One Hundred Years of Freemasonry in Manitoba

by Robert E. Emmett

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 31, 1974-75 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In 1967 we were able to recognize a hundred years of Confederation in Canada; then in 1970 the Province of Manitoba celebrated its Centennial. Now here we are in 1975, five years later, realizing that the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Manitoba came into existence in 1875. My subject, therefore, for this evening is: “One Hundred Years of Freemasonry in Manitoba."

However, let us first look briefly at some Masonic activities in the area that is now Manitoba before the Grand Lodge itself was founded. In 1733 an experienced stonemason, J. Robson, together with some other Scottish masons, arrived at the mouth of the Churchill River to commence construction of Fort Prince of Wales for the Hudson's Bay Company. It is not clear if any of them were members of "our Craft" but, as operative Masons who have left their marks, names and places of origin on some of the stones at the Fort, they were certainly members of a "craft."

In 1960 the great-grandsons of John Palmer Bourke presented to Grand Lodge his Demit, dated 3 December 1818, from Wellington Persevering Lodge No. 20, Montreal. This is the oldest Masonic document in our possession, and gives us proof that, so far as we know now, he was the first Freemason to reside permanently in the Red River Settlement. A copy of this document has been lodged with the Archives in Ottawa. It will be of interest to you to know that at the present time five great-grandsons of this Freemason reside in St. James, and are all members of the St. James Masonic Lodge No. 121. Their names are: J. Tren. Bourke; Arthur P. Bourke; Judge G. T. Chapman, Q.C.; R. T. Chapman and G. E. Chapman.

By 1864 two Freemasons were living in the settlement John Christian Schultz, who played such a prominent part in the early history of our Province, and Charles Curtis, who was a blacksmith in the Sturgeon Creek area, and who was married to Cecilia, a daughter of John and Mary Inkster of Seven Oaks House, West Kildonan. These two Freemasons - Schultz and Curtis - early in 1864 sponsored five prominent local men, namely - Andrew G. B. Bannatyne, William Inkster, W. B. Hall, Robert Morgan and William Coldwell - into Northern Light Lodge at Pembina, North Dakota. These seven Freemasons, on their return to the settlement, together with one more recent arrival-Matthew Connar petitioned the Grand Lodge of Minnesota to sponsor a lodge in the Red River Settlement. This request was granted by renewing the Dispensation to the military lodge at Pembina, only removing its place of meeting to the Red River Settlement. This was possible as the cavalry detachment at Pembina was being moved away. The Lodge was active for the first few years, but ceased to exist either in 1868 or 1869 owing to the troubles in the Settlement that culminated in the Riel affair. The actual original petition, dated 27 April 1864, and written in longhand by A. G. B. Bannatyne, was presented to us in 1955 by the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. The writing and signatures on this document are still quite legible.

In 1870, three months after the Wolseley Expedition had arrived in the Settlement to deal with the so-called Riel Provincial Government, nine Freemasons from among the troops applied to the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario for a Dispensation to form a lodge to be known as Winnipeg Lodge to meet at Fort Garry. The Dispensation was granted under date of 21 November 1870. Before a Charter was granted the Lodge requested its name be changed to Prince Rupert's Lodge, and in 1871 a Charter was issued under this name and numbered 240 under the registry of the Grand Lodge of Canada in Ontario. The names of the nine Charter Members will interest you as many of them and their descendants became prominent as the years went by. They are: Robert Stewart Patterson who was Chaplain to the Forces; William N. Kennedy was a Lieutenant; Matthew Coyne was Sergeant-Major; E. Armstrong was Quartermaster; D. M. Walker was a Lieutenant; A. R. McDonald was Surgeon; James T. B. Morrice was Paymaster; Henry T. Champion was also connected with the Forces; and Norman J. Dingman who received his military discharge and had returned to Eastern Canada before the Dispensation reached Fort Garry.

Lodge Manitoban was next to receive a Dispensation from the same source and in 1871 was given No. 244. It subsequently changed its name to Lisgar, and for many years has held its meetings in Selkirk. Ancient Landmark, the third Lodge, came into existence the same way and was given the No. 288 in 1872.

In 1875 representatives of these three Lodges decided to accept the responsibility of forming the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. This task might well have proved beyond their capacity when one realizes that the combined membership did not exceed 210, and that the area covered, besides Manitoba, included the North-West Territories, afterwards known as Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Yukon. The inaugural meeting was held on 12 May 1875, and at this first Communication the three Lodges were renumbered, as follows: Prince Rupert's No. 1; Lisgar No. 2; Ancient Landmark No. 3. A month after Grand Lodge was formed, Ancient Landmark No. 3 sponsored St. John's Lodge which became No. 4. These four Lodges are still in existence; still carry the same numbers, and have now all celebrated their Centennials.

It is sad to have to relate that in 1878, three years after the formation of this Grand Lodge, a serious schism developed among the brethren which resulted in two Grand Lodges existing in Manitoba for a short period. The trouble developed over which ritual would be authorized-the Canadian work as practised in Ontario, or what we refer to as the American work, often spoken of as the "York Rite." In 1879 M. W. Bro. Rev. Canon S. P. Matheson was elected Grand Master of the original Grand Lodge, and at the same time was asked to endeavour to heal the breach between the two bodies. He earned the eternal gratitude of all the brethren by obtaining a complete reconciliation within four months. This was made possible by permitting use of the two rituals in the jurisdiction, and allowing the lodges the option of choice. At the present time 13 lodges follow the American work and 97 prefer the Canadian ritual.

As might be expected over the hundred years of our existence in Manitoba, we have been called upon to lay many cornerstones; in fact a total of 89, 54 in the first fifty years, and 35 since 1925. The variety of buildings consisted of churches, one statue, a bridge, civic buildings, Masonic Temples and halls, hospitals and educational buildings. To mention but a few that come to mind at the moment-St. Matthew's Anglican Church and St. John's Cathedral; the one statue is of Robert Burns on the grounds of the Provincial Government; the Louise Railway and Traffic Bridge over the Red River between Winnipeg and St. Boniface; but the first cornerstone laying was on 17 August 1875, of our old City Hall and Market building. These ceremonies performed by the Freemasons are colourful and are based on Biblical and historical backgrounds.

Over the years the Lodges in what is now Winnipeg have occupied a dozen different buildings; all of them, with the exception of our present Memorial Temple at 420 Corydon Avenue, were in close proximity to the building we are meeting in this evening and the corner of Portage Avenue.

In 1864 not more than six or seven buildings existed in the Red River Settlement, and one of these was the A. G. B. Bannatyne store at the north-east corner of what is now Lombard Street, formerly known as Post Office Street, and Main Street. Brother Bannatyne was the Senior Warden of the first Northern Light Lodge, and they held their meetings in the room above his store. The present building on the site was put up by the Union Trust; afterwards used by the Sterling Bank, and the ground floor of which is now occupied by a branch of The Bank of Nova Scotia. On the south side of this building near Main Street is a bronze tablet erected by the Freemasons to mark the site of their first meeting place. A few hundred yards to the north along Main Street stood the home of the Hon. A. G. B. Bannatyne in whose front room was held the first meeting of the Legislature of Manitoba on 15 March 1871. Until quite recently the building on this site was occupied by the Banque Canadienne Nationale and was known as 433 Main Street. On the front of this building the Historic Sites Board of Canada had placed a bronze plaque to mark the spot of the first meeting place of our Provincial Government. The location is now a parking lot for cars, but it is hoped that the plaque is in safe hands, and will be replaced on any building that is eventually erected on the property.

A quick run-down of other buildings used by the Freemasons will interest you. In 1870 the meeting place was the Drever House, which stood at the corner of Notre Dame East and Victoria Street. A year later they moved to the McKinney building at the north-west corner of Main Street and Portage Road, then known as Queen's Street West. This was the first log building to be built at the junction of the Red River and Assiniboine tracks. Before the year was out they were on the upper floor of the Ashdown Store on Main Street where the firm still did business until it closed quite recently. In 1872 they moved to the Dawson log building on the east side of Main Street, the third building north of Notre Dame East. The site is where the Victory Building now stands at 333 Main Street. Two years later new accommodation was obtained above the recently completed store of Higgins and Young on the west side of Main Street a few doors south of McDermot Avenue, 434 Main Street. It was in this building that the Grand Lodge of Manitoba was instituted on Wednesday, 12 May 1875. These premises were used until 1880, when larger quarters were obtained in the Harris Block at the south-east corner of Main and Market Streets, which is only the width of Market Street away from this Centennial Concert Hall; across the lane at the back of where the Harris building stood is the Playhouse Theatre. The building, now on the Harris Block site, was used as a pawnbroker's shop a short while back; at the present time it is a liquor store, a good example how some of these lots can deteriorate over the years. Whilst we occupied the Harris Block in the winter of 1882-83 the hall upstairs was ruined by the collapse of the roof and ceiling which caused heavy damage to equipment, regalia and records of all the Lodges and Grand Lodge. This forced us to move back to the original site of the Bannatyne store where a new business block had been erected, and where Freemasonry in Manitoba commenced its activities in 1864. In 1888 we moved to the top floor of the Western Canada Loan and Savings Company Building situated at the north-west corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street; the site is now occupied by the city offices of the Canadian National Railway. We remained there until November of 1894 when the entire building was destroyed by fire, and we lost everything. So we were forced to move back once again to the Bannatyne site, and this was the third time we had used this location.

Thus, at the end of 1894 we had faced almost insurmountable obstacles. In thirty years we had moved ten times; twice our records, etc., had been destroyed, once by a collapsed roof and once by fire; we had also had to suspend meetings owing to the Riel affair, and we were fortunate to have survived an internal schism. It was decided, therefore, to erect a Temple of our own, and on the 15th of August, 1895, our Grand Master Charles N. Bell was able to lay the corner stone of what is now our old Temple at the south-east corner of Donald and Ellice, and which is still standing. Knox Church used to stand just across Ellice Avenue on the north-east corner of the intersection of Donald and Ellice. Alas! a building of a very different nature now occupies the site of the first Knox Church.

In 1905 and 1908 the Grand Lodges of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed, and in 1907 the two of our Lodges in the Yukon decided to come under the jurisdiction of British Columbia. This, of course, resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of lodges in our Grand Lodge.

The world was plunged into war in 1914, and the Rolls of Honour in the Lodges testify to the contribution in man-power made by our Brethren.

Our Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 1925, and at that time the late M. W. Bro. William Douglas produced the first "History of Freemasonry in Manitoba" covering the years 1864 to 1924. He had a natural aptitude for historical research and it is safe to say that, if he had not recorded some of the early facts, they would have been lost to us forever. The story of our second fifty years is now in the hands of the printer and will be on sale next June at the time of our Centennial Communication. During this year the membership contributed $45,000.00 to our Benevolent Endowment Fund. This Fund began in a very modest way in 1887, but by 1973 had risen to $355,000.00. Over the years beneficiaries have fluctuated yearly from eleven to seventy-three.

A Service of Dedication was held in 1940 in the Winnipeg Auditorium with a capacity congregation in attendance estimated by the press as well over 5,000. The following year £ 1118 was sent to the relief fund of the Lord Mayor of London; $5,000 to the Minister of Finance and $35,000 to the National War Effort Fund at Ottawa. To mark the end of the War in Europe a Masonic Service of Thanksgiving was held on 3 June 1945, and this was the year we began issuing our monthly paper "Masonry in Manitoba." In 1947 it was decided to raise funds from our members in order to send parcels to our brethren in Scotland and England to assist in the shortages of food existing there; $28,000.00 were donated and over 3,000 parcels were forwarded.

In 1950 flood conditions prevailed in Winnipeg and some surrounding areas. The Grand Lodge Communication had to be postponed from June to August, and our 75th Anniversary plans had to be curtailed considerably in consequence. A contribution of $10,000 was made to the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund.

Our Communication in 1964 was largely devoted to recognizing the Centennial of our first Lodge to operate in the Red River Settlement Northern Light Lodge U.D. At this time the Grand Lodge of Minnesota presented us with an exact replica of the original Charter issued to this Lodge, but which was not delivered to them before they ceased to exist.

The Hon. Donald Fleming addressed our Communication in 1967, and chose for his subject "Masonry in Canada's Centennial Year," whilst the historian's address was entitled "Our Contribution to a Hundred Years of Confederation." Eight members were chosen to represent all the others who have contributed so much to the development of Canada and Manitoba. Let me just mention four of them here. First, John Christian Schultz, first Master of our first Lodge: he was subsequently the leader of the Canadian Party at the time of the Riel affair, and was responsible for the despatch of the Wolseley Expedition. Second, Samuel Pritchard Matheson, son of one of the early Selkirk Settlers, and finally Primate of all Canada in the Anglican Church. Third, Charles Napier Bell, who for twenty-five years was Secretary of Winnipeg Grain Exchange, and acted in the same capacity for one of the early Royal Commissions investigating "warehousing, transportation and handling of grain." He was a recognized authority in his field, and his work and research played an important part in the development of grain growing in the West. Fourth, Andrew Browning Baird, an ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church and a prominent educationalist at the old Manitoba College. However, one of his early achievements was when he was called to establish a Mission in Edmonton. He reached Winnipeg late in 1882, and had to make his way there via the old Carlton Trail by horse and buckboard some 900 miles-which took him six weeks to complete.

At our 95th Communication in 1970, which coincided with the Centennial of the Province of Manitoba, we officially opened our new Masonic Memorial Temple at 420 Corydon Avenue, Winnipeg, on the evening of 2 June before an estimated 600 Freemasons and their ladies. Since the Province was formed in 1870 there have been sixteen Premiers, and you will be interested to know that out of that number twelve have been Freemasons. These twelve, with the exception of a short period in 1874, have consecutively led the various Provincial Governments for 96 years. Of the twelve only three survive; namely: Stuart S. Garson, Douglas L. Campbell and Dufferin Roblin. The Hon. D. L. Campbell is still very active in Freemasonry; you will remember he has the enviable record of serving in the local Legislature for 47 years, ten of which he was Premier.

During this paper the names of William Douglas, C. N. Bell and Rev. A. B. Baird have been mentioned. It is a matter of satisfaction to know that these men, who made such a marked contribution to Freemasonry over the years, were also active in your Historical Society, and were, among other prominent men, Presidents of your Society. This, of course, is no surprise to me as Freemasonry not only strives to bring out the best characteristics in a man, but also to impress and arouse in all its members an appreciation of the sacrifices and hardships endured by our forefathers that enable us to have the freedoms and amenities of life that we are now so inclined to take for granted.

It has not been easy to compress the highlights of a hundred years into the time available, but if one has aroused the interest of even a few to pursue these and other happenings further they will find it a rewarding experience.

"History should be considered a subject of paramount importance since it is the recorded sum of human experience, the study of which enables us the better to understand the consequent realities of humanity's present predicament."

Cicero wrote many years ago:

"History is: The witness of time, the light of truth, and the life of memory."

Let me close with an old Chinese Proverb that goes something like this:

"If you are planning for one year, plant grain. If you are planning for ten years, plant trees but, If you are planning for a hundred years, plant men."

Masonic Premiers of Manitoba

H. J. Clarke


R. A. Davis


J. Norquay


D. H. Harrison


T. Greenway


Sir H. J. Macdonald


Sir R. P. Roblin


T. C. Norris


J. Bracken


S. S. Garson


D. L. Campbell


D. Roblin


Page revised: 5 January 2017