by Paula Kully –
Several years ago, while waiting in the Prince George airport, I began talking with the gentlemen sitting next to me. Through our conversation, I discovered he was a Freemason; you know, that secret society that has its own handshake and mysterious rituals. I also gained a new perspective of Freemasons and the good they do in the community.
Freemasonry is an ancient fraternal organization steeped in historic symbolism and customs dating back centuries to the stonemasons’ guilds of the Middle Ages. It was officially established in 1717 when four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England.
Locally, we have the historic Mount Newton Masonic Hall in Saanichton (photo at top right), which was completed in 1929. The Hall houses four groups of the “Masonic Family” including the United Peninsula Lodge No. 24 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Sidney Shrine Club-Gizeh Shriner of British Columbia, Eastern Star Ruth Chapter No. 22, Job’s Daughters International, and DeMolay Canada.
Jim Ferguson is the elected Grand Master of the local Lodge. He has been a Mason for 51 years, joining when he was just 21. His father, uncles, two of his brothers and his son are all Masons as well.
Freemasons have been shrouded in mystery for centuries but as the world changes, so too has the Masons’ perspective. Jim is working towards communicating better with the community so that people have a better understanding of what Masons really are and the good work they do for individuals and the community.
“I feel the term ‘private society’ is more appropriate than secret,” Jim says. “We are not hiding anything, but you must be a member to attend and as a member, you are not to share our customs and traditions with non-members.”
Freemasons aim to “take good men and make them better.” They promote tradition, self-improvement, sense of accomplishment, fellowship and the opportunity to break from the routines of daily life. In order to become a Freemason, the applicant must be a man of at least 21 years old, able to read and write in English, maintain a good reputation, and believe in a supreme being. However, Masons do not practise any particular religion and many faiths are represented within a Lodge.
Some of the more notable Freemasons include Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Mark Twain, Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover, Oscar Wilde and John Wayne, to name only a few.
Jim explains that there are three “craft degrees” of Masonry. These are: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. It normally takes four to six months for an individual to work through each degree. Each level consists of a combination of instruction and ceremony. The term “third degree” actually derives from the questioning that takes place during the ceremony for Master Mason which is more challenging than the first two.
Like most societies, Masons pay an initiation fee and annual dues. They are required to be actively involved in the working of their lodge by committing to two to four evenings a month and to study and understand Freemasonry’s philosophy, history, ritual and practices.
Although they are not a registered charity, Masons have a strong belief that they have a responsibility to their fellow man through charity, and the highest form of charity is giving of time. This is why you will often find Masons volunteering throughout the community. Local Lodge members volunteer for events and causes such as Canstruction, an initiative where teams compete by creating structures made from unopened cans of food that are later donated.
United Peninsula Lodge donates financially to many community and individual causes. For instance, each year they award two $1,500 scholarships to Stelly’s and two to Parkland highschool students to further their education. They have donated $5,000 to the Citadel Canine Society in support of PTSD of First Responders. Last year they donated $5,000 to the Government House Foundation in support of the Lieutenant Governor’s Literacy Program, and prior to that, they made a financial contribution to the Saanich Peninsula Hospital.
There are many online resources to find out more about the details of Freemasonry. The most relevant to our local Lodge is through the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon at www.freemasonry.bcy.ca.