Monday, September 22, 2008

Freemasonry in Pembina: The Northern Light Lodge

The first Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons to organise in what is now the Province of Manitoba was authorised by M. W. A. T. C. Pierson, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, under a Dispensation dated September 13, 1863. It reached Canada by way of Pembina, Dakota Territory, and Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, in what was then known as the Red River Settlement in the Canadian Northwest. In his address to the Grand Lodge of Minnesota at the eleventh Annual Communication held at St. Paul on October 2, 1863, M. W. Bro. Pierson, Grand Master of Minnesota, made the following statement: "About the middle of last month I received an Application signed by W. Bro. C. W. Nash, Bro. J. L. Armington, Bro. A. T. Chamblin, Bro. Charles H. Mix, and eight others, who were en route for Pembina, Dakota Territory, for a Dispensation authorising them to open and Work a Lodge.
Pembina is the most northern point in the territory of the United States, a great central point where concentrates a large amount of emigration and of travel between the two oceans. The want of a Lodge at that place has been long felt and often expressed; and as the Brethren named were active, well informed, and discreet Masons, the first two, former Masters, and the latter, Wardens of Lodges within this jurisdiction, and as they expected to remain in that hyperborean region for at least two years, I granted a Dispensation to establish a Lodge at Pembina." Prior to holding the first meeting, it was discovered, however, that no name had been given the Lodge in the Dispensation. "How it was settled," says M. W. Bro. William G. Scott, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, in his article " Early Masonry in Manitoba," " I will leave Bro. Nash to describe." The following description was then given " I wrote to the Grand Master calling his attention to the omission, and took occasion to suggest what I thought would be a proper and very appropriate name, and in case it met with his approval to so advise me and direct that I insert it in the Dispensation. The name that was suggested met with his cordial approval and was thus named. It came about in this way: It was at night that I was writing the Grand Master, and going out of my quarters I observed the grandest display above me that it was ever my pleasure to behold. I never witnessed such grandeur of this character before, and I never expect to again. It was an exhibition of Northern Lights. The celestial globe was grand and beautiful in the extreme, and for a long time my eyes feasted upon the sight with delight. It was witnessed by many in our cantonment. On returning to my quarters to complete my letter to the Grand Master, I narrated the circumstances; hence the name, Northern Light Lodge, was given." The Lodge held its first meeting about the middle of January 1864. During the few months that it remained active in Pembina, several residents of Fort Garry and the vicinity made applications for membership, were accepted, and received the Three Degrees of Freemasonry. Among those who became members at that time were Bro. A. G. B. Bannatyne, Bro. W. B. Hall, and Bro. William Inkster. Then, in the early part of that year, application was made to M. W. Bro. Pierson, Grand Master of Minnesota, for a continuance of the Dispensation and for authority to transfer it to Fort Garry. This request was granted. In his address to the Grand Lodge at the twelfth Annual Communication held in St. Paul on October 12, 1864, the M. W. the Grand Master reported as follows: " I also renewed the Dispensation of Northern Light Lodge, removing it to the Red River Settlement." The first meeting of the Lodge in Fort Garry was held on November 8, 1864, in a room over the trading‑house of Bro. A. G. B. Bannatyne. In a letter to the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, written in 1895, W. Bro. Schultz described that meeting in the following words And a novelty it was, indeed, in this country at that time! It was spoken of far and wide, and the descriptions, which did not decrease in detail or increase in accuracy, as to what was done therein were listened to with much curiosity, and in some cases, with awesome wonder, which was enhanced by the jocoseness of Bro. Bannatyne's clerks, who spoke knowingly of the whereabouts and propulsive propensities of the goat, and who pointed out from the room below (to wit, the trading‑house), exactly in what part of the upstairs room the W. M. hung his hat while the Lodge was at Work. The Lodge Room itself was made as tasteful as the circumstances of that day would admit, and it may interest the curious to know the exact cost of some of its furniture, as given in a memorandum which I happen to have near me, in the sterling money of the day, namely: tables, 19/6; inner door, 15/; altar, 19/6; wall‑paper, 39/, 24 black beads, 1 /6; 24 white beads, i /; 100 copies of the by‑laws, 40 /. And it may be inferred that the Craft were not always at Work, for I find the following on the same list: 15 tin plates, 15 iron tablespoons, 15 teaspoons, 12 cups and saucers, 1 tin pan, 4 cans of pickled oysters, 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of coffee, and 2 pounds of sugar. This would seem to show that there were intervals for refreshment. The jewels were borrowed ones from the Pembina Lodge; they were used until the following January, the Lodge having commenced Work in November 1864. They were then replaced by finer ones from Chicago, through the good offices of N. W. Kittson.

From Manitoba Historical Society