Owl’s Head, Quebec--The Golden Rule Lodge of Stanstead holds a ceremony every year at the top of Owl’s Head. Near the top of Owl’s Head is a natural chamber, accessible on foot, through an opening between rocks. Members and guests of Golden Rule Lodge No 5 of Stanstead of the Masonic Order meet here annually on the summer solstice. This chamber was inaugurated by Henry J. Martin, GM, on September l0, 1857. Acclaimed to be the only natural open air lodge that is known to exist, Masons from the world over have visited here. The Masonic emblem of a square and compass with the letter ‘G’ in
the centre is inscribed on one wall. A double headed eagle, of symbolic meaning to Masons, is depicted on the chamber’s eastern face.
Golden Rule Lodge #5 / Annual Owl’s Head Communication · Owl’s Head, c.1900
Through my childhood years there were always mentions of secret handshakes and the glimpses of velvet curtains and big chairs at the local Lodge. Then there were the blue aprons that my Father and Grandfather carried around in something that looked like a violin case. These are the memories of the Cowansville Masonic Lodge I still hold at the age of 71.
I have always wanted to know what really goes on with the Freemasons. My Dad and Grandfather were Grand Masters and I would always ask what the Cowansville organization was up to. They told me it was a secret, and no matter who I still ask, it still seems to be a secret.
Paul Todd, a member of St. John’s No. 63 in Carleton Place, ON, agreed to show me around last year. These fraternal groups, no matter what you read or think, are based on community and most join at the recommendation of somebody close to them. I am sure my Grandfather Knight joined because he liked the charitable side of the membership, and then some joined as they needed the sense of fellowship like my Father did. In fact it wasn’t only my father’s side, my mother’s side all claimed to be Masons too.
I have written before about Masonic markings found in Lanark County, but according to my Grandfather there were many in the Eastern Townships as well. There is a well known one in Potton Springs, in Vale Perkins and on farms similar to ones I found in Lanark County. But, the mother of all that was a story that I thought was just a local fable. It was about Owl’s Head overlooking Lake Memphremagog, which is located on the border between Vermont and Quebec.
At one time the annual trek June 24th to the only outdoor Masonic Lodge Room, called the Owl’s Head Golden Rule Lodge, was available only by climbing Owl’s Head Mountain. My Grandfather said that it was a hard climb to the area. He only climbed once, and just to the Lodge Room but decided he could never do it again. Even though it seemed like it was a steady climb and flattened out at times, you would always encounter some steep rocks. From ledge to ledge you carefully walked until you reached the plateau. Each year, a candidate for the Master Mason degree carries a wicker basket that contains ropes, the flags of Quebec, the United States, and Canada, and Masonic tools, including a Bible, and a square and compasses.
Instead of just one peak Owl’s Head has three separated by deep chasms. My Grandfather used to tell me he had friends that told him if you went to the very top of Owl’s Head and had binoculars you could see the outlines of Montreal. Between two of the peaks they finally came to the sacred area called The Lodge Room, so named from the fact that different Masons from Vermont and Canada ascended the mountain. It was a wild cavern, accessible only by one path and so constructed by nature as to be singularly adapted to the purposes of a lodge room. In that very spot, the Golden Rule Lodge first had a meeting in 1856.
The room itself was of sheer rock towering over 500 feet and the officers’ seats were made of natural stone. The site was established by what many Masons claim to be a very ancient lodge located across the lake from Vermont, and they still perform the 3rd Degree of Masonry ritual at sunrise. It is said that the ceremony conformed to ancient Masonry and that “the old customs are carried out to the letter” at a time when “the sun is at its meridian and several members were initiated on the summit”.
Having arrived at the foot of “Owl’s Head” Mountain, the ascent was made in about two hours, my Grandfather said. After the lodge had performed the 3rd Degree Of Masonry Ritual, the members descended the mountain, where they enjoyed delicious food made by the ladies of Stanstead, Newport and Derby, Vermont.
At one point in history there was a bad feeling brought about by the war of 1812, and the Canadians were obliged to separate from their American brethren, and founded the Golden Rule Lodge at Stanstead in 1814. This lodge had a long struggle in the cause of temperance. We are told that in those good old days the people indulged freely in spirituous liquors. Intemperance prevailed everywhere; each neighbourhood had its distillery. Potato whiskey was the staple commodity and, during the winter, numerous teams were constantly employed conveying it to the Montreal market.
In 1828-9 the Stanstead lodge died out from a variety of causes. But in November, 1846, a number of gentlemen who had been detained by an unusually severe snowstorm, while attending the winter show of the Agricultural society of Stanstead county, met by accident at West’s tavern, at Derby Line. Here, before a bright fire, and over a social pipe and glass, the Golden Rule was revived under the old warrant granted in 1824 by H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex, which was supposed to have been destroyed at the burning of the Grand Lodge room in Montreal, a few years before.
The Golden Rule Lodge is the only lodge allowed to hold an outdoor meeting or communication in Quebec. Thanks to an 1857 dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Canada they are allowed to have their annual gathering everyJune 24. At one time Golden Rule Lodge No. 5 of Stanstead, Canada, occupied a lodge room that was bisected by the boundary between Canada and the United States, with entrances on both the Vermont and Canadian sides. Consequently, lodge membership consisted of men from both sides of the border. A charter was applied for and granted to the Golden Rule Lodge in 1853 by the Grand Lodge of England.
Reading this through I am often amazed that if history isn’t explained or kept from me I seek it out like my pants are on fire. I get excited to be able to tell the stories I was told and hoping that others will pass it on. So please remember that each day of your life is a page of your own history. Pass it on, and see you next time!
Masonic Gathering 1919
Level of description
Eastern Townships Resource Centre
CA ETRC P020-003-06-P078
Meeting of Freemasons on Owl’s Head 1920
Level of description
Eastern Townships Resource Centre
CA ETRC P998-099-007-P001
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