A SHORT HISTORY OF NIAGARA DISTRICT "A"
A HISTORY OF NIAGARA "A" DISTRICT A.F.& A.M. G.R.C."
by H.S. Greavette
Much that is the history of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario occurred in the area now known as Niagara District "A". The story of these early Masonic days is well documented in "Whence Come We?"
Masonry was introduced to the Niagara frontier by the Lodge of the 8th or Kings Own Regiment of Foot. This lodge was issued a field warrant (No. 255 E.R.) in 1755. The regiment came to Canada in 1768 and was garrisoned at Fort Niagara from 1773 to 1785. Several settlers from the west side of the river were initiated, the earliest recorded being in 1780.
The first civilian lodge of which there is a record was St. John's of Friendship. It was warranted in 1782 or before, probably by the Prov. G.L. of New York (Ancients). It seems to have drawn its membership from those initiated into the Lodge of the 8th Regiment and probably from the United Empire Loyalists. This lodge was rewarranted in 1795 by the First Provincial Grand Lodge of Upper Canada (Ancients) as No. 2. This lodge became Niagara No. 2 in 1845 and retained that name and number when it joined with other lodges in 1855 to form the Grand Lodge of Canada.
A third lodge, St. John's Lodge No. 19 received its warrant from the Prov. G.L. of Quebec (Moderns) in 1787. It appears to have worked in close harmony with St John's Lodge of Friendship until 1794 or 1795 when they amalgamated to form No.2. At the time of the Constitutional Act of 1791, these lodges were two of only four that were active in Upper Canada.
Between 1791 and 1855 no fewer than six attempts were made to organize the lodges in Upper Canada that worked under dispensation from the Grand Lodge of England. The First Provincial Grand Lodge operated from 1792 to 1817. The schismatic Grand Lodge at Niagara operated from 1802 to 1822, the Grand Masonic Convention from 1817 to 1822, The Second Provincial Grand Lodge from 1822 to 1842, the Second Convention from 1842 to 1844 and the Third Provincial Grand Lodge from 1844 to 1858. Several lodges appeared and disappeared in the Niagara region during those years, but two, St. George's No. 15 and Amity No. 32, were warranted and continue to operate today.
St. George's Lodge was given their charter in 1816 by the schismatic Grand Lodge in Niagara. It appears that St. George's had begun meeting in 1814 but that the level of hostilities created by the war of 1812 and other uncertainties prevented the charter from being delivered for two years. The lodge remained active until about 1837 when it temporarily ceased operation. It was revived under the Third Prov. G.L. in 1846 and has operated since that time.
Masonry in the Dunnville area began in 1850 with the institution, under the Third Prov. G.L. of Amity Lodge, then No. 29. With the Union in 1858 of the G.L. of Canada and the Prov. G.L. of Canada West, Amity was given the number 32.
With the formation of the Grand Lodge of Canada in October, 1855, the long process of evolution of the Masonic districts began. It was necessary that districts be formed and that district responsibilities be allocated.
At the formation of the Grand Lodge, three districts, Western, Central, and Eastern were established. The two lodges, from the present Niagara District "A" that joined in 1855 were Niagara and St. George's lodges. They were placed in the Central District.
The communication of 1856 authorized the formation of seven districts and the Niagara peninsula became part of the Hamilton District which stretched from London to the Credit River and Huron and Bruce counties south to Lake Erie.
Maple Leaf No. 103 and Amity No. 32 joined the district in 1858. Maple Leaf was newly constituted and Amity joined as a result of the union. In 1859 the numbering system became formalized and it was recommended that Grand Lodge be divided into 14 districts, but 10 were accepted at the communication.
A fifth lodge was constituted in 1860 in Smithville and named Ivy Lodge No. 115 which remained there for eleven years.
By 1861 there were 19 lodges in Hamilton District and by confederation (1867) they boasted of 22 lodges.
In 1870 Mountain Lodge No. 221 was formed in Thorold.
The District Deputy's report of 1870 called for the formation of a district called Niagara to be made up of the counties of Lincoln, Welland and Haldemand. The annual communication that year reorganized into 16 districts with Niagara as one with 16 lodges.
In 1871 James Seymour from Maple Leaf became Grand Master. Ivy lodge moved from Smithville to Beamsville. Seymour Lodge No. 277 of Port Dalhousie received its charter and in 1873 Temple Lodge No. 296 St. Catharines joined the district. Dufferin Lodge No. 338 Wellandport was warranted in 1876.
In 1882 there were 23 lodges in the Niagara District. St. George's, Maple Leaf and Temple Lodges bought and operated a number of grave plots for use by masons and a District Life Assurance Co. was functioning in the peninsula.
R.W. Bro. W. Gibson of Ivy Lodge was elected D.D.G.M. in 1884. He was later to become the second Grand Master from the Niagara District. (1896)
In 1892 a celebration was held at Niagara No. 2 commemorating 100 years of Masonry in the province. It appears that at this time the practice of visiting with the D.D.G.M. became the rule.
In 1902, W.J. Drope of Union Lodge Grimsby was elected D.D.G.M. and became the third district mason to serve as Grand Master. (1924)
In 1907 Temple Lodge boasted a full musical ritual and the St. George's Quartet was well known throughout the district. The first record of a District Chaplain being appointed occurred in the D.D.G.M. report of 1908. Much effort was made of visiting. A sleigh load of brethren from Dufferin instituted Coronation Lodge No. 502 in Smithville in Jan. 1912. Dufferin was later visited by a yacht load of brethren from Welland.
In 1916 there was another reorganization of districts and Niagara was reduced to 20 lodges with the remainder being placed in other districts due to distance, local interest etc.
The five years following the Great War were a time of significant growth in Masonry in the province. Niagara grew by 5 lodges with four being granted charters in 1923. Two of those were to become part of Niagara "A" Adanac Lodge No. 614 of Merriton and Perfection Lodge No. 616 of St. Catharines. That same year the districts were once again reorganized. Thirty two districts were created with Niagara reduced to 24 lodges. (Union Lodge No. 7 of Grimsby went to Hamilton "B") A Past Masters Association was flourishing in St. Catharines. By 1929 it was called a Master's and Warden's Association. Maple Leaf was famous for its musical ritual. Six hundred district masons attended a reception for the Grand Master at St. Thomas Hall, St. Catharines, in 1927.
Between 1926 and 1930 interest for dividing Niagara into two more manageable districts waxed and waned. This finally came about at the annual communication in 1930. The Niagara District was divided into two districts, Niagara "A" with 12 lodges and Niagara "B' with 13. Niagara District "A" had come into being.
It was divided for Masonic purposes, on a diagonal from Niagara to Dunnville across the peninsula. Lodges to the south and east were designated as Niagara "B"; those to the north and west, Niagara "A". While the distance between Niagara on the Lake and Dunnville is considerable, it is felt that the lodges grouped in Niagara "A" were done so for two reasons. It was felt that lodges which enjoyed Masonic fellowship from the earliest times should be part of the same district. It also appears that Amity, Coronation and Dufferin expressed a strong desire to remain in the same district.
Events in Niagara "A" between 1930 and 1941 are at best sketchy as the District minute book for that period has been lost and thus no accurate records are presently available.
By 1935 it was realized that a formula for selecting the lodge that would put forward a candidate for the office of D.D.G.M. should be adopted. At a meeting of wardens, masters and past masters on May 7 1935 a motion was moved by R.W. Bro. J.H. Brown and seconded by R.W. Bro. J.N. Allan that having in mind the continuance of harmony throughout the district, we an assembly of wardens, masters and past masters agree that the D.D.G.M. shall be elected from one of the lodges in St. Catharines once every third year and from one of the other lodges situated outside St. Catharines each succeeding two years. It was understood that each lodge in the district would have a candidate in turn. The first cycle, deemed to have begun in 1931, was Amity, Seymour, Maple Leaf, Dufferin, Mountain, St. George's, Coronation, Adanac, Temple, Ivy, Niagara and Perfection. This resolution was re-affirmed at a district meeting in St. Catharines in 1942. This resolution was amended in 1949 when St. Andrew's Lodge No. 661 was instituted and again in 1960 after the formation of Grantham Lodge No. 697.
In 1942 consideration was given to the possibility of adding Union Lodge No. 7 to Niagara "A". The matter was to be taken up with Union Lodge and if they were interested, Grand Lodge would be approached. There is no record of further discussion on this matter.
R.W. Bro. C.A. Sankey reported in 1976 that Brock University was about to reserve a section of the special collections room for the housing of Masonic books donated to the library. The books were to be maintained by the university and would be available to the brethren for on property perusal. This section has grown to about 1000 books.
Niagara "A" is a district rich in history and tradition. Niagara has been at the forefront of Masonry in Ontario for 200 years. It has given much and received much. But Masonry is not a place or a room or a time. It is a feeling, a belief that is shared by like minded men. It is sharing, visiting and fellowship. Niagara "A" has displayed these qualities for all its history and has a degree of fraternal fellowship that is second to none.