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Our Past

“OUR PAST”

by R.W.Bro. James G. Bennie

The city of Vancouver attracted a fair number of Australians at about the turn of the last century, and among these were a number of Masons.

There were three lodges in the city at the time—Mt. Hermon No. 7, Cascade No. 12 and Acacia No. 22. But, for Australians, there was a slight problem. While the three were no doubt friendly places to visit, as they are today, none of them did things the way they were done back home. That’s when one newcomer to Vancouver from New South Wales got the idea to form an Australian-style Masonic Lodge to bring a bit of “Down Under” to Vancouver.

So it was, according to our Lodge’s first minute book, that “An enthusiastic meeting of Australasian brethren was held in the Australian Club Rooms, Friday, 9th Febry 1906 to discuss the formation of a Masonic Lodge and elect officers, etc.”

Chairing the meeting was the Lodge Founder, John James Miller. He had been mayor of Cootamundra in New South Wales, joined Freemasonry there, and eventually became Master of his Lodge and District Grand Inspector of Workings. J.J. later became the first president of what is now the Pacific National Exhibition board and an alderman of the city of Vancouver. Also present were Wm. Chas. Kingsford Smith and Roderick MacLeod, Past Masters; R. Harold Kingsford Smith, Arthur Newland, Joseph Henry Harris, John George Arthur, Max Freed, Hubert Ramsay Morton, Matthew McPhatter, and John Diplock Ward, Master Masons. William Kingsford Smith was the father of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the famous Australian aviator who met a tragic end on one of his flights. Sir Charles was just a boy during his brief time in Vancouver and later joined a lodge in Australia.

The first motion at the meeting was to form a Lodge, the second was to name it “Lodge Southern Cross”. The officers were then selected, and then the brethren decided to adopt the ritual of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales.

Masonic hall on Granville and Hastings, “Williams Block” was torn down in the mid-1920s

The Lodge was instituted on 15 June 1906 by the Senior Grand Warden, Frank J. Bowser, at the Masonic Hall on the corner of Granville and Hastings with J.J. Miller as the first Master. 23 Masons signed the petition for the dispensation. The Lodge carried on and was constituted on 17 July 1907. J. J. remained in the Chair for a few more months, and then Harold Kingsford Smith was elected in his place. J. J. was selected as District Deputy Grand Master in 1909. He was later made an Honorary Past Grand Master in 1948, Honorary Past Grand First Principal of the Royal Arch Masons of B.C., and was Grand Master of Cryptic Rite Masons of Canada. J. J. died in Vancouver on Christmas Eve 1950 at the age of 90. He was the last surviving original member of the Lodge.

Though a small Lodge, Southern Cross agreed to put up $1000 toward the building of a Masonic Temple, which was opened at Georgia and Seymour in 1910. However, the Lodge wasn’t happy with the $75/month rent being charged and moved to the Labour Temple on Pender Street in April 1913. We were lured back to the Masonic Temple on the condition we move to a smaller room and change our meeting nights from the first Wednesday to the second Friday. The Lodge also met in the summer months until 1931.

The Master installed in 1921 was Royal Lethington Maitland, better known as Pat Maitland. He had been initiated less than four years earlier. Pat was involved in politics even then and later became the B.C. Conservative Party leader and Leader of the Opposition after the 1937 provincial election. In 1941, the Liberals and Tories formed a Coalition government, with Pat as Attorney General. He died in office in 1945.

Some history has been made by the Lodge, as the first airmail letter from North America to Australia was a letter from Lodge Southern Cross to J. J. Miller’s father. That flight was made on 8 June 1928 by Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.

The fraternal spirit of Lodge Southern Cross extended across the border in 1931. Fern Hill Lodge in Tacoma paid its first visit that year, because two old friends had met up after being separated for quite some time – Fern Hill’s George Hendry and our Charlie Mulligan. 32 members came up. And so started our annual visits which, unfortunately, recently petered out. The big one was on 13 April 1933, a meeting that will likely never be equalled. We went to Tacoma to exemplify the Third Degree. More than two thousand Masons packed the Scottish Rite building to see it. Several hundred more were turned away for lack of room. Our Master that year was Laurence Healey. He became Grand Master in 1952 and was a well-known speaker at Masonic banquets for many years. The Toast to the Ladies was a particular favourite of his, this being somewhat ironic as Laurence never married.

J.J. Miller founder of Lodge Southern Cross, was instrumental in the creation of the Pacific National Exhibition.

Our reciprocal visits with George Washington Lodge in Seattle began in 1937. Unfortunately, they have been few and far between in recent years.

Lodge Southern Cross was not unaffected by war. A number of enlisted in the First World War and several made the Supreme Sacrifice—Lt. Henry Sidney Marsh, 78th Brigade, R.F.A. (killed in the Battle of the Somme); Sgt.-Major John Cockle, Inland Water Transport; Sgt. George Clark Ensor, 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry (buried in France), and Sapper William Charles Smaill. As well, 27-year-old Flying Officer Ross Smither died after being shot down over Tunbridge Wells in the Battle of Britain in September 1940. They are all memorialised at our annual Remembrance Day ceremony in November.

Like many other lodges, we received a steady and almost unmanageable stream of petitioners toward the end of the war and for the next number of years. Lodge Southern Cross got so large talk began of forming a second Lodge, as it would have taken many years for a lot of the interested new members to serve in office. A motion was proposed on 13 November 1953, to “give permission” to a new Lodge to use the Australian ritual if and when a dispensation was issued for that Lodge. There was some opposition but the motion was passed by a substantial majority – so the plans carried on to form Commonwealth Lodge, with our Fred Simmons as the first Master, and a number of our younger members amongst the officers.

Our longest-serving member is D.L. Annesley, who joined on 23 April 1954. His father Everett had joined the Lodge in 1921 and was a sergeant with the Vancouver Police. Indeed, over the years there have been a number of father-son combinations in our Lodge.

After the Masonic Hall at 692 Seymour Street was sold, and a period of temporary residence in Mt. Pleasant Masonic Hall at Broadway and Ontario, the Lodge moved into the brand-new Vancouver Masonic Centre on West 8th Avenue on Friday the 13th (of September, 1974). For a number of reasons, the Lodge re-located to the cosier Kerrisdale Masonic Hall at 2146 West 41st Avenue in September 2012.

We began our annual Chinese dinner in 1984, and the following year was held on Robbie Burns Night, with Hector Turnbull piping in the haggis in a Chinese restaurant to much confusion amongst some of the other patrons. We at Lodge Southern Cross like to feel we started a trend and invented the cry heard in this day and age of “Gung Haggis Fat Choy.”

In recent years, the Lodge has seen a resurgence, with many interested young men joining and learning about the principles of the Gentle Craft, and enjoying our unorthodox Australian festive board customs such as ‘The Flutter’ brought to the Lodge by our founder. As we approach our 110th birthday, we hope our little Lodge has added to the Masonic fraternity and the enjoyment and instruction of the members.

A final note: while the Lodge was founded by a number of Australians, there is only one Australian amongst the membership today—and he is now residing in Seoul, Korea.