The Edges of Time: Cornerstones and Time Capsules of Early Victoria

Independent Order of the Odd Fellows

“…we are here to-day to inaugurate the enterprise by laying the first foundation or corner stone in the structure with the solemn ceremonies befitting such an occasion.” - Charles Gowen, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, April 29, 1879

Where the action was! This image depicts the laying of the cornerstone for the Independent Order of Odd Fellow’s hall on Douglas street, near Yates. The ceremony appears to have successfully peaked the curiosity of Victoria’s citizens, amongst them those who were brave enough to perch on the neighbouring roof for a bird’s-eye view. Close inspection of the image suggests that some of Victoria’s disenfranchised minority citizens watched from the periphery as the cornerstone was laid.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (commonly abbreviated as I.O.O.F.) has a long history of fraternal fellowship and organization in British Columbia, dating back to 1864. Construction of a new hall for members of Victoria’s three lodges was a significant event in the year of 1879, attracting much attention and interest from fraternal members and other community residents.

The first lodge of Odd Fellows was instituted in Victoria, Vancouver Island, on March 10, 1864.1 Many of Victoria’s first colonists were already familiar with the I.O.O.F., as lodges had been independently established in both England and the United States before extensive colonization of Vancouver Island began.2 Membership with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and other fraternal organizations was considered a respectable pursuit for island colonists, and five men were installed as the original officers of Lodge No. 1 on the eve of the first meeting.3

The local Colonist newspaper continued to reference various activities and events of the Odd Fellows as membership grew and more lodges were established. In June of 1864, a emblematic seal was developed for the Odd Fellows by the local engraver, Mr. Watson;4 one year later, lodge rooms were established on the upper floor of a building on the corner of Fort and Wharf streets.5 In 1870, fire and arson further intensified the history of Victoria’s Odd Fellows.6 All of these activities were noteworthy of mention in the local papers, but the single most exciting event for the I.O.O.F. in Victorian times was the laying of the cornerstone for the new hall near the corner of Yates and Douglas streets.