Our traditions can be traced directly to the associations of operative masons. They were men of outstanding character and high ideals, who built the cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of the Middle Ages.
With the decline of cathedral building in the 17th Century, many guilds of stonemasons, called “Operative” masons, started to accept into their membership those who were not members of the masons’ craft and called them “Speculative” or “Accepted” masons.
It was in these groups, called lodges, comprised mainly of “Accepted” masons that Freemasonry, as we know it today, had its beginning.
In 1717, four such lodges, which had been meeting regularly in London, united to form the first Grand Lodge of England under the direction of a Grand Master. From that first Grand Lodge, Freemasonry has spread throughout the world. Today, some 150 Grand Lodges have a total membership of approximately four million Masons.
A Canadian Timeline
1634 – Lord Alexander, a member of Edinburgh Lodge No. 1 at Mary’s Chapel, is the first recorded freemason in Canada, then known as New France. He founded a colony of Scots on the banks of the St. Lawrence River.
1738 – The first Masonic lodge in the colony of Canada is constituted in Annapolis, Nova Scotia.
1755 – The Lodge of the 8th or Kings Own Regiment of Foot is issued a field warrant. This lodge brings Masonry to Niagara in the late 1700s.
1795 – The first meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Upper Canada is called. Also in this year the civilian lodge in Niagara, originally called St. John’s of Friendship, is re-warranted as Lodge No. 2.
1802 – The Schismatic Grand Lodge at Niagara is formed.
1823 – The Book of Constitutions is printed in Kingston.
1855 – The Grand Lodge of Canada is formed in order to separate colonial Masons from the Mother Grand Lodge in England.
1859 – The Grand Lodges of Upper Canada and Lower Canada amalgamate.
1866 – The Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia is formed.
1867 – The Dominion of Canada is established on July 1st. Freemason Sir John A. MacDonald becomes Canada’s first prime minister. The Grand Lodge of New Brunswick is formed.
1869 – The Grand Lodge of Québec is created.
1871 – The Grand Lodge of British Columbia is formed.
1875 – The Grand Lodges of Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are founded.
1887 – The previously named Grand Lodge of Canada, located in Ontario, officially changes its name to the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Canada in the Province of Ontario.
The Grand Lodge of Canada
The Mother Grand Lodge in England was understandably slow to forward warrants, certificates and complete other tasks for lodges in Canada, given the distance between England and its colony. This led to dissatisfaction and a desire for Masonic independence from England.
Dissatisfaction, ultimately, led to rebellion.
On the 10th of October, 1855, a meeting of lodges was held in Hamilton. Each of the more than 80 lodges in Canada were invited and 41, representing Masons from Montreal to Windsor, attended.
A resolution calling for the formation of a Grand Lodge for Canada, free from the Mother Grand Lodge, was ruled out of order by Deputy Grand Master Ridout. (Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Provincial Grand Master, was opposed to the plan and did not attend). However, after adjournment, another meeting was held and the Grand Lodge of Canada was formed by the members.
The next morning the officers were elected and W. Bro. Wilson was confirmed as Grand Master. The officers were installed by M.W. Bro. Hon. H.T. Backus, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, on November 2nd, 1855.
The Politics of a Name Change
When the Grand Lodge of Canada was formed in 1855, the colony of Canada was made up of what are now the provinces of Ontario and Québec. When the two rival Grand Lodges of Upper Canada and Lower Canada amalgamated in 1859, our Grand Lodge included nearly all of the lodges in both Canada East and Canada West.
In 1869, sixteen lodges in Québec formed the Grand Lodge of Québec. The rest of the lodges located in la belle province remained in the Grand Lodge of Canada. In 1874, the Grand Lodge of Canada withdrew from Québec.
There were no doubt many protests about Ontario’s Grand Lodge calling itself the Grand Lodge of Canada when, by 1875, there were six other Grand Lodges in the country—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Québec, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba.
On the flip side, many of our members likely objected to the possibility of changing our name to the Grand Lodge of Ontario, when we had been founded as the Grand Lodge of Canada.
In 1885, a committee of the Grand Lodge of Canada recommended that its name should be changed to the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M., of Canada in the Province of Ontario. The new name was adopted in 1887.
Many brethren in both Canada and the U.S. still object to the name, but we retain the words “of Canada” in our title because, when we were founded, we were the only Grand Lodge in the colony of Canada.