150 Years of Freemasonry

    In 2009 Victoria Columbia Lodge no.1 celebrated 150 years of Freemasonry in Victoria. At the anniversary meeting the Past Grand Master, Stephen Godfrey, presented the following speech:

Freemasons are Builders

Bro. Toastmaster, Your Honours, Most Worshipful Grand Master, Your Worship, Worshipful Master, Ladies, Brethren, and Guests.

I add my congratulations to Victoria-Columbia Lodge on its celebration of the 150 years of Freemasonry here in Victoria and the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Masonic roots on the Pacific West Coast. Your lodge has a special place in our fraternity. To those who were the founders of your lodge as well as the thousands of Masons who have continued to rule the lodge we owe much.

To speak of Freemasonry in a short time is a daunting task. Our Masonic library in Vancouver contains several thousand volumes; our smaller Masonic library in our Masonic Hall here several hundreds. The University also has a vast collection of books on the same topic. It is said that after books written on nations of our world and the cultural differences of those nations that books on Freemasonry is the next largest category of books ever written.

Freemasonry has expanded around our world over time. From its early existence in England, men from all walks of life have joined lodges and become Master Masons. Explorers, businessmen, professionals, government workers, men in military, and many others, have all found reason to join. And many by circumstances have required to move to countries and other regions of our world to settle. It is no surprise therefore that when several brethren find themselves away from their native lands that they seek fellowship under the banner of Freemasonry. Professor John Money of the University of Victoria spoke to us in 1994 of his doctorate study of the establishment and development of villages and towns in Eastern Europe during the late 18th century. To his unexpected surprise he found that as each small village sprung up, so a lodge of Freemasons was also established; that the men who created the lodge were the principal founding fathers of the development of the settlement.

So it is no surprise that in the small emerging village of Victoria in the 1850s that Freemasons would at some time arrive in whatever capacity, and come together to consider chartering a new lodge. We are unsure of the months, and maybe years these masons were here before the suggestion of forming their own lodge was thought about. And we are unsure if they were well known to each other. Our assumptions would be that some of these Masons were know to each other and the topic of freemasonry was a regular discussion point. We do know that on July 10th, 1858, the following advert appeared in the Victoria Gazette.:

From the Victoria Gazette:

The members of the Ancient Order of F & A Masons in good standing are invited to meet on Monday, July 12th, at 7 o'clock P.M., in Southgate & Mitchell's new store, up stairs. The object of the meeting is to consider matters connecting with the permanent interests of the Order in Victoria.

The letters, F & AM [Free & Accepted Masons] strongly suggests that whoever composed the ad was from United States of America and a Mason from that country. Had he been from England and several other countries from Europe, he may have worded that title A. F. & A. M., [Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons]. The meeting was called to the new store belonging to J.J. Southgate and Wm. Mitchell. One of them if not both were from USA.

J. J. Southgate and Thomas Mitchell were business partners and on the completion of their new two story building, located at Yates and Langley Street, they gave a general invitation to all Freemasons to meet upstairs to discuss Freemasonry in Victoria.

We know that at least seven brethren attended that meeting. We know with some certainty that Southgate took charge. He became the first Worshipful Master. Others at that meeting were George Pearkes, William Jeffries, Amor de Cosmos, J. N. Thane and William H. Thane and R. J. McDonald.

Robert Burnaby arrived in town in the fall of 1858 just a few months after that first informal meeting of some Masons. His arrival is significant.

Burnaby was a civil servant, trained in London. He was employed by Colonel Richard Moody, a military engineer, sent to British Columbia in 1858 to command a regiment of Royal Engineers. Moody was chief of commissioner of lands and works as well as our first Lieutenant Governor. He supervised the exploration, mapping, surveying and road building. And it was Moody who hired Burnaby as his personal secretary. Burnaby's arrival in Victoria in the fall of 1858 was fortuitous. He was a Freemason, having been made a Mason in England in 1854 and he was a Past Master. He was young and keen about the fraternity and quickly connected with the small group of Masons. He brought experience English Masonic experience. Through his suggestion, he assisted the group to send to the United Grand Lodge of England requesting a charter to form a lodge under that Constitution. We know the charter was originally signed in London in March of 1859. For reasons unknown, it did not arrive in Victoria until August 1860.

Thus on August 20th 1860, Victoria Lodge No. 1085 was duly formed and its officers installed. And it was Wor. Bro. Robert Burnaby, assisted by Wor. Bro. Henry Aguilar who was on the H. M. S. Grapper, installed the Master and Officers.

We have the record of those first members:

  • WM: Wor. Bro. J. J. Southgate
  • SW: George Pearkes
  • JW William Jeffray
  • Tres: J. N. Thain
  • Sec: A, De Cosmos
  • SD: William H. Thain
  • JD: K. Gambitz
  • IG: L Franklin
  • OG: (Tyler) J. R. MacDonald
...a total of 11 members present.

Later, Wor. Bro. Burnaby affiliated with Victoria Lodge becoming its Master in 1865. He played a major role in successive years of establishing our Grand Lodge of British Columbia in 1871 with the assistance of Dr. Israel Wood Powell. Both men were Grand Lodge representatives and rulers of the English and Scottish lodges on Vancouver's Island and New Westminster #9 in number. They brought the several lodges to agree to form a Grand Lodge. In 1871 our Grand Lodge was duly formed. Thus within 12 years, 9 lodges were working in this still young province and from them our Grand Lodge was formed. Such was the interest and enthusiasm for Freemasonry in those early days.

The first man to be initiated in Victoria Lodge was Brother John Malowanski. He was a newsagent and tobacconist and later a fur agent in Victoria. Brother Malowanski was heavily involved in the Jewish community and it was he who, when the Lodge layed the corner stone of the Emanuel Synagogue in Victoria, was called upon to conduct much of the ceremony. In the Jewish faith only members could participate. It was left to W. Bro. Robert Burnaby to complete the ceremony.

From that very small beginning in 1859 our province has continued to grow. Within 150 years, 13 of our premiers have been Masons, John F. McCreight our first Premier followed by Amor de Cosmos as our second Premier, and the last was W. A. C. Bennett. 9 Lieutenant Governors of British Columbia were Masons, the last being Most Worshipful Brother Walter S. Owen, also Honourary Past Grand Master one of very few to be given that honour.

Local business man: Robert Butchart owner of our famous Butchart Gardens,
Armed Forces: Sir Arthur Currie local school teacher in Sidney at one time and Commander of the Canadian forces in W.W1.
Industry: J. H. Bloedell, partner of the McMillan Bloedell Forestry Company,
Religion: Bishop A. W. Sillitoes, first Bishop of New Westminster.
Entrepreneur: Charles Woodwood, founder of Woodward's General Department Store.
Police: Sam Steele of the N. W. M. P. and Henry Larsen, RCMP and Captain of the St. Roch ship serving the Arctic area for 20 years. Larsen was a member of Mt. Newton Lodge No. 89. They were all Freemasons and true builders in their own right.

And the same story can be told of other jurisdictions throughout the world. Leaders of every profession have at some time been members of Freemasonry. Today Freemasonry can be found in almost every country of our world. We can travel to foreign lands meet a brother and be immediately received and welcomed, treated royally, and made to feel a member of their family.

What is it then that calls men to join the fraternity? Freemasonry is a fraternity designed to teach morality and ethics, and to train good men to make themselves of service to their families and their communities in a positive way. It teaches its members to be active in their chosen faith, and subscribes to no partisan politics. It also teaches its members to be active in civic concerns. We are taught in our first lessons that neither politics nor religion will be subjects of discussion in our lodge meetings. Ours is to learn. We consider our lodges, schools of knowledge and learning.

We find modesty in our lodges. A Master of a lodge may have within his officers a brother who in civic life is his superior, and yet within the lodge the Master's authority holds sway. Harmony, peace and concord is paramount in a lodge meeting.

Freemasons are life long learners. In lodge, many subjects to enlighten us are presented by the members. A high level of support and encouragement is always present; the young Mason is listened to as acutely as a Mason of many years standing.

Our tenets, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth remind each of us in daily life, the meaning and purpose of Freemasonry; that we treat all people with honesty and integrity - Brotherly Love; that where we see the need, we offer aid and assistance - relief; that we continue to learn, seeking answers, improving our knowledge - Truth. To that end we create our personal philosophy of life.

Our history has been but short compared to other jurisdictions of Freemasonry. England will be celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry in 2017.

Freemasonry is the oldest fraternity in existence today. We have and will continue to be a major fraternity in our Province and Yukon Territory. Since 1859 we have developed many concordant bodies which have as their members those from Craft Lodges, Royal Arch Chapter, Scottish Rite, Shrine, the Order of Eastern Star, Daughters of the Nile, Amaranth, for Ladies, Job's Daughters and DeMolay for young people. And none of this would have been possible had it not been for 7 men who met in Langley Street in Southgate and Mitchell's second story room in 1858.

John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize winner for Literature said: It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him. Freemasonry speaks to each member that same message. We strive to be workers for good in our society; Freemasonry teaches us lessons to put meaning to life, and to be better than we are. It shows to us that greatness is possible and is expected of us. We achieve personal satisfaction from having done our best.

Our thanks then goes to Bro. J.J. Southgate for opening British Columbia and Yukon to Freemasonry, and to all those who have followed, stewards of our fraternity. Because of them we celebrate 150 years of the fraternity this evening. May it be that through today's diligent stewardship of our fraternity, that our future members will, like us, assemble in 2159 to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry here in the Pacific Northwest.

Stephen Godfrey PGM
16th May 2009.
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