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 page wouldn't be
possible without the leadership, resources and exhaustive work of
the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario.
The Earliest Mason's 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 than 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
predates that of the forming of the Grand Lodge of England in
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,
05 February 1736 - Portsmouth, New
28 October 1736 - Charleston, South
(some of these dates are
approximate due to petition dates and constitution dates
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.
First Provincial Grand Lodge of
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
In 1797 the seat of government for
Upper Canada was moved from Niagra 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 Niagra could
not legally act as a P.G.L. Due to the long absence and
indifference of Jarvis the Brethren in Niagra elected and
installed Bro. George Forsyth as P.G.M. In December 1802 to
replace Jarvis, thus creating the Schismatic Grand Lodge at Niagra.
Several factors led to the
Brethren in Niagra 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
Niagra 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 Niagra 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
Grand Lodge of
First Grand Master
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 Soloman'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 the ancient charges and constitution of
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.
This book was published
by the authority of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Canada in
the Province of Ontario and was written through the collaboration
of thirty-nine brethren from Master Mason to Past Grand Masters,
some of which are eminent historians.
The scope of this
history as portrayed on this web page 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.
The book can be purchased by any
Mason in good standing, through the Secretary of his Lodge.
It is sold by the:
Grand Secretary's Office
363 King Street West
PO Box 217, Hamilton, Ontario.