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Manitoba History: Inside King Solomon’s Temple: A Brief Glimpse into Early Masonry in Red River, 1864-1869

by Gillian Covernton
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 49, June 2005

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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The history of the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons is complex and cloaked in mystery. Their place in the development of the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg has been almost uncharted territory. An investigation into Masonry in Manitoba reveals that many of Red River and Winnipeg’s aspiring businessmen, even including all but one Premier of Manitoba until 1967, shared membership in this fraternal organisation. Masonry had already been established as a respectable and exclusive institution in the rest of Canada, England and in the United States, but Masonry in Manitoba was unique in purpose. A significant portion of the business community in Manitoba negotiated their status as respectable Victorian men using the language and symbolism of Masonic rites and the nature of Masonic identity. By performing private rituals and participating in public performances, Masons demonstrated their communal attitudes and beliefs. Masonry must be regarded as a system of moral and ethical instruction in Manitoba as it is necessary to an understanding of the construction of Victorian culture in early Winnipeg. In order to uncover the nature of this “secret society,” which was really anything but secret, it is necessary to venture inside King Solomon’s Temple.

Many people living in the City of Winnipeg today would recognise the accompanying picture as the Masonic Temple on the corner of Ellice Avenue and Donald Street in the downtown area. However, the first Masons to practice in Manitoba did not recite their rituals within the walls of this elaborate building. The first official meeting of the Northern Light Lodge was held on 8 November 1864 in a room over the store of merchant, A. G. B. Bannatyne. This store was at the corner of Post Office Street and Main Street, which is now the corner of Main Street and Lombard Avenue. No matter the room, Masons always designed the spaces they operated in to represent King Solomon’s Temple. The Lodge met every Monday night in order to confer degrees and deal with other business and these meetings were advertised in the Nor’Wester. In a community the size of Red River and in consideration of the fact that the lodge met regularly on Monday nights, this was hardly necessary. It is more likely that the meetings were advertised in order to demonstrate who belonged to the Lodge.

A. G. B. Bannatyne’s store in the Red River Settlement, the site of the first meeting of the Northern Light Lodge in November of 1864.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

Prior to the Red River Rebellion, the Northern Light Lodge was the only lodge in Manitoba and received its charter from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. Although small in numbers, the character of membership in the Northern Light Lodge foreshadowed the development of Masonry as a vehicle for demonstrating respectability in the post-Rebellion era when Masonry flourished. A number of soldiers, under Major Hatch, were granted permission to open a lodge at Fort Pembina. These men arrived at Fort Pembina late in the fall and had no means of securing ample supplies for the coming winter. Consequently, soldiers were sent to Red River to obtain supplies. The soldiers who came to Red River most likely fraternised with the settlers and sparked an interest in Masonry. This assertion is substantiated by a passage in the Nor’Wester which reads:

A party from this settlement proceeded to Pembina a few weeks since to join the Masonic Order, through the Lodge established there … We will be glad to see Masonry established in our midst, for in its organization and teaching it is admirably adapted to go good in every community …

This positive outlook on Masonry is attributable primarily to the fact that John Christian Schultz and William Coldwell jointly owned the Nor’Wester and were, respectively the new Worshipful Master and Secretary in Red River.

The Northern Light Lodge existed only briefly, going quietly out of existence just prior to the Rebellion, and spent the majority of its time conferring degrees on new members. There are three major degrees in Masonry; Entered Apprentice, Fellow-Craft and Master Mason. These are referred to as the Blue Lodge, or Craft Masonry. The Blue Lodge degrees all represent, in language and symbolism, the Victorian struggle to be progressively upwardly mobile and reflect appropriate masculine roles. The degrees themselves are representative of the Victorian notion of progress and each degree represents individual advancement. Morality, industriousness, sobriety, selfcontrol, religious commitment and responsibility to the family were all core Victorian values and these were all present in the Blue Lodge degrees. Therefore Masonry can be seen as a system of moral and ethical instruction for members. The Entered Apprentice degree is intended to prepare initiates for their “search for Light, the light of divine Truth” and in order to achieve this the candidate was “entrusted with certain secrets of the Order, all of them moral, ethical, and wholesome.” In the Entered Apprentice degree the candidate moved throughout the lodge room and was indoctrinated into the basics of Masonry, for example the Three Great Lights of Masonry: the square, compasses and volume of sacred law, or bible. The candidate is made to understand that the compasses represent emblems of virtue and “are symbolic of the required circumscribed passions for right conduct ... that true standard of rectitude which alone can assure purity of character and happiness.” The square is meant to symbolise morality. To the Entered Apprentice, these are part of the Three Great Lights, to the Fellow Craft Mason they are the working tools and to the Master Mason they serve as an official emblem. However the Three Great Lights are considered, the symbols served to make members aware of their moral and social unity.

The Masonic Temple at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Donald Street in Winnipeg, circa 1900.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

During degree ceremonies and public events, the candidates wore elaborate costumes, but in the Entered Apprentice degree the candidate often removed all of their clothing. This symbolised the Masonic argument that, in the first degree, clothing shuts in the body as prejudice shuts in the mind and therefore clothing must initially be removed in the quest for truth. This practice would also have served as a barrier to any woman who might try to infiltrate the masculine bastion of the lodge. The Entered Apprentice degree emphasised the beginning of a man’s journey in the quest for ultimate truth. The language used in the Entered Apprentice recitation speaks to Victorian notions of self-control, morality and virtue and candidates are imparted to “regulate their desires and keep their passions within due bounds.” The first degree is ultimately concerned with the regulation of bodies, minds and the protection of the Craft. It is recited that:

T. (temperance) is that due restraint upon our affections and passions which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be the constant practice of every M —- n (Mason), as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or contracting any licentious or vicious habit, the indulgence of which might lead him to disclose … those valuable S.s (secrets) … which would consequently subject him to the contempt and detestation of all good M —- ns (Masons)

The Entered Apprentice degree mirrors and reflects Victorian values and is meant to impress them upon the mind of the candidate. By participating in this ceremony, Masons in Manitoba were enforcing their sameness, their shared values and performing respectability in private spaces.

By virtue of various membership conditions, Masonry in Manitoba remained exclusive. The payment of various fees, costume expenses, and voting ceremonies served to restrict membership to men who the Masons viewed as desirable. When a man desired to join the Masons he had to obtain a sponsor and then his name, address and professional information were posted within the lodge for at least four weeks and until members met for the voting ceremony. This allowed Masons time to investigate a proposed candidate’s moral character. By allowing the personal information of candidates to be posted for voting purposes, lodges enabled their members to privately define the character of Masons. During the voting ceremony, each Mason was given one black ball and one white. By placing either the white ball, which signified a “yes” vote, or the black ball, a “no” vote, into a closed container, Masons socially controlled who was allowed into their exclusive space. If just one black ball was present in the container after the voting ceremony, the candidate was “black-balled” and not granted admission to the lodge.

The Masonic compass and square insignia. The compass is intended to represent virtue while the square is symbolic of morality
Source: The Work

It has been a Masonic tradition the world over for Masons, due to their connection to stonemasonry, to lay the cornerstone of newly erected buildings. When Masons laid the cornerstone of a building the North East corner was always used. In Masonic symbolism north represents darkness, the south represents beauty, east is wisdom and west is strength. East is the source of material light and to Masons represents the pure light of truth, and north is the place of darkness, not yet penetrated by the Masonic light of truth. Consequently, the placing of the cornerstone on the North East corner symbolises the illumination of the darkness, or ignorance, by the light of truth. The cornerstone was required to be perfectly square, a symbol of morality, and the contents a perfect cube, symbolising truth. This stone was supposed to represent a more:

permanent and durable quality than any other part of the building, lasting beyond the decay and ruin of the building, and therefore reminding the Mason that when this earthly tabernacle of his shall have passed away, he has within him a sure foundation of eternal life

Through this symbolism, Masons constructed and enforced their belief in the immortality of the soul after the tabernacle, or body, decayed. Through the cornerstone, Masons celebrated immortality and associated themselves with Jesus Christ who was said to be “the foundation stone of the corner.” In Manitoba, Masons gathered to parade to the location of the building and lay the stone. Over fiftyfour cornerstones have been laid in Manitoba and the majority of these ceremonies would have begun with a parade. Some of these cornerstones can still be seen today. For example, Masons laid the cornerstones of St. John’s Cathedral, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, the Traffic Bridge in St. Boniface, City Hall, and the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. The cornerstone ceremony often included a march around the circumference of the site and then the consecration of the stone in water. Masons then offered a prayer of dedication and the overseer of the building placed his hand upon the stone and as well the ropes which were to pull it to its place in the building. Following the cementing of the stone in place were “certain appropriate ceremonies fitting for the type of building.”

There are Masons and historians who argue that the Legislative Building in Winnipeg is a model of King Solomon’s Temple. They assert that the floor plan, which consists of an outer chamber, an inner chamber and a Sanctum Sanctorum, which was said to house the Ark of the Covenant, represent the same elements of King Solomon’s Temple as do the Masonic lodges that are modeled accordingly. The hall in the entrance to the Legislative Building represents the outer chamber of the Temple and possesses three sets of thirteen stairs. The number three is central and consistent throughout Masonic symbolism. The Rotunda chamber, at the top of the stairs is said to represent the middle chamber and the Lieutenant Governor’s office, located directly east of the Rotunda, represented the Sanctum Sanctorum. However, if this was indeed a model of King Solomon’s Temple then there should be a representation of an Ark of some sort. Both agree that two stone carvings of warriors protecting a “large oblong box” outside the building, above the Lieutenant Governor’s office and facing east were meant to represent the Ark of the Covenant. The eight-pointed black star, which is located directly below the Golden Boy is not unlike many of the altar symbols found in the center of Masonic lodges and is similar to sacrificial altars from Ancient Egypt. The majority of Masonic symbols originated from Egypt and were chosen for their perceived mysterious character. The Manitoba Legislative Building went three times over budget before it was finished and there are a multitude of other Masonic symbols present in and outside of its walls.

The oldest Masonic symbol in Manitoba can still be seen at Prince of Wales Fort near Churchill. Located at the mouth of the Churchill River, the fort was constructed by Hudson’s Bay Company stonemasons between 1731 and 1772.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives

Members of the Masons performed respectability in public even in death and funeral services and grave markers communicated group belonging to outsiders. When a Mason passed away, his fellow lodge members requested permission from the family to have their own ceremony with the corpse, or if a Mason had requested fraternal internment the lodge made all the arrangements. The only regulation imposed in order to request a Masonic burial was that a man must be a Master Mason, the highest degree in Masonry. Paid or partially funded funeral expenses motivated men to join other fraternal organisations such as the Independent Order of Oddfellows but the Masons were not involved in insurance for funerals. Masonic funerals involved parading, often with the accompaniment of a brass band, in full costume to the burial site where services were held. There are recorded instances in Ontario of church services being interrupted and complaints registered on account of the noise created by the Masons funeral parades. By parading through the streets in costume, Masons were creating a spectacle for public consumption and this functioned as a marker of social status, a demonstration of who belonged to this organisation. At the burial site Masons practised the “Mystic Chain.” This was the formation of the lodge members in a circle around the grave, holding hands with arms crossed so each man gave his right hand to the man standing on his left. Most of the grave markers of Masons who were buried between 1864 and 1900 in Winnipeg are worn to the point that they are unreadable. However, at St. John’s Cathedral, at 135 Anderson Street, some remain that are distinguishable. St. John’s Cathedral is one of the many buildings in Winnipeg and in the Province of Manitoba that the Masons paraded to in order to lay the cornerstone. This particular church stands just south of the site of what was the Selkirk settlers’ burial ground, begun in 1812. In 1822, Reverend John West constructed a church mission house on the south east corner of the present cemetery and in 1833, this was replaced by a second church on the same site in the lot as the present building stands. In 1862 a stone church was built upon the same spot and in 1926 the present building was erected using stone from the 1862 church. The cemetery, which surrounds the church on all sides, houses the grave stones of former Masons. These markers bear the Masonic compass, letter “G” and the square, the Three Great Lights of Masonry. The decision to mark a grave with Masonic symbols was the decision of the deceased member and functioned as a constant reminder of the fact that the deceased was a Mason. This speaks to the desire to communicate, even from the grave, that an individual was part of an organisation with an identifiable set of respectable values and a common social identity.

This brief glimpse into early Masonry in Manitoba is not meant to be an extensive survey of Masonry in all its complexity. However, members of this secret society did participate in rituals that negotiated their status as respectable Victorian men and the majority of members belonged to the business community, independent of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Within the walls of King Solomon’s Temple, the lodge rooms, Masons privately demonstrated their shared values through the recitation of rituals. Outside of the masculine haven of the lodge, Masons created spectacles for public consumption and this served to demonstrate to members of the community who belonged to their exclusive organisation and perhaps more importantly, who did not.

A grave stone bearing the compass, letter ‘G,’ and square in the cemetery at St. John’s Church in Winnipeg. A number of Masons are buried in the churchyard of this historic Manitoba church.
Source: Gillian Covernton

Page revised: 12 January 2011

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