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Black Sheep Lodges of BC
Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, March 2, 2002
by VW Bro. James G. Bennie, Lodge Southern Cross No. 44
First, I'd like to say if any freemason here tonight thinks I'm going to be talking about his lodge, I am not... although it might make a far more interesting talk if I did.
Our jurisdiction, like all others, has had the unfortunate situation where we've had to expell members. Some committed crimes. There’s one case, that of Henry Holbrook, the founder of Union Lodge in New Westminster, who was expelled for apparently not saluting the Master before he retired from the lodge room in a huff.
But only twice has our Grand Lodge seen fit to take the drastic step of revoking the warrant of a lodge itself. It must be the news reporter in me, but I decided to find out why. Hence my talk today.
As anyone with first-hand knowledge of what happened is likely dead, we'll never actually know all that happened. But we can get a pretty good idea from surviving records and doing a bit of guesswork.
The case closest to home is that of Gothic Lodge No. 111 which met in what was then the municipality of South Vancouver. Many years ago, pockets of homes popped up in between stretches of bush and farmland in what is now the city of Vancouver. When a pocket got big enough, the local freemasons wanted to have their own lodge. And when it got really big, they wanted another lodge which practised the "other" ritual. That’s what brought Gothic Lodge into being. The Cedar Cottage area of South Vancouver already had a Canadian Work lodge — Composite Lodge No. 76 — and W. Bro. Arthur Mole of Park Lodge thought it'd be a good idea if there was an American Work lodge there, too. So, he and a couple of others rounded up other freemasons, most of them in Cedar Cottage, and 29 signed a petition for a dispensation. It was granted in October 1924, the lodge was instituted on January 25, 1925, and constituted as No. 111 on July 22nd of that year.
The lodge seems to have been doing okay. The DDGM’s reports every year praised it. The minutes reveal little more than ordinary business — but then, the lodge imploded. The members weren't happy with the hall at 27th and Victoria Drive. A number of them were dual members of Grandview Lodge No. 96 and thought a better meeting spot would be a mile or so up the road at Grandview’s hall at 1st and Salsbury Drive. So, a motion to move was unanimously passed on March 3, 1927. Two months later, a letter came from the Grand Secretary saying "You can't." The logic was that Gothic was warranted to meet in South Vancouver, and as its proposed meeting spot was in Vancouver, it couldn't move there. Think how your lodge would react if this happened to it. The Gothic members weren't happy and in September, a motion was passed at the Board of General Purposes to re-open the question of moving to Grandview. On October 6th, the DDGM showed up to tell the lodge the Grand Master’s decision was final and to work in peace and harmony where they were.
That night, a petition was received from John Wallace deBeque Farris, sponsored by Bros. George Miller and Robert Stewart. Farris’s name may draw blanks today — but not then. Farris had been a Liberal MLA and Attorney General in the John Oliver government until 1922 when he resigned to practice law. He later became a Supreme Court judge, then a senator. The Liberals were not very popular in 1927, and were a year away from being kicked out of office. Equate this with a former member of the Glen Clark cabinet petitioning your lodge. But, more importantly, Farris had been rejected at the ballot box in other lodges... three times, twice in Grandview Lodge. You can imagine the buzz. The Master — still W. Bro. Mole after more than 2 1/2 years — compounded the situation by bringing up the attitude of certain members toward the petitioner in open lodge. On January 5, 1928, the investigation committee on Farris reported favourably. That night, he was rejected at the ballot box. And though the minutes are silent, all hell broke loose. Fingers were pointed — inside and outside lodge — about who dropped the black ball. The lodge never held another regular communication again; the DDGM showed up before it could open on February 2nd and seized the warrant at the request of the Grand Master. The warrant was revoked by Grand Lodge that June, and the following May 22nd, nine members of the lodge (including Farris' sponsors) were ordered to appear before an emergent meeting of Grand Lodge to answer charges of un-masonic conduct. In one case, a brother pleaded guilty to speaking disrespectfully of a Grand Lodge officer. Imagine if we laid masonic charges for that today! More striking is the fact that charges had to be dropped in some cases because of a lack of evidence. One wonders how they were laid in the first place. It was also discovered the reason the minutes were silent in some places was because the Secretary, Bro. Horace McCrimmon, ripped out the pages. By the end of the meeting, he and W. Bro. Mole were expelled.
A lot of innocent freemasons were caught in the whirlwind of all this, so it was decided a new lodge would be formed from the remnants of the old. Thus, Keystone Lodge No. 121 was born, with three respected Past Masters in the principal chairs — including former South Vancouver reeve Jack Cornett — and another as secretary to ensure stability.
Gothic was our second Black Sheep Lodge. The first was Arrowsmith Lodge No. 62 on Vancouver Island. It’s a tale including rumours of German spies, abuse of native students, charges of indecent assault, a punch-out at a bar, and a Master being suspended.
The Twin Cities of Alberni and Port Alberni were jealous rivals. Alberni had been founded in 1886 by a former Great Lakes sea captain named George Huff. Soon, another little settlement sprung a couple of miles up Alberni Inlet, and when the Canadian Pacific Railway decided in 1907 to put a spur line terminus there instead of Alberni, it was named Port Alberni and the population jumped. By 1911, there were enough freemasons in both towns to form a lodge, so a meeting was held on August 7th, with Bro. Huff in the chair. Twenty-four freemasons signed the petition for a dispensation. It was granted and the lodge was instituted on August 19th.
It had problems immediately. The Master, W. Bro. Henry B. Currie, had been raised in the Canadian Work. For some reason, the lodge decided to adopt the American Work, even though the Master, Senior Warden Bro. Huff, both deacons and a number of the officers weren't familiar with it. W. Bro. Currie resigned, and the lodge borrowed an old Past Master who was familiar with the ritual from Ashlar Lodge No. 3 in Nanaimo.
The lodge was constituted August 7, 1912, and appears to have been plagued with problems. The Master was constantly away on business and never in lodge, so the Senior Warden acted as Master, then served three of the next four terms as Master. Other officers didn't advance and some of them left the lodge, including the first Master and both his Wardens. Then, the war hit and petitions were scarce.
The war also had another effect — it shone the spotlight on Germans in Canada, and there were two in Arrowsmith Lodge: Leonard Frank and his brother Bernie. Leonard Frank is known today as one of the finest photographers in the history of BC. Fortunately, little is remembered of the harassment he suffered during the war. Two letters were sent to the Victoria Times on November 2, 1914 and re-printed in the Port Alberni News. One complained about Frank’s appointment as BC’s official photographer, and the other griped that Bernie Frank had been named Postmaster of Alberni in March 1914. Bernie was called a "German-trained soldier" and "a pro-Boer of the worst type" while Leonard was skewered as being even more "Pro Boer". Editor Dick Burde came to the Franks' defence, pointing out Bernie was 17 when he arrived in Canada and thus could hardly be described as a soldier of any kind, and that the Postmaster General appointed him on the recommendation of the area’s MP.
But that wasn't the end of Leonard Frank’s troubles. He made the unfortunate observation to Burde that the Germans would lick the English in the war. Burde revealed this to another man, who picked a fight with Frank outside the Somass Hotel bar. Frank charged the man with assault. The magistrate ruled in favour of his brother freemason, and found the non-mason guilty, though there’s no suggestion the ties of the lodge played any role in the decision. Frank had demitted from the lodge by this time.
There were also claims swirling around that Frank had ties to the German "spy" Alvo Von Alvensleben (a member of Western Gate Lodge No. 48). Then there were claims that the British Secret Service "knew" that Frank’s photos were being sent back to Germany, as the Germans wanted to set up a base on western Vancouver Island. Finally, Frank was arrested on January 31, 1917, and charged with indecent assault of a child. The results of the court case are still unclear. It was all too much for him, and he left Alberni and came to Vancouver, where he resumed his photography business to great acclaim.
Back in the lodge, the discovery was made it had a forger on its hands, and a masonic trial was held on December 16, 1914. Bro. Donald Lowe’s confession to forging signatures to two mortgages was included in the minutes, and the lodge voted to recommend expulsion. And Grand Lodge expelled him. After the demise of Arrowsmith Lodge, it "unexpelled" him, and he remained a freemason until his death in 1971, contributing poetry and prose to our Masonic Bulletin as well.
But the real internal strife began in 1917. The lodge finally got a new Master: W. Bro. Ed Whyte. At Whyte’s first meeting, Bro. Anson Lynn tried to lay a complaint against him. It was temporarily defused by the Tyler, mediating with the two while the meeting carried on. But then in July, Bro. Lynn was at it again, charging the Master "with unmasonic conduct, in that he was guilty of a breach of trust while acting as Secretary Treasurer. of the Alberni Farmers Institute." W. Bro. Whyte was suspended as Master and never appeared in Arrowsmith Lodge again, but Bro. Lynn wasn't finished. In August, the acting Master deferred a petition and declared the order of business closed, but Lynn jumped to his feet and objected to Whyte’s signature being on the petition. The acting Master, Bro. Murdo Campbell, explained Whyte’s name had been erased and his had been substituted "this being satisfactory to the lodge." It wasn't satisfactory to Lynn, who proposed a motion demanding the action be recorded in the minutes.
The October 1917 meeting must have been something — the Secretary even omitted the standard phrase "peace and harmony prevailing" in the minutes. After a petition for initiation was rejected, the lodge dealt with a notice of motion to move the lodge from Alberni to rival Port Alberni. Bro. Lynn jumped up again, claiming the matter couldn't be dealt with because the mover wasn't present to make his motion. The acting Master, Bro. Campbell, ruled him out of order. Let the minutes explain what happened next:
Bro. Cox [the acting S.W.], in his remarks, spoke of the unpleasantness which had taken place in Arrowsmith Lodge during the last few months and said that he was almost ashamed to say he belonged to it. On being asked the nature of above by the Secretary, he would not say. Bro. Lynn then got up and asked permission to speak on the subject of removal. The W.M. ordered him to shut up and sit down and that he was out of order and that he was always trying to cause trouble in lodge.
Bro. Lynn then got up and asked the W.M. to have the Sec. put down the exact words he had used. The W.M. said the Sec. would not put them down. Bro. Lynn then asked the W.M. to have the members of the Lodge remember the exact words the W.M. had used to a Bro. M.M. of the lodge at a regular meeting. The Sec. then rose and told the W.M. that he would put down everything that was said.
As you might guess, all this hubbub was concerning the top guns in the Grand Lodge. The Deputy Grand Master, John Shaw, lived in Nanaimo, so he was instructed by the Grand Master to go to Alberni and try to settle things. He went three times; the last of the official visits was on January 16, 1918 when Bro. Lynn’s charge was finally brought up. RW Bro. Shaw ruled the matter was out of order because the charge should have been laid by the Junior Warden. By this time, the lodge had had its annual elections and had elected a new Master. The Wardens of the previous year were fed up with these antics and didn't want to advance, and the only other person now active in the lodge who was eligible was a PM who had returned to the lodge, W Bro. Currie, who still couldn't do the ritual, and admitted that in open lodge to RW Bro. Shaw. He couldn't have been a popular choice, either. Although a local alderman, Currie was the head of the Native Residential School, and disturbing reports were leaking out about abuse of the youngsters in Currie’s hands, in some cases, literally.
It was evident the lodge was in a shambles and the only solution was to suspend the warrant. The Grand Master so ordered it on February 25, 1918, but word didn't reach the brethren in Alberni, for the lodge conferred the EA Degree the following night. The warrant was picked up on March 20, 1918, after 15 members signed the porchbook in anticipation of a regular meeting.
In September the new DDGM called an informal meeting of the members. About 15 appeared, and most threw the blame for the lodge’s problems at W Bro. Whyte. The DDGM reported to Grand Lodge:
Several Brethren positively refused to again attend the lodge if certain brethren were to remain active members, and altogether I am inclined to think the grievances are too deep to be overcome, as there is no doubt in my mind, there are two decided factions in the lodge, which makes it impossible for peace and harmony to prevail.
I regret to say ... The affairs of Arrowsmith Lodge are apparently known to almost everyone in Alberni and Port Alberni, and for the good of the Craft, this is to be deplored.
Grand Lodge met in Vancouver on January 17, 1919 and decided to continue the suspension of the warrant until June 20, 1919, when it was revoked. However, Grand Lodge obviously wasn't going to let a population centre the size of the two Albernis remain without a lodge. Just several months later, Past Grand Master John Shaw got together a small, select number of local freemasons, and founded Barclay Lodge No. 90, taking the chair to keep out all dissension. It worked. Even W Bro. Whyte was allowed to affiliate a few years later. Bro. Lynn did not. It seems he spent some time in jail for pit-lamping before moving to Vancouver and joining a lodge there. W Bro. Currie didn't join the new lodge, no doubt to the relief of many. He finally was removed as head of the Residential School in 1927 after horror stories of whippings and beatings of native boys. Later, he was charged with raping one of the native girls. Incidentally, he was the last surviving founding member of Arrowsmith Lodge. He died in 1972 at age 98 and you can visit him at the Masonic Cemetery in Burnaby.
Before I conclude, you may be wondering why I bring up all this. Maybe you think we should leave it buried in the past and merrily skip along the chequered pavement, tra-la-ing that all is good and right. You have heard tonight two extreme examples of what happens when we allow disharmony to creep into our lodges. Even today, there’s far too much gossip and rumour and complaints... perhaps even in your lodge. Let us learn the lesson of unity and harmony; and practice it. Let us learn from, and not emulate, the Black Sheep Lodges of British Columbia.


© 1871-2012 Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M. Updated: 2002/03/20