DOORS OPENED TO HISTORIC LODGE
If you're not a member of the masonic fraternity, it's not very likely you've seen the inside of any masonic lodge, let alone the historic lodge in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
But this Sunday, Ontario's Masonic Lodge No. 2 will be open to the public for the first time in its 121-year history.
(There is no No. 1 lodge. It was at one time reserved for the grand master but is now referred to as the Ontario Grand Lodge, and does not exist as a building.)
In honor of the town's bicentennial, the 275-member lodge will open its doors after masons attend a 2:30 p.m. service at St. Mark's Anglican Church. Members will march from the lodge, at the corner of King and Prideaux Streets, to the church on nearby Byron Street.
The history of the masonic lodge is almost as long as the town. Lodge trustee Noel Haines says masons were taking their oath of allegiance at Fort Niagara 198 years ago, two years after the west bank of the Niagara River was settled and the town of Niagara was born.
The present lodge, rich in ritualistic artifacts as well as history, is on the site of the original masonic lodge built In Upper Canada.
But the lodge, as well as most of the town, was destroyed in the War of 1812. Workmen gathered stone from the ruins of the town to build an imposing three-storey building Mr. Haines believes contains window casements from Fort George when it was dismantled.
The masons didn't move back into the building until 1860 after fire gutted a downtown block, including their lodge which was located on the second floor above a store.
In the intervening years the building which is now the lodge was a hotel, dance hall, store and was used as an army barracks during the Fenian Raids, an outbreak of hostilities between Canada and the U.S.
Over the past four years the masons have relied mostly on their own labor to refurbish the building, which includes a main floor banquet hall and second floor lodge, library and a room set aside for masonic artifacts. Many date back to the original lodge, since it was common for members to keep important documents and artifacts at their homes in case of fire.
The restoration has been under the direction of well-known historical architect Peter Stokes.
The walls of the upper floor temple are adorned with framed documents and pictures of prominent masons who were also leaders in the community.
Freemasonry is not a religion and neither has it any political beliefs although in the past it has been persecuted for both reasons. Consequently meetings in many countries have to be held in secret resulting in the belief that masons everywhere hold secret, ritualistic meetings.
"We're an organization with a couple of secrets; not a secret organization," Mr. Haines says to set the record straight.
No matter what their role in society, masons meet as equals and extol the virtues of faith, hope and charity enshrined in their original charter.
"We strive for perfection both in ourselves and In society," said Mr. Haines, an independent businessman. "We take an oath to become better people In each of the three degrees (faith, hope and charity)."
The masonic fraternity dates back to stonemasons in ancient Babylon, but it wasn't until the Middle Ages in England that it was organized as a loose association of stone cutters building giant cathedrals.
Following the Lutheran Reformation in the 1500s, the popularity of giant temples waned and other professions were allowed into the fraternity.
It still has as its symbol the stonemason's plumb, square level and compasses, surrounded by seven stars denoting tin primary arts and sciences.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake lodge still has a member who is stonecutter.