A short history of Freemasonry in Yukon
Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, March 2, 2002
by RW Bro. Jacques BoilY, Whitehorse Lodge No. 46
The Yukon Territory, an area of 186,661 square miles lies in the extreme northwest of Canada directly north of the province of British Columbia. It stretches north above the Arctic Circle to border the Beaufort Sea and its capital is the city of Whitehorse. The mighty Yukon River, from its source at the Llewellyn Glacier high above Atlin Lake in northwestern British Columbia, runs for a distance of approximately 2,300 miles northward through the Yukon Territory, via the cities of Whitehorse and Dawson City, continuing westwards across Alaska where it empties into the Bering Sea, north of Norton Sound.
Just how Freemasonry was introduced into the Yukon Territory is difficult to determine but in 1844 ships from England and San Francisco were arriving at Fort Victoria in British Columbia. In 1849 Vancouvers Island, with its capitol in Victoria was proclaimed a British Colony by Great Britain. It was in 1866 that the mainland and island colonies were merged into a single entity then known as the Colony of British Columbia and on July 1, 1887 the first Dominion Day was celebrated in British Columbia and she assumed her place as a province of the Dominion of Canada.
With the population growth and existence of Freemasonry now becoming established, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of British Columbia was consecrated on the 26th day of December, 1871. As a matter of interest it is believed that in 1778, Captain James Cook became the first Freemason to set foot in what is now the province of British Columbia.
Freemasonry was introduced in the Yukon Territory during the years of the Gold Rush. The first signs of a masonic gathering appears to have taken place at Lake Bennett where a photo of some 50 or so members of the Craft was taken. During the Gold Rush era it is believed that Freemasons performed many acts of charity to those who had either fallen ill, been robbed or had met with unfortunate accidents. Today if you were to follow their footsteps you would find a masonic grave site at Lake Bennett and two more graves with headstones displaying the square and compasses along Tagish Lake.
The Dawson City newspaper published an article on June 25, 1898 about a meeting between the Freemasons and Odd Fellows. A gathering of Freemasons was held at the Pioneer Hall on Saturday evening, which indicated that nearly one half of those men arriving in Dawson City this year were members of the fraternity. This meeting was of a social nature and is supposed to have been the first gathering of Freemasons in Dawson City. Soon afterwards a masonic organization was formed to look after the sick in general and members of the fraternity who were in trouble.
In order to provide you with a short but understandable history of Freemasonry in the Yukon Territory, the introduction of White Pass Lodge No. 1 in Alaska must be included. White Pass Lodge is proud of its historical standing as being the oldest active masonic lodge in the state of Alaska. On June 13, 1901 White Pass Lodge No. 113 was chartered under the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington.
On March 31, 1981, it gave up its Charter under the Grand Lodge of Washington and accepted a Charter from the newly formed Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Alaska. It is interesting to note here that the Grand Lodge of Alaska was the first new Grand Lodge to have been constituted in the United States of America since 1889. All Masonic Lodges under the Alaska Grand Lodge received their Charters in the order which they were first constituted under the Grand Lodge of Washington. Hence, since Skagways' White Pass Lodge is the oldest Masonic Lodge in Alaska, it received the honour of becoming lodge No. 1. This lodge has long been blessed with a high caliber membership, many of whom excelled in their fields of endeavor. Many Brethren from this lodge were instrumental in the forming of new lodges in Juneau, Douglas, Ketchikan and Fairbanks, Alaska as well as Whitehorse, Yukon. The members and officers of White Pass Lodge played an important roll in installing the first officers of Whitehorse Lodge in 1903.
Yukon Lodge No. 45
Since no true lodge had ever been known to exist in Dawson City, a Masonic Association was formed in the fall of 1898. The Brethren gathered for several social events but spent most of their time assisting the unfortunate who were sick or friendless. In March of 1900 the Masonic Association reorganized into a committee that would contact all Masons in the Klondike in an effort to formally institute a lodge in the Yukon Territory. The majority of Masons supported the effort, so another committee was appointed to open correspondence with the Grand Lodge of Manitoba
Now here is an interesting point. Looking at a map of Canada one wonders why an aspiring lodge in Dawson City would seek to link itself with the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. Well, as the Yukon Territory was experiencing a population explosion, a controversy erupted as to whether the Grand Lodge of British Columbia or the Grand Lodge of Manitoba had jurisdiction over this Territory. In 1898 both Grand Lodges met and agreed that it was "open territory" masonically and either Grand Lodge had the right to establish lodges here.
In the summer of 1900 meetings were held once a week for social purposes and to distribute charity. On August 21, 1900, a petition for the formation of a lodge, this time by the name of "Yukon Lodge", was presented to the members for their signatures. On December 18, 1900, an election of officers was held and a letter from the Grand Lodge was read to the Brethren authorizing the institution of a lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Dawson City. On December 27,1900, Yukon Lodge No. 79 under dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Manitoba met for the first time. In 1901 its Charter was issued and a new masonic District was created for the Yukon Territory.
The lodge functioned (or some would say suffered) for six years under its Manitoba Charter but soon found that its business relations had become more directly connected to British Columbia, as western Canada developed. It became obvious to the members that aligning themselves with the Grand Lodge of British Columbia could only enhance their efforts for a successful masonic lodge. In 1907 Yukon Lodge No. 79 surrendered its Charter to the Grand Lodge of Manitoba and a new Charter was then issued by the Grand Lodge of British Columbia to Yukon Lodge, to be now numbered 45 under its registry.
The current lodge building, with its interesting and colourful history, was acquired in 1933. On August 29, 1933, at an emergent communication of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, the Grand Master presided at the dedication of the newly acquired masonic building. This building was originally built for the Dawson Free Library and called the Carnegie Library. It was completed in 1904 with a $25,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. With over 5,000 volumes of books, it was considered the most elaborate building in Dawson City. In 1920, after severe fire damage to the basement and main floor area the library was moved to the public school and the building was closed. Yukon Lodge No. 45 purchased the building in 1932 for the sum of $400. Gradually this grand old structure, with its beautifully appointed lodge room is slowly being returned to its original state by the lodge members who take justifiable credit in their efforts to restore this historical monument.
Whitehorse Lodge No. 46
The first form of a masonic organization in Whitehorse was a picnic held during the summer of 1901, at which VW Bro. Stephen J . Chadwick of White Pass Lodge No. 113, Skagway, Alaska was an honoured guest. To the surprise of many, it was found that at this time there were approximately 40 Freemasons residing in the Whitehorse area.
W Bro. R.D. Penneo, a Past Master of White Pass Lodge saw the possibility of establishing a lodge here and directed his enthusiasm toward that end. He was at that time a cashier with the British Yukon Navigation Co. and a member of various masonic organizations. The first masonic meeting was held on November 6, 1901, at the Post Office building with 28 Freemasons present. It was at this meeting that a temporary chairman and a secretary were chosen to address the possibilities of forming a masonic club that would later obtain a dispensation to form the first masonic lodge in Whitehorse.
On St. Johns Day, December 27, 1901, at a general meeting, it was decided to apply for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Manitoba to form the first masonic lodge in Whitehorse. A dispensation was granted on March 5, 1902 and at that time an amount of $300 was advanced by twelve Brethren for the purchase of furnishings and needed supplies. The first Principal Officers were Dr. N.J. Lindsay, W. Master; R.D. Pinneo, Senior Warden; and C.W. Pennefather, Junior Warden. On June 11, 1903, a Charter was issued by the Grand Lodge of Manitoba to Whitehorse Lodge No. 81. On June 16, 1907, Whitehorse Lodge successfully petitioned the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and became known in this jurisdiction as Whitehorse Lodge No. 46.
On September 18, 1967, the lodge moved into its new building located at 505 Lambert Street and has been mortgage-free since 1975.
Atlinto Lodge No. 42
Establishing Atlinto Lodge in the remote northwest corner of British Columbia was not easy, and finding written factual evidence of the events that led to a charter being issued are now hard to come by.
Atlins remote location made it difficult to maintain close contact with other Lodges in the jurisdiction. When RW Bro. J.A. Fraser of Atlin was appointed to the office of District Deputy Grand Master in 1907, he was required to pay official visits to Whitehorse and Dawson City whose lodges along with Atlinto constituted District No. 11. In order to carry out his obligations he gave up a month of his time traveling during the navigation season, at his own expense. It was on this trip that he presented Whitehorse Lodge with its new Charter from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia. The Grand Masters would need six weeks to complete their tour of District No. 11 from Vancouver, which would begin with a boat trip to Skagway, Alaska.
Atlinto resident members were not sufficient to keep masonry alive in Atlin. In 1949-50 an all weather road was constructed connecting Atlin to the Alaska Highway, which made it possible for Whitehorse based Freemasons to travel to Atlin in support of Atlinto Lodge, which prolonged their presence in Atlin for some twenty-five more years. In 1978 Atlinto Lodge made its new home at the Masonic Temple in Whitehorse where a fully furnished lodge meeting room is shared with other members of the masonic family of organizations. The furnishings from Atlinto Lodge found a new home in Mackenzie, B.C. and the lodge changed from the Canadian to the Ancient Work. It is interesting to note that at this time W Bro. Herman Peterson is the only member of Atlinto Lodge still residing full time in Atlin.
Northern Lights Lodge No. 157
Freemasonry in the Mayo, Elsa and Keno district of the Yukon Territory dates back to approximately 1921, when a group of Brethren active in the practice of Freemasonry formed a masonic club. These Brethren kept active by assisting those who were either sick or had found themselves in bad financial circumstances. In 1925, the Grand Master ruled that, while he approved of their charitable work, they could not continue to use the name "Masonic" and so the name was changed to "The Ashlar Club" and only Freemasons were accepted as members. The Ashlar Club continued to function through and beyond the depression years of 1929 to 1934, when mining activity nearly ceased to exist.
In 1953, MW Bro. Lawrence Healy granted a dispensation to form a lodge in Mayo, Yukon. This lodge operated under dispensation for two years until June 23, 1955, when it received its charter and adopted the name of Northern Lights Lodge No. 157. Unfortunately after many years of inactivity, in August of 1980, the Grand Master lifted their charter, the furniture and regalia were given to a lodge in Stewart, B.C. and while their old building still stands today, it was sold and is now being used as a storage warehouse by the Yukon Government.
Royal Arch masonry
Royal Arch masonry has been present in Yukon since 1907, when a Charter was issued to Klondike Chapter No. 154 by the Grand Chapter of Canada. Yukon Chapter No. 256 was granted a Charter in 1950 and officially constituted and dedicated on January 17 1951.
Klondike Chapter flourished for many decades but as the gold dwindled so did the population of Dawson City and so did the membership in Klondike Chapter. It relinquished its Charter in the early 1950s and today only Yukon Chapter No 38 remains in Whitehorse. Yukon Chapter received its Charter from the Grand Chapter of British Columbia in 1957.
In 1979 the Grand Chapter of British Columbia became the Grand Chapter of British Columbia and Yukon.
Over the vears Yukon Chapter grew and reached a membership of over 100 in the 1980s but by the year 2000 it had slipped to only 66 members.
Yukon Chapter has had two Grand First Principals. In 1975 Ex. Comp. Cy (Shorty) Biddulph was installed in this high office and in 1989, Ex. Comp. Thomas 0. Mickey assumed the office of Grand First Principal and in May 1990 held the first Grand Chapter Convocation in Whitehorse, Yukon.
St. Andrews Preceptory No. 48
St. Andrews Preceptory was instituted on August 21,1907 in Dawson City and on August 12, 1908 a Warrant of Constitution was granted. It flourished in the early years but in the early 1950s the Warrant was moved to Prince George, B.C.
Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine
The first Shrine Club in the Yukon was formed in Dawson City on December 8, 1909, and was known as the Dawson Mystic Shrine Club. They hosted Gezeh Temple Shrine Ceremonials in 1910 and again in 1914. It remained active until 1929.
Yukon Shrine Club No. 30 received its charter in 1967 and has remained active ever since. In 1985 they hosted the first Ceremonial ever in Whitehorse when Illustrious Sir Ken Smith was Potentate of Gizeh Temple.
In 1992, on the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway, Yukon Shrine Club No. 30 initiated the process to erect two highway roadside signs to advertise and recognize the masonic family of organizations in Whitehorse. These two signs, one to the north and one to the south about fifteen miles from the city of Whitehorse were erected. Noble Jacques Boily cooerdinated this project and should be credited for the expertise and workmanship in the framing and erection of these signs.
Order of the Eastern Star
The presence of the Order of the Eastern Star has been visible in Yukon for some time. Dawson City Chapter No. I was disbanded in 1968. On September 6, 1945 Whitehorse Chapter No. 2 was instituted under the General Grand Chapter and received its charter on May 28, 1946.
On December 13, 1969 Whitehorse Chapter No. 2 joined the Grand Chapter of British Columbia and became known as Whitehorse Chapter No. 95.
Freemasonry in Yukon has experienced some difficult times but has also enjoyed some good times. We have survived for over 100 years and like Freemasons from many other jurisdictions, are searching for ways to improve our craft and make it more attractive without altering the grand principals by which we are taught to live. Yukon is still a young territory with only one direction in which to go and that is forward. Now that we are known as the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, and are truly a part of this great and grand jurisdiction we too can move forward and progress.
Finally I would like to conclude by thanking those dedicated collectors of history who have provided me with the material for this brief presentation especially RW Bro. Tom Mickey without whose help I might still be researching after Grand Masonic Day.