"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Postcards from Vancouver, Canada

by Christopher Hodapp

NOTE: This article rated RLRA (Really Long. Read Anyway.)

My very deep and belated thanks to the brethren of the Grand Lodge AF&AM of British Columbia & Yukon for inviting me as the keynote speaker for their Grand Masonic Day in Vancouver at the beautiful Freemasons Hall in New Westminster at the end of May. This event, presented by the Vancouver Lodge of Education and Research, has been going strong since 1982 and features a unique educational program each year with a lineup of speakers. 

I would especially like to thank Brothers Troy Spreeuw and Wes Regan for the great job they did organizing this event and for asking me to be a part of it. Troy and his wife Nina handled the book sales all afternoon and evening, and Nina also handled tickets sales for the event and other administrivia.  I'm afraid it was an extremely long day for them both. 

Attacks on Masonic Buildings in North America

Brother Wes Regan put on an excellent presentation concerning attacks on Masons and Masonic buildings in North America over the last several years. Vancouver was hit particularly hard a couple of years ago when an anti-Masonic arsonist set fires at three different Masonic buildings around the city, damaging one, gutting another, and completely destroying a third. A police officer spotted the arsonist at the last location and arrested him on the spot. 

This was a companion presentation to his article in a recent edition of the Philalethes Magazine (Vol 76, No. 4)Wes’ presentation collected statistics from several different grand lodges across North America. Few grand secretaries have been keeping detailed records of these sorts of things over the years, but it is obvious that individual lodges have got to step up to the plate and install surveillance cameras, alarm systems, exterior lighting of parking lots and entrances, and other security precautions, because these mostly Internet-driven, conspiracy-stoked anti-Masons are showing no signs of letting up.

When a window or doorway gets bashed in, it’s often done by someone who started out by painting graffiti on the building. Police departments don’t usually have anti-Masons on their radar. They don’t commonly know that antis do exist in large numbers, and so authorities don’t usually correlate several different attacks as perhaps coming from the same person. As a former Scotland Yard officer in attendance brought up, this is very similar to the sorts of attacks made on Jewish synagogues. Anti-Mason’s often conflate us with their own theories of 'nefarious Jews' who all supposedly control the world behind the scenes. Because of this common connection among conspiracists, we may be seeing a slow increase in vandalism in conjunction with the anti-semitic and anti-Israel protests going on around the world.

Transgenderism and Freemasonry

An extremely thoughtful program about the issue of transgenderism and Freemasonry was presented by WBs Frank Fowlie and Shaun Turner, with a panel discussion moderated by Philip Durell. These brothers researched differences between gender policies enacted recently by the United Grand Lodge of England versus those in several different U.S. grand lodges. Some grand lodges in North America and elsewhere have recently added language to their petitions or within their constitutions, stating that Masons and new petitioners must be natural born men, and remain as such. In contrast, the UGLE was compelled by European Union laws and England’s own transgender anti-discrimination laws to get very specific about what lodges can and cannot do. Laws there kick in when an existing member decides to change gender to live as a woman, or when a petitioner comes to them who presents as a man, but was in fact born as a woman. It can lead to a serious legal tango.

Even though, from a statistical standpoint, the possible numbers of potential trans-person petitioners will likely be infinitesimally small, it is going to happen in the coming years (and already has in several jurisdictions). The question becomes, should a grand lodge adopt an official policy, or remain completely silent? In truth, silence may not always be possible into the future as states and countries enact more and more specific laws on the subject. In the absence of federal law, this will continue to be a local or state level issue and there will be no uniformity. Bear in mind that our ancient customs and usages within the fraternity still permit every Mason the right to vote his conscience when accepting or rejecting a petitioner, just as every Mason still has the right to object to the attendance of any visitor into his lodge.

One thing is certain; if a trans-person petitions a Masonic lodge and is turned down for membership, someone who is determined to be a crusading activist on the subject may very well take their story to the news media, which will not give a particular damn that individual lodges can administer their own by-laws and their own members as they see fit. The press will merely characterize it as "The Freemasons" turning away a trans-person membership. That could very easily mushroom into an ugly and noisy lawsuit, and worse, a noisome and destructive story in the press. 

As the panel discussion wound down, there was no conclusive answer, and there wasn’t meant to be one with this presentation. This was intended as an informational session to familiarize members with the terminology, the laws, and the potential issues involved. It was heartening to witness just how calmly and rationally the discussion was handled by everyone present. There was no chest-thumping, smart-assed commentary, or angry pronouncements against one point of view or another. My hat's off to the brethren who handled the conversation so reasonably.

Civility. Whatta concept.

Lodge Communication and Masonic Education

A presentation by Junior Grand Warden Ron Cawthra concerned the importance of lodge communication, mentoring, and using the many tools that the GLofBCY offers to lodges to help educate their new members. Every single year, every jurisdiction has a whole new class of Worshipful Masters and officers who have never heard about these programs before, or never paid attention to them until they actually got to the East. A grand lodge could (and should) present this exact same transfer of information, year after year, as it reaches an entirely new audience every time.

The Dummy Speaks

As the afternoon darkened into evening, they had no alternative left but to let me speak. I’ve decided to stop giving long talks because of my throat – several of our members have threatened to cut it. But somehow I made it through this time without any ensuing property damage, so I presume the brethren found it of value. 

The program concluded with an open Q&A session with Wes and me, and I was gratified to see that no one bolted for the doors. It was either our scintillating observations or everyone was too overstuffed and preoccupied with digesting their dinners to have the energy to flee the joint. That, or everybody's NyQuil kicked in at the some moment.

After the program ended,  Troy Spreeuw recorded an extended discussion for his Mystic Tye podcast featuring the presenters, along with a group of brethren visiting Vancouver from lodges in Seattle, Washington.

Vancouver Masonic Centre

Let me jump back a day to Friday. While I was flown in for the Saturday event, I had the day before to explore the Vancouver Masonic Centre before visiting two lodges there that evening. The VMC is an example of Masons acting together in concert to create a new modern facility that is every bit as impressive as our older buildings, but far more practical for the modern fraternity, as well as providing for the future. Working with local city planners and housing authorities, they have created a facility that is also of great service to the surrounding neighborhood. 

(If you were a subscriber to the Journal of the Masonic Society and received the Spring 2023 double issue #59, check out the article 'What To Do With Our Masonic Buildings' by Wes Regan and Jack Barr wherein they describe the developments in Vancouver.)

Yep. 3+5+7+ another 18 = 33 steps

Their original 1970s-era hall was too far gone to keep pumping money into, so they knocked it down, and worked with an architectural firm to design a modern hall with a future source of substantial income. 

The Masonic portion of the building features two large lodge meeting rooms; a very accomodating social gathering/seating club room; a bar featuring individual scotch lockers for members' use; a roomy board meeting/banquet table/library area perfect for medium-sized festive boards; a coat and apron case closet; a small museum display area; and even two carved stone, functioning fireplaces. All of this is compactly arranged on one single floor. 

Lounge/social area, with the bar in the background.
Those are members' private scotch lockers on the back wall.

Lounge area with working fireplace

Board room / festive board dining table with room for 24

Apron and coat closet

Upstairs is the grand lodge office and the library/archive/museum room.

On the first, fourth and fifth floors are social and dining spaces, including an open outdoor patio. They have their own in-house catering staff for handling meals. But it's what's behind all this that's the key to self-sufficiency. 

Photo: Shape Architecture

Sharing the underground car park and behind the fraternal building is an 18-story apartment building, which will provide income for decades to come. The Grand Lodge has one furnished 2-bedroom suite set aside for out of town visitors, traveling grand officers, or the occasional visiting Dummy.

I will do a separate story with more about this ambitious project. (The Westminster hall also has a similar setup behind its historically-protected facade, because good ideas have a way of spreading.) Check out Wes Regan's article in the California Freemason magazine about these two projects HEREI will say here that Masons in every city or town with one or more enormous Masonic buildings they can no longer afford need to travel to Vancouver and see what they've done. 

More of that anon.

I do want to thank the brethren of Vancouver's Southern Cross Lodge for their generosity and hospitality on Friday night. Southern Cross is a unique lodge within their jurisdiction because it is believed to be the only Masonic lodge in all of Canada that is permitted to work using Australian ritual. Getting to see this while I was here reminded me that I saw Pennsylvania ritual when I visited Scotland many years ago, English emulation ritual when I went to Ohio, and now Australian ritual when I came to Canada. 

Go figure.

Grand Lodge Library & Archives

WB Trevor McKeown, Grand Historian

This trip also presented me with the great fortune of spending time with Trevor McKeown, the Grand Historian of the GLofBCY, and curator of their Grand Lodge Library & Archives. I've long admired the enormous amount of work Trevor has done in creating and updating their incredible website over the last 25 years. If you do research on almost any topic involving the fraternity, sooner or later you'll hit a link to their website with its hundreds of entries. 

Currently, the Grand Lodge Library & Archives is tucked into a compact space in the building. But new custom cabinetry has been installed in a display area adjacent to the lodge rooms and the large social lounge on the lower floor, which will permit better lighting and more visible and accessible exhibits. To paraphrase a commandment, 'Thou shalt not covet thy Brother's display cases,' but I just can't hold back my envy. 

New custom display cases in the lobby. I only took pictures because
I want some now.
And don't get me started on their wall of moveable library stacks upstairs...

In the midst of the Friday night merriment, I also attended a business meeting of the Vancouver Lodge of Education and Research, in which Trevor is the Secretary.

Masonic Meetings themselves aren't where the best fraternal experiences are made; it's the before and after times that really count and forge real fraternal brotherhood. With that in mind, Secretary McKeown's report clocked in under 7 minutes, and the entire meeting was opened in due form, conducted and closed in form in a mere 12 minutes total.

Trevor will be honored in November by being installed in London as the Worshipful Master of England's Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, and local brethren are organizing a group excursion to be there with him for this event. Congratulations! (If you inclined to visit yourself, QC’s meetings are held at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, and start at 4.00 PM.

'Getta You Tootsie Frootsie!' - Chico Marx (1937)

Trevor also knows where Vancouver's great restaurants are, along with the shop that has the distinction of being in the Guiness Book of World Records for having more flavors and varieties of ice cream than anywhere else on Earth. La Casa Gelato is at 1033 Venable Street, and 238 is the current flavor count, in case you were curious. Over its 40-year history, they've made 588. And I haven't had real gelato since visiting Italy many, many moons ago.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, some really important issues facing the future of the fraternity were addressed here. As always thank you for sharing this with us!


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