History of Freemasonry in Canada
Article © by Bro. Dave Clark, J.W.
This is an extremely condensed History of Masonry in Canada and for the sake of brevity I only include that which takes us up to the independence and creation of the Grand Lodge of Canada. This article wouldn’t be possible without the leadership, resources and exhaustive work of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario.
Many people subscribe to the belief that modern Masonry began on 24 June 1717, when four Lodges in London England constituted themselves into a Grand Lodge. This Lodge eventually was to become the Grand Lodge of England.
Other people would believe that Masonry dates back even further to the Middle Ages and was conceived from the British stone masons.
In reality, both statements would be correct depending on the context in which it was given. When a person states that Freemasonry began in 1717 they are referring to modern constituted masonry in the form with which we are familiar with today. Since historical documents indicate that Craft Lodges existed prior to this date, then, the other statement, too, is correct.
To unconditionally accept the date of 1717 as the absolute beginning of Masonry is about as accurate as to state, for example, that the history of the USA began in 1776, or the history of any Country began with the reign of any given Monarch. Please keep in mind that this statement is based on my own humble opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other Masons, My Grand Lodge or Freemasonry in general.
The problem with tracing Freemasonry back even further is the absence of irrefutable documentation. Many people would like to connect modern Masonry with the legendary Knights Templars or the craftsman of King Solomon’s Temple. Unfortunately, irrefutable proof in the form of historically accurate documents for these alleged connections do not exist and therefore cannot be claimed.
In the beginning
Approximately around 1350, stonemasons began to form trade guilds, which were eventually to be called lodges.
Due to a declining membership around 1600 onward these lodges began to accept non-operative masons which are now referred to as speculative masons. Over the next 125 years several lodges are known to have had non-operatives (speculative masons) that outnumbered operatives, such as:
1695, Chichester; and
1693 onward, London & Yorkshire
The Earliest Masons in America
Possibly the earliest trace of Masonry in America is on a flat slab of stone found on the shore of Goat Island, in the Annapolis Basin, Nova Scotia. Cut into one face are the square and compasses and the date 1606. More that likely it was the grave marker of a French stonemason who had settled at Port Royal with DeMonts and Champlain in 1605.
The first undoubted accepted Mason on this side of the Atlantic was John Skene. On the membership roll of the Lodge at Aberdeen in 1670 he is listed as “Merchant and Mason.” He served as Deputy Governor of East Jersey from 1685 to 1690.
In a letter, by Jonathan Belcher, Governor of Massachusetts, initiated in 1704, written on 25 September 1741 and addressed to the First Lodge in Boston, stated:
It is now Thirty Seven years since I was admitted into the ancient and Honorable Society of Free and accepted Masons, to whom I have been a faithful Brother, and well-wisher to the art of Masonry. I shall ever maintain a strict friendship for the whole Fraternity; and always be glad when it may fall in my power to do them any Services.
In the possession of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario is a parchment scroll eight feet six inches in length and six and a quarter inches wide bearing the hand written version of the “Old Manuscript Constitution” which governed the operative craft. It is endorsed as follows.
Memorandum: that at a private Lodge held at Scarborough in the County of York, the tenth day of July 1705, before William Thompson, Esq., President of the said Lodge, and several others, brethren, Free Masons, the several persons whose names are hereunto subscribed were then admitted into the said Fraternity: Ed. Thompson, Jo. Tempest, Robt. Johnson, Tho. Lister, Samuel Buck, Richard Hudson.
Notice that the date on this scroll dated 1705 referring to a Masonic Lodge in Canada that precedes that of the forming of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717.
Let us now go to the beginning of the advent of modern Masonry on 24 June 1717, when four Lodges in London England constituted themselves into a Grand Lodge. This Lodge eventually was to become the Grand Lodge of England.
Approximately eight years later, around 1725, The Grand lodge of Ireland was organized and then the Grand Lodge of Scotland was organized in 1736.
The difference in usages of the F. & A.M. and the A.F. & A.M. took place in 1751 when some Masons accused the original Grand Lodge of making innovation in the body of Masonry, and formed a rival Grand Lodge of England which was referred to as the “Ancients.”
So the F. & A.M. came from the original Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) created in 1717 and the A.F. & A.M. came from the rival Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) created in 1751 who wanted to maintain the “Ancient” ways of the Craft.
Advent of “Duly Constituted” Masonry in America
On 05 June 1730 the Grand Master of England appointed Colonel Daniel Coxe as Provincial Grand Master of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for a two year term. Colonel Coxe eventually became one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the Province of New Jersey.
On either 13 or 30 April 1733 The Grand Master of England had named Major Henry Price as the Provincial Grand Master of New England and the Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging. On 30 July 1733 Major Price formed his Grand Lodge; and immediately, in response to a petition from a number of Masons who had been meeting “according to the Old Customs”, warranted a lodge to meet at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes, on King Street, in Boston. This lodge, which is still working today under the name “St John’s Lodge”, Boston, is the oldest duly constituted lodge in America. In 1734 Major Price’s sphere extended and he was named P.G.M. (Provincial Grand Master) of North America.
During the next few years warrants were issued to several lodges, either by the Grand Lodge of England or the P.G.L. (Provincial Grand Lodge) of North America:
01 October 1734 – Montserrat, in the Leeward Islands
21 February 1735 – Philadelphia, with Benjamin Franklin as Master
30 October 1735 – Savannah, Georgia.
05 February 1736 – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
28 October 1736 – Charleston, South Carolina
(some of these dates are approximate due to petition dates and constitution dates differing)
By 1749 there were only 10 Lodges in the whole region of the thirteen colonies but Masonry was growing slowly. By 1762 the number of lodges had risen to 50, and by 1772 that number of lodges increased to 100.
Various sources of Masonry
The Premier grand Lodge of England (later known as the Moderns) was the only body of duly constituted Masonry to take an interest in America prior to 1755.
The Lodge of Kilwinning (Mother Kilwinning) in Scotland withdrew from the Grand Lodge of Scotland and acted as an independent warranting body from 1743 to 1807. It chartered several lodges in Virginia between 1755 and 1758.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland warranted no civilian lodges in the colonies before the revolution, but was, the largest issuer of “travelling” warrants to regimental lodges. The earliest military lodge to work in America was No. 85, I.C. (Irish Constitution), in Frampton’s (30th) Regiment of Foot; it was stationed in the garrison at Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, in 1746.
The Grand Lodge of Scotland founded lodges at Blandford, Virginia and at Boston, in 1756. Subsequently other Scottish lodges were formed in the Southern colonies.
The Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) established a P.G.L. of Nova Scotia in 1757 which began to warrant lodges within the thirteen colonies in 1758. The Ancients and their allies were hostile to the Moderns, and in several colonies there were rival Grand Lodges.
In 1813, on the Eastern side of the Atlantic the Ancients and the Moderns finally amalgamated to form the United Grand Lodge of England.
First Provincial Grand Lodge of Upper Canada
The P.G.L of Upper Canada owed its existence to the zeal and enthusiasm of a number of brethren in Quebec, the most notable of whom was Bro. Alexander Wilson. There were in that Province three lodges which held their warrants from the Ancient Grand Lodge of England. These lodges felt that the Craft in Canada would be more prosperous if there were a governing body on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Accordingly, Bro. Wilson requested the Grand Lodge to warrant a P.G.L. for Canada. The brethren assumed that there would be a single P.G.M. for Canada and a Substitute Grand Master for each of Upper and Lower Canada.
In 1791, however, the Constitutional Act divided Canada politically into Upper and Lower Canada, and the Grand Lodge chose to follow this pattern.
On 07 March 1792 the Grand Lodge named His Royal Highness Prince Edward as P.G.M. for Lower Canada and William Jarvis as P.G.M. (or more properly Substitute Grand Master) for Upper Canada. Although both men had the title P.G.M., only Prince Edward was given the authority to issue warrants for lodges, whereas Jarvis could only grant dispensations for the holding of lodges. The earliest record of activity was not until July 1795 When a meeting of the P.G.L. was called in Niagara.
In 1797 the seat of government for Upper Canada was moved from Niagara to York (now Toronto). Jarvis, as a government official for Upper Canada, moved to York as well; he took with him his warrant as P.G.M. This created a problem. Without the warrant the Brethren in Niagara could not legally act as a P.G.L. Due to the long absence and indifference of Jarvis the Brethren in Niagara elected and installed Bro. George Forsyth as P.G.M. In December 1802 to replace Jarvis, thus creating the Schismatic Grand Lodge at Niagara.
Several factors led to the Brethren in Niagara to break away from the P.G.L. The most serious was Jarvis’s apathy; he was a too busy with civic duties to spare much time for the Craft, and as well he seemed disdainful of the Masonic Fraternity in upper Canada.
A great rift arose when the Brethren decided to form a Grand Lodge of their own and declared themselves independent of the mother Grand Lodge of England. This did not sit well with many Upper Canadian Masons. In general, the lodges south and west of Lake Ontario sided with Niagara while those north and east remained loyal.
Over the next twenty years Officers were elected and installed and their Grand Lodge issued ten warrants for new lodges, all in the Niagara peninsula and Western Ontario. As these actions were irregular from the point of view of strict Masonic jurisprudence, hardly one of the English lodges in the province was working under proper authority.
The new P.G.M., Simon McGillivray, arrived in Canada in July 1822. He was an able man, and an experienced Mason, but a grim set of problems confronted him. The first P.G.M., William Jarvis, had been empowered to only grant one-year dispensations for the holding of lodges, but not to issue warrants. Not only had he, in defiance of the terms of his patent, granted warrants, but he had neglected to enter his lodges on the register of Grand Lodge.
A firm hand was needed, but in a velvet glove. Within four months McGillivray had brought order out of chaos, and restored brotherly love across the province. In 1823 the book of Constitutions was printed in Kingston.
The Grand Lodge of Canada
In a circular prepared in September 1855 the following list of grievances were set forth and subsequently given wider currency.
“The first and most important is the diversity of interests and the want of harmony in action and in working, resulting from the growth in the Province of lodges hailing from the Grand Lodges of different countries, thus perpetuating the local national feelings and prejudices, and conflicting interests, and consequent estrangement of affection, amongst the brethren of an Order that knows no country and is confined to no race.
The second is the manifest injustice of lodges in this Province being required, out of their limited means, to contribute to the accumulated funds of the Grand Lodge of England, in addition to having to support a Provincial Grand Lodge, and especially as the great proportion of claims for Masonic assistance that are daily and hourly occurring in this Province, are made by brethren emigrating from the mother country, whilst instances of Masons leaving this for England, in a position to require such relief, are rare, if they ever occur at all. The Grand Lodge of England thus doubly tax the fraternity here by transferring to these shores numberless claimants for Masonic benevolence, at the same time that they are receiving from us a portion of our means of affording that assistance.
The third is the inconvenience arising from the lengthened periods that must elapse, in consequence of the distance between us and the Grand Lodge of England, before we can receive replies to our communications, sanctions to our proceedings, warrants, certificates of membership, &c., even in cases of emergency, and instances have often occurred of brethren being deprived of the privileges of the Craft by leaving for foreign Countries before the arrival of their certificates, for which, it must be borne in mind, they had paid previously to their initiation. This disadvantage is acknowledged and complied with, but which, unhappily, is far from being the case, important communications having frequently remained without reply for months, and in some cases for years, greatly to the inconvenience of the fraternity here, and notwithstanding that complaints of such neglect have been repeatedly represented to the Grand Lodge of England through the regular channel of communication, and also by resolutions of the Provincial Grand Lodge through the Grand Registrar of England, they have as yet received no attention nor redress, a neglect highly discourteous towards the Masons of Canada, and seriously injurious to the general interests of the Craft.
The last, but, in our estimation, by no means the least of the alleged grievances, is the appointment of our Provincial Grand Master by the Grand Master of England, which virtually leaves the appointment in the hands of the Masons in England – who, at a distance of nearly 4,000 miles, may reasonable be expected to be practically ignorant of the social position and requirements of the Craft in Canada – and inasmuch as the Provincial Grand Officers are nominated by the Provincial Grand Master, the efficiency or inefficiency of the administration of our affairs depends entirely upon the eligible or ineligible selection of a Provincial Grand Master made for us by the Grand Master of England – and this selection is made without reference to the opinions of the fraternity in Canada, as to the Masonic zeal or interest in the Craft, attainments and general qualifications of the nominee, although they would naturally be the best informed on the subject and most deeply interested in the result.”
The Provincial Grand Lodge, thus constituted, is placed in the equivocal position of being responsible to and independent of the Craft in Canada, whilst experience has shown that body to be unable to secure from the Grand Lodge of England the attention and respect due to their position of Provincial Grand Lodge.
William Mercer Wilson observed “A Grand Lodge cannot create a Grand Lodge”. If independence was to be achieved, there was no alternative to rebellion. The die was cast in Hamilton on 10 October 1855. A notice of the meeting was communicated to every lodge in Canada and just under half sent delegates to Hamilton.
A resolution was presented and passed, another declaration was adopted which was recorded in the minutes as follows:
“It was then moved by W.Bro. G.L. Allen [ of King Solomon’s, Toronto], seconded by W.Bro. Wm. Bellhouse [of Strict Observance, Hamilton], and unanimously adopted: that we, the representatives of regularly warranted Lodges here in convention assembled – Resolve: that the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Canada, be, and is hereby formed upon thh2ancient charges and constitution of Masonry.”
Under the chairmanship of William Mercer Wilson a new constitution was prepared and duly adopted.
Most of the historical information in this document came from the book “Whence come we?” and is made available mainly for the purpose of educating the new candidate of the Craft. It is copyrighted so please do not inadvertently copy and use this information without the permission of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario.
The scope of this history as portrayed in this article is merely to give a brief understandable history and does not even come close to the detail provided in the actual book. I highly recommend purchasing your own copy of “Whence come we?” to any Mason interested in the history of our Fraternity in the Province of Ontario. There are also details concerning the beginnings of the Craft in North America which includes the U.S., having dates of when and where early lodges were constituted, under which constitution, etc… making the book relevant to any Masonic Historian or library.
Wiki2 – Wikipedia republished