Masons are men who choose to associate with group of like-minded individuals for mutual benefit. What they find in freemasonry is a disciplined and systematic course of self-improvement based on the Golden Rule: always do to others what you would like them to do to you. Everyone is welcome, regardless of race, colour or creed. Masons are spiritual and moral people, but there’s no room for discussion of sectoral religion or partisan politics in freemasonry. Members are free to follow their own path, as long as it fits with the ethical principles of integrity and virtue symbolized by the square and compass—the icon most commonly associated with Masonry. Masonry is for men…but it’s a family affair. Women, girls and boys who share Masonic values are welcome to participate in the many social and charitable events hosted by lodges. There are 3.2 million masons across the world and more than 47,000 in Ontario.
Masonry stresses the principles of kindness and consideration at home, honesty in business, courtesy towards others, dependability in one’s work, compassion for the less fortunate and being a good citizen of the world. Masonry recognizes that each man has obligations to his family, his work, his religious beliefs, his community and himself - these must take priority and Masonry does not interfere with his ability to meet these obligations. Masons participate in three progressive degrees, each one teaching an important lesson through the use of symbols. The degrees help a Mason think about the big questions: Where did I come from? What am I doing here? And what comes next?
Modern or speculative Masonry originated with the British stonemasons of the Middle Ages. In approximately 1350 these Operative Masons began to form guilds for the practice of their trade. Commencing in the late sixteen hundreds these Operative Lodges began to admit Non-operatives. It is believed that this probably had something to do with the Great Fire of London in 1666, whereby the King gave license to anyone who could shoulder a hammer.Over the next one hundred and twenty-five years, non-operatives outnumbered the Operative Masons. We repeatedly emphasize to our newer members that we are not operative, but rather Free and Accepted or Speculative Masons. Free, that as individuals, we are not beholden to anyone, and accepted, to signify “receiving of non-operatives ” into the Craft. On June 24, 1717,four London Lodges met together and formed a Grand Lodge. This was the originator of the Grand Lodge of England. In 1725 a Grand Lodge was formed in Ireland and in1736 a Grand Lodge was formed in Scotland. The first recorded Mason in the New World was John Skene. In 1670 he is listed as a Merchant and a Mason, on the membership roll of the Lodge at Aberdeen, Scotland. John Skene came to North America in 1682 and settled in what is now Burlington, New Jersey. He served as Deputy Governor of East Jersey from 1685-1690. By 1730 there were various groups of men meeting as Masons. The influx of British troops into the New World also saw the arrival of Masonry. The soldiers brought with them Traveling Warrants, or licence to operate , and these Warrants allowed the soldiers, who were also Masons,to meet and assemble in Lodges. In this year the Grand Master in England appointed Daniel Coxe as Provincial Grand Master of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for a two year term. Several local groups were given Warrants, and by the year 1736 Masonry was well established in the Colonies. A Provincial Grand Master was appointed in Massachusetts in 1733; this Provincial Grand Lodge, operating from Boston, warranted several Lodges, which are now situated in Canada. These Lodges are situated in Annapolis, Nova Scotia - 1738, St. John’s, Newfoundland - 1738, and Halifax, Nova Scotia - 1750. St. John’s Lodge of Friendship No.2 met in Newark, Upper Canada, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. This Lodge is now known as Niagara Lodge No. 2. Our Grand Lodge has petitions for Membership dating from September14, 1782. This Lodge is the oldest Lodge within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario. As a matter of interest there are over 520 Lodges, with a membership of approximately forty- seven in our jurisdiction, Ontario.
“A lodge is not a building…it’s the men that form it”.
The foundation of the Masonic family is the Masonic lodge. It is here that Masonry teaches its lessons: kindness in the home, honesty in business, courtesy in society, fairness in work, concern for the unfortunate and respect for one another.
The Lodge Room is a sacred space where everyone operates “on the level”, or fairly, with each other. Its contents are set-up in a deliberate manner, with meaning attached to it’s layout and furnishings. The manner of arrangement reflects some of the workings used by Operative Masons and the way in which they are adopted by us to symbolize lessons in morality ,spiritual development and personal growth. Detailed explanations are given in the form of Lectures, and much of that is conveyed through the three degree system we use to teach our members how to be better men, responsible members of our communities, and model citizens. An example of this uses the three pillars, which are situated at the Altar, replicas of the different types of columns used by the ancient Greek architects. They symbolically support the ceiling of the Lodge. The Ionic pillar stands in the East and represents Wisdom, in the West stands the Doric pillar, which represents Strength and in the South, the Corinthian pillar, which represents Beauty. In the center of the Lodge Room is the Altar and on it is the Volume of The Sacred Law (which will be explained later). Another example are two stones, one called the Rough Ashlar, which was used by the Operative Apprentice Mason to practice on and to try and perfect his skill. To us it represents the new Mason and serves as an example for him to improve as a man and a Mason. The other, the Perfect Ashlar was used by the Operative Mason to perfect the finishing skills of their Craft. To us , it represents Moral Perfection.
We take lessons from the tools of masonry; such as the Square , used to test the work of the buildings that had been completed, and it teaches us that we, as Masons, must square our conduct with the Principals of Morality and Virtue. The Level was used to ensure that every stone was laid correctly and that the walls of the building were perfectly horizontal, and reminds us that all men are equal and should be dealt with as equals. The Plumb Rule was used to enable the wall of the structure to be virtually true, and it reminds us that a Mason is to conduct ourselves in an “upright’ manner and not to be swayed too greatly in any direction. On the floor of our Lodges, in front of the Altar, is the Mosaic Pavement and represents, symbolically, humanity as the pieces of material assembled and fitted together to form the grand design of life. It reminds us that we are all small pieces of life and, as such, should endeavour to fit together in order to complete the design that the Supreme Being created for us. There are others furnishings, jewels, and ornaments, each with significations attached to each as we “labour” to build and improve our lives, families ,communities and country, and ultimately to improve humanity. For Masons, the Lodge Room and its furnishings explains that, and when a Speculative Mason enters the Lodge Room, everything in it has a symbolic meaning and reminds him of the manner in which he should conduct his life.
“The Volume of The Sacred Law” is one of the foundational doctrines of Freemasonry. It is not necessarily the Bible. It may be another book of faith, and every Mason is required to declare his belief in One Supreme being, the Creator and Ruler of The Universe. How that Mason, in his own finite mind, comes to understand the God in whom he believes is between him and his God. It is not the prerogative of others to specify exactly what, or how, he shall believe. History has proved that such attitudes leads to the bigotry that has caused the martyrdom of countless individuals. Masonry stands for toleration and freedom of religion in it’s widest sense.The Christian believes in God. For him T.V.O.T.S.L. is the Bible. The Hebrew believes in God. For him T.V.O.T.S.L. is the Torah, the Law of Moses, corresponding to the first five books of the Old Testament. The Moslem believes in God. For him T.V.O.T.S.L. is the Koran. The Buddhist believes in Buddha. For him T.V.O.T.S.L. is usually the Theravada, although, since there are three main streams of Buddhism, each with its own scriptures, it could be another. T.V.O.T.S.L. is therefore central to Masonry. For the Hindu, the Vedas or the Gita represents for him T.V.O.T.S.L No meeting may be held unless the Volume is open on the Altar and, if necessary to a member’s religious beliefs, his V.O.T.S.L. is opened on the Altar when taking his obligation. In international Masonic meetings there could be five,or possibly more V.O.T.S.L.’s on the Altar. Every Mason is admonished by the Order to read and study his V.O.T.S.L., and to make it the rule and guide of his daily conduct through life. Its open pages are a reminder of this for him, while he is in the Lodge.
There are three(3) principal Officers of the Lodge, occupying stations in the symbolic East, West and South sides of the Lodge.....they are complimented by a corps of Officers . The one who rules and governs is called the Worshipful Master. This is a mediaeval term, and a the title indicates courtesy and respect. That Office is the highest honour the Lodge can bestow on any of its Members. He is responsible for the well being of the Lodge and its Members during his tenure. It is his duty to conduct the business of the Lodge, initiate and welcome new Members and perform various rituals associated with the workings of a Lodge (The work of the Degrees; the primary means of teaching and conveying important lessons and meanings attached to each.)
The Senior Warden is the Officer , like a Vice-President. In the absence of the Worshipful Master, he may open and close the Lodge and preside over the Lodge . He is also Chairman of the business meetings of the Lodge. The Junior Warden is responsible for the introduction of Candidates in the three Degrees. He is also the Social coordinator of the Lodge and leads the Entertainment Committee. Like any successful organization, those leaders work together with Junior Officers to be a productive Lodge, and maintaining the harmony of the fraternity is the ultimate goal. The experience and knowledge of “Past Masters” is also vital for the constant improvement of Lodges, as they possess a reservoir of useful information . Other officers include: the Director of Ceremonies to take care of visitors and act as Master of Ceremonies; the Chaplain is an Office that requires little comment, occupies an honorable place in the Lodge; the Secretary is a most important station, one who maintains records, collect dues , issues Summonses for the assembly of the Brethren, keeps track of Membership; and dispenses the fees payable to the Grand Lodge. All communications pass through the hands of the Secretary. the Treasurer records all receipts and expenditures; and Deacons assist the Wardens. Other offices are held by Stewards, the Assistant Secretary,the Historian, the Inner Guard , and the Tyler is situated outside the Lodge Room to guard the door to ensure that none but Masons enter.
The Freemason’s Apron is representative of the apron worn by Operative Masons, to protect their clothing from the abrasive surface of building materials, particularly stone.After receiving knowledge and instruction in the symbolic form, the new Brother is at last given a tangible symbol of Masonry to wear as his own and eventually to carry away in the form of an Apron. This very ancient form of garment, according to Holy Writ, was the earliest clothing that our first parents made for themselves (Genesis 3:7). At any rate, in as much as stoneworkers are as old as civilization itself, the humble apron of Operative Masons can claim a greater antiquity than the Heraldic symbols of riches and power, the Golden Fleece and Roman Eagle. The Mason’s apron is worn only in the context of Love and Harmony. Private piques and quarrels have no place within the tyled recesses of the Lodge. As a symbol, it admonishes us to protect our spiritual persons from the spot of sin or the stain of vice.
To the newly admitted Brother or Entered Apprentice it serves as a constant reminder, not only that he now owes certain duties to his Brethren, but also that they have now accepted him as a Brother Mason. The white lambskin apron of the Entered Apprentice is completely undecorated and serves him as a reminder of the blameless purity, which should be his constant aim. In shape it is a perfect square, an emblem of Morality, which represents the Good Man, Four Square, fashioned without reproach.
The badge of a Fellowcraft is a plain white lambskin apron, similar to that of the Entered Apprentice, with this difference, added are two sky blue rosettes, one in each of the two corners. The man who wishes to make a success of Life will continue to study. He knows that he needs more education and that his education did not cease when he left school or university. Here is the Masonic argument for education. The Second Degree exhorts us to give due attention to the cultivation of our intellectual Life, to exercise the mental faculties is just and pleasurable and just as profitable as the exercise of the physical powers. Note especially the two objectives of this degree: the study of the liberal arts and sciences.
The apron of the Master Mason is more ornate. It is bordered by a ribbon of sky blue, in five separate segments; three on the apron and two on the flap. The colour blue reminds us of the heavens, which declare the Glory of God and shows His handiwork. The triangular flap, with its border, reminds us of the Mason’s Square, that other emblem of Morality.
A Lodge, which has attained its one hundredth year of continuous service, is entitled to have gold trim added, as a special marking.
The Royal Blue Apron worn by several Members of the Lodge signify that these Brethren have rendered substantial service to the Craft and have been recognized by our Grand Masters for that service. Their apron, from the insignia in the centre, denotes Grand Steward.There are several other aprons that are distinctive, such as that of the District Deputy Grand Master. They were elected by their peers in this District to serve as the Grand Master’s Representative for one year. They are Brethren who are highly respected in their Lodges and indeed their Districts for their knowledge and experience in Masonry.
Much of the teaching and symbolism of our gentle Craft is transmitted through the teachings of the three degrees. Freemasonry is more than ceremonies, narration and fellowship. It has a tradition, which is mystical and personal, nevertheless, real and vital for the full understanding of the spirit of Masonry. That inner spirit of Masonry is nothing less than a consciousness of the presence of God, in the heart, soul and mind of the individual. These Degrees are constitute the essential canon of Masonic teachings, and although other appendant orders have more “degrees”, they expand on the fundamentals that are taught in our Craft Lodges:
The First Degree, which is comparable in symbolism to birth, the beginning of Life, requires a trust in God and the thought uppermost in our minds in this Degree is the strength and power of the Great Architect of The Universe, the Creator and Supporter of a wonderful cosmos.
The Second Degree is the Degree of Life, knowledge and mental development; God’s all Seeing Eye observes us and it is He who is invoked to shed the rays of Heaven, to enlighten us in the paths of virtue and knowledge. It emphasizes the need for continuous learning and steadfast dedication to the labours of life itself.
The Third Degree points to the inevitability of death, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage - but it does not stop there. Rather the emphasis is upon the attainment of
the quest: “That in our perishable frames resides a vital and immortal principle, which inspires a Holy confidence, that the Lord of Life will enable us to lift our eyes to that bright morning star, whose rising brings peace and salvation.”
Giving is the greatest gift, and benevolence is one of the foundation stones of Masonry, and Ontario Masons are proud to do our part. Every year, we support various causes to the tune of half a million dollars…or more. There are several avenues in Ontario where this virtue is demonstrated , a visible sign of their commitment to the distinguishing characteristic of a Mason’s heart: Charity.
Great benefits…for you and the world.
Freemasonry offers much to its members—the opportunity to grow, the chance to make a difference and the means to build a better world for our children. It offers the chance to socialize and work with men who have the same values and ideals. We strengthen and improve our character by learning and practicing basic virtues of fraternal love, charity, and truth. Our principles extend far beyond our interactions with each other, and we strive to apply them to our daily lives. We profess to “ Make Good Men Better”, an as the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world, our members share a common goal of mutual self-improvement. Its body of knowledge and system of ethics is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to improve himself while being devoted to his family, faith, country, and fraternity. We’re united by three ancient and fundamental principles—brotherly love, charity and truth—that are made relevant to the 21st century through the personal growth, good works and social connections available to our members in the 550+ lodges across Ontario. Through its fundamental teachings, employing symbolism in it’s richest sense, and a philosophy that has served the social needs of men for centuries.
These attributes are summarized in the tenets, or fundamental principles of Ancient Freemasonry: Brotherly Love; Relief; and Truth. If these values address your needs, Masonry welcomes you. Its roots go back centuries and its members are diverse: high profile leaders, physicians, construction workers, farmers…and maybe you.
This page adapted with permission from the document Freemasonry in Ontario (2017) by VW Bro. Charles Singh, Ionic Lodge 526. Many thanks.
A.F. & A.M.