THE HISTORIC MASONIC LODGE
March 13, 2003 was the date of this talk at the Library, given by Noel Haines and assisted by Harold Clement. There were 20 people in attendance.
Noel Haines was born and raised in NOTL. He hails from a Welsh family. His father was a veteran of WW1 and his mother came as a war bride. He owned the last coal yard in Town, which he operated into the early 1960's. He is also one of the oldest lodge members, having been one for the past 49 years.
He began his talk by outlining the history of the Masons which hail from the oldest continuing secret order, going back to the days of King Solomon. The Order began as the guild founded by stone masons who used to move from town to town, building cathedrals. As they were always regarded as strangers, they banded together into these guilds. When cathedral building ceased, they evolved into a secret order. It adopted the tools of the trade, while the words and rituals all originate from the Old Testament. Since the stone masons became fewer in number, they began taking non-masons into the Order and into their lodges.
The English army at Fort Niagara had a Travelling Warrant to start new lodges in the New World. Joseph Clement was one of the first members in 1779. 1791 was the year when the Niagara Lodge at last came into being. At once they set about erecting a building, the lower story of which served the community, while Lodge meetings were held upstairs. After the 1813 fire they met in various places, including in barns, where they drew the ritual outlines in the sand, only to erase it afterwards. This was done in the name of secrecy.
A new building was raised in 1815 by John Eagleson, who built it by using materials from rescued buildings. The windows came from Fort George. This building served as a church for a while, until 1860, when the Masons moved in. They had been meeting in a store on Queen Street, and when this burned down, they bought the present house on King St. for $500.- Ever since, it had been in constant need of repairs. In 1910 a Ferguson became Grand Master and he totally restored it. This was repeated in 1977. The Niagara Lodge is a Craft Lodge, up to the 3rd Degree. There are 2 Rites, the York Rite, which goes through chairs up to the 32nd Degree. Then there is the Scottish Rite, also to the 32nd one.
There are at present 644 Lodges in Ontario, and Niagara Lodge is #2. It is a tremendous fraternity, non-religious, but with a professed belief in the Supreme Being. Nowadays there are also female lodges, with the same ritual, called the Eastern Start. No alcohol is ever permitted on the premises. The Shriners are the fun, money-raising branch.
The biggest problem faced by Masons today is their so-called secrecy. But, by now, they are an open secret, realizing that no new members can be attracted, especially the younger generation, if they keep their "candle under a bushel".