Photo Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum
Secret handshakes and the glimpses of velvet and big chairs— and then there the blue aprons that my Father and Grandfather carried around in something that looked like a violin case. Those are the memories of the Masonic Lodge I still hold at the age of 69. Last week I was interviewed by Tara Gesner for the Carleton Place Almonte Gazette. One question was:
If you could know the truth behind any one secret or mystery, what would it be?
SECCASPINA: I want to know what really goes on with the Freemasons/Masons. It has driven me nuts for years. My dad and grandfather were Grand Masters and I would always ask what the organization was all about. They told me it was a secret, and no matter who I still ask today, it still seems to be a secret.
So today, Paul Todd graciously agreed to show me around St. John’s No. 63 in Carleton Place. I am going to do a few posts about my visit, but I can tell you there is no hocus pocus or magic like a film I saw about the a Free Mason Grandfather on Hallmark. These fraternal groups, no matter what you read or think, is based on community. Most join at the recommendation of somebody close to them. I am sure my Grandfather joined because he liked the charitable side of membership, and then some choose to join as they need the sense of fellowship like my Father did.
While members are discouraged from discussing politics or religion, belief in a higher power has been, historically, a requisite to join. The Worshipful Master is like the lead actor, and the best way to explain it is that it’s like a play, which everyone has a part in. There are things you have to learn – you have questions you have to learn answers to to rise up in the lodge, but might I mention that I heard no skulduggery or anything weird.
So my questions were today:
Why do you wear aprons?
Freemasons wear aprons, because of the supposed evolution of freemasonry from the stonemasons.
What about the Rebekahs?
The Rebekahs that my Grandmother belonged to are part of the Oddfellows –wrong group.
What about that all-seeing eye, in the pyramid in the Blue Bible my Dad used to have?
“That is the ritual” — the time-honored way to learn Masonic ritual is by listening to it during lodge meetings and studying to memorize it.
Bridge Street Carleton Place 1910- Photo from St. John’s No. 63
Then I asked about the story when the Granite Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in Carleton Place was consumed by fire in 1910 and the Masonic Temple was rebuilt in 1911. Any Royal Arch Mason will recognize the significance of the keystone in a Royal Arch ritual.
The fire had been discovered at the rear of the building at the corner of Bridge and Albert Streets in the heart of the town. This building was occupied by Cameron Brothers and W. Singleton & Son and there is considerable doubt as to which side of the premises the fire originated. However, it is generally believed that the fire started from a box stove at the back of the meat shop. The fire of 1910 rushed down Albert Street and caught on the brick building occupied upstairs by the Freemason lodge and downstairs by the Salvation Army.
From this building it leapt to nearby buildings and then caught on the steeple of the Zion Church. The firemen worked valiantly to save the edifice but their efforts were futile for the stream would not reach the blaze. The flames soon enveloped the whole church and then huge arms of fire were stretched out for more prey.
One Saturday morning a few years ago, during a cleanup of a back storage closet, in one filthy cardboard box, was found a marble keystone that was scorched and cracked, with chunks missing from its top. Nobody alive today realized that we had this object. It turned out that it was the keystone from the Chapter, that had gone through the fire a century ago.
Today, we have the keystone on display during appropriate parts of the ritual and use it as a tool in our Masonic education. It is sometimes used it to discuss the story of the symbolic Masonic bird, the Phoenix, that is consumed by fire, rises again from its own ashes. That keystone lost in the fire is no longer in Carleton Place and must reside in one of the Ottawa Lodges archives.
With files from the
Grand Lodge Library of Canada
Carleton Place Masonic Lodge Mystery
An Unpleasant Ride? Masonic Lodge– St. John’s No. 63