of Eastern Masons and opening the way for many others to come and settle in the Province. From this time the history of the Grand Lodge is one of uninterrupted progress. New Lodges have been added year by year, and on December 31st, 1923, the membership was 12,750 in 103 Lodges.
W.A. De Wolf-Smith. A Concise History of Freemasonry in Canada, Osborne Sheppard, comp.. 1924 : Osborne Sheppard, Hamilton, Ont. pp. 144-158.