In the late 1800s finding work in the Eastern European and UK areas was difficult. Many men came to the United States of America and to Canada following the gold strikes in California and British Columbia. Some of these men were Freemasons, members of lodges in many European countries and across the United States.
When the gold ran out these men saw the vast wealth of resources to be had in British Columbia and stayed to become loggers, fishermen and miners starting every kind of business you can think of. This was the situation in Comox, Courtenay and Union (Cumberland) in 1890 when several of these Freemasons, who had arrived here from many parts of the world, met and decided to form a Lodge of Freemasons. This was not an easy task.
Masonic Lodges had existed in British Columbia since 1861, authorized by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland to hold meetings and to “make” Freemasons. In 1871 these lodges agreed to create a new jurisdiction: the Grand Lodge of British Columbia, formed at Victoria, “Vancouver’s Island” British Columbia.
In order to apply for permission to form a lodge, the Freemasons of the Comox Valley had to find a sponsor. Ashlar Lodge No. 3 of Nanaimo, a member of the new Grand Lodge was the closest. Ashlar Lodge No. 3 agreed to sponsor Hiram Lodge and therefore is considered the “Mother Lodge” of Hiram Lodge. This application was also approved by the then District Deputy Grand Master.
Remember we are talking about 1890. The roads between Nanaimo and Courtenay were almost nonexistent, and during some seasons were. The main transportation was by boat. This was the route up the coast for members of Grand Lodge in Victoria and other visiting brethren who made their way to Courtenay in order to assist in the consecration of the new Hiram Lodge No. 14 on the 22nd of July 1891.
We saw how difficult it was to visit the Comox Valley in 1891. Now let us look at “going to Lodge”.
Hmmm…1891: very few roads and far between. No street lights! Vehicles, mostly horse drawn wagons, did not have ‘headlights”. If they were lucky they may have had one or two kerosene oil lanterns attached to either side of the wagon.
This is where “Moon Lodges” came into being. It was decreed by Grand Lodge that each Lodge should meet on a particular night so that sojourning Brethren would know when a meeting was being held. The Grand Lodge of BC gave Hiram Lodge permission to hold their regular meetings on the Thursday on or before the full moon of each month. This gave the brethren, coming to lodge and going home afterward, light to make their journey less hazardous. Thus Hiram Lodge became a “Moon” Lodge.
How did men get to lodge in those days? If you were in town you could walk. If you lived out of town you could ride on horseback or hitch up the buggy. If they lived on Denman Island members would mostly row across in a row boat to Buckley Bay and jump into a prearranged ride, or hitchhike. Fishermen walked or hitched a ride. Loggers could walk but mostly the logging camp bosses had their train men hook up a flat deck car to the Loci bringing the men (and families) into town and then back again after lodge. Remember, most of the big tree hauling then was done by train. The miners of Union had more fun; they would climb onto a pump handle driven scooter and head from Union down to Courtenay. Coming down was easy you just had to keep it from running away; but going home, each took turns to pump that handle to get that scooter uphill all the way to Union! Naturally they soon decided to form their own lodge of Freemasons!
So Hiram Lodge No.14 was formed in the Comox Valley. One of the first buildings they met in was located on the Old Comox Road across from where the old Courtenay Hotel used to be, and where the car dealership is at present.
The lodge moved into its present building in January, 1923.
Who are Freemasons and what do they do in their lodges? This is an age old question. The oldest document found referring to Freemasonry is dated to the 1300s and claims to quote earlier documents.
In the age of the “Freethinkers” (many of whom were Freemasons), men met in private to discuss the conditions of men and families living under strict authority. Because they met in private, usually behind closed doors the authorities were concerned about their intentions. For the most part they were trying to improve the living conditions of all men.
“Scientists”, alchemists at that time, many of them Freemasons, were able to gain sponsorship from Charles II in England and thus formed the Royal Society in the 1660s. The majority of the lodges in England waited and watched the progress of the Royal Society. Finding that the Royal Society received acceptance by the authorities, the Lodges of England became public and formed the Grand Lodge of England in 1717.
You hear about meeting “on the level” in a lodge of Freemasons. This is exactly the case. Male monarchs of England have been the Grand Masters of England’s Freemasonry since the early 1700s. In the Lodge every man is equal, and meet and greet as Master Masons.
Pledging loyalty to the government in the country in which they live, Freemasons are taught to be tolerant of all men who subscribe to the same loyalty. Freemasons have been and are involved in government from the towns and cities in which they live, to the provincial or state and federal governments of their native or adopted countries.
Freemasonry is not a service club; however charity is one of our principles. The Freemasons of North America contribute more than two million dollars a day to charitable works. One example is the 22 Shrine Hospitals for Children. (To be a Shriner you must be a Freemason.)
As the population of the Comox Valley and the local areas increased over the years, other lodges were formed. Cumberland Lodge No. 26 was formed in 1895 and Discovery Lodge No. 149 was formed in Campbell River in 1952. Comox lodge was formed in 1986. Hiram Lodge No. 14 was privileged to sponsor Discovery Lodge. Concord Lodge No 79 was formed in Parksville in 1915 and Qualicum Lodge 197 was formed in Qualicum Beach just this last year.
The stated purpose of Freemasonry is that we will ‘take good men and help to make them better’.
For the last 125 years the Freemasons of the Comox Valley and particularly Hiram Lodge No. 14 have endeavoured to do just that.
We have watched this township come into being and grow and prosper. Men from all over the world have come here to visit, to work and to stay. Many of the Military and R.C.M.P. have been posted here, becoming Freemasons and have now, in their retirement, returned to call this valley home. Because of the temperate climate the area is a magnet for families retiring from colder climes.
So we are pleased to receive Freemasons from all parts of Canada and the world to the valley and pledge to continue to provide a lodge for them to come home to.
Freemasonry is not for everyone. Yes, only men may enter the fraternity; men who are willing to strive to improve themselves, however they also bring with them their families. Masonic concordant bodies are available to the wives, sons and daughters (and their children).
Yes, we may be seen as older or just plain old men. But we have devoted a better part of our adult lives to improving ourselves and our families. We are proud to be Freemasons contributing to the well-being of our communities and welcoming young men into the Fraternity.
In September, 2016, we celebrated 125 years of service to Freemasonry and our community.
Richard D. Armitage
Past District Deputy Grand Master
The history of Hiram Lodge No.14 - BC & Yukon
A summary by Richard D. Armitage