The Lodge is Born


The following is a narrative depicting the actual meeting in which Mount Zion Number 28 was resurrected. It was originally Rideau Number 25 at Burritts Rapids, briefly, Rideau Number 2, and eventually Mount Zion Number 28 in Kemptville. All names and offices are genuine and descriptions, as far as possible, accurate
— R. W. Bro. Winston Kinnaird


The icy grip of the winter of 1840 gradually weakened. As the March sun asserted its growing authority , the icy tracks of Oxford Township slowly dissolved into muddy quagmires. The river broke free of its icy bonds and rushed in torrents through the sluices and past the churning tailraces to breach its banks and inundate the lowlands along the shore. Spawning fish milled in the rapids so thickly that they could be readily forked onto the banks to augment the diminishing stores of salt pork that had become almost daily fare. Spring rains thawed the frozen farmland and combined with frost boils to bring transportation to a sloggy halt, harbinger of rebirth as the earth took a breath and paused a moment. Tender shoots of green grass pushed up through the brown soil and in the forest glades spring flowers burst into bloom. On the ninth of June, Right Worshipful Brother Simon McGillivray, the organizer of the Second Provincial Grand Lodge, died. Ziba Phllips declared,” I, having been granted the rank of Deputy Provincial Grand Master, am now the only authority in Upper Canada. It therefore falls upon me to reorganize the Craft.”

The seasons continued in their relentless progression and once more winter claimed control of the land. On Christmas Eve, 1840, the brethren once again gathered in their room at Abel Adams’. George Burritt, from his chair, announced, “I have a letter from my cousin, Henry Burritt, asking to be excused from attending tonight’s meeting. It seems that he was waiting for Mr. Smyth’s mill to be opened and as it was not, he now finds that there is no flour in his house. Consequently, he has gone to another mill. ‘We must not forget that we have an invitation from St. Francis Lodge at Smith’s Falls to dine with them on St. John’s Day. What are we going to do about it ?” Elisha Collar rose. “Worshipful Sir,” he said, ” it is looking as if the weather is starting to blow out there and if Christmas Day finds us on the receiving end of a December blizzard, there will be no way that we can travel to St. Francis. I suggest that we decline their kind invitation.” “I second the motion, Worshipful Sir,” intoned Reuben Olmstead.

Thus did the time pass for the brethren of Rideau number twenty-five. In June 1841, Reuben Olmstead was elected Worshipful Master and the festival of St. John was celebrated at Brother Brown’s in Kitley with Harmony Lodge, number twenty-four. (This was not the Harmony No. 24 from Johnstown to which Ziba had belonged, but this lodge near Athens had received dispensation from right Worshipful Brother Fitzgibbon in 1823.) Also in attendance at that festival were another ten or twelve from St. Francis.

On February 2, 1842 with George Burritt back in the chair, an emergency meeting was called. Brother Walter McCrea, Secretary, rose. “Worshipful Sir, I have a circular addressed to you and the Wardens from Right Worshipful Brother Ziba Phillips. He is asking you to appoint delegates to attend a convention at Kingston for the purpose of forming a permanent and continual Provincial Grand Lodge in Canada West.” “Brethren,” cautioned George Burritt, “this is a serious matter and it is important that we send delegates to this convention. Who is available to attend ?” “What is the date, Worshipful Sir ?” asked Abel Adams. “February 24, Worshipful Sir,” interjected Brother McCrea. “Then I would be willing to accompany the Worshipful Master if he plans on attending,” offerred Abel. “Thank you, Abel, I would be very happy to travel with you.”

Almost a year passed and a similar request to send delegates to Kingston was read by secretary Rufus Olmstead. George Burritt addresed the meeting. “Brethren, last February Abel and I attended the Convention in Kingston. We passed a resolution to petition the Grand Lodge of England to allow us to establish a Provincial Grand Lodge with The Honourable Robert Baldwin Sullivan as Provincial Grand Master. It is now January 29, 1843 and England has not even granted us the courtesy of a response. What are we going to do ?” William Merrick rose. “Worshipful Sir, I move that we support Right Worshipful Brother Phillips and pass a resolution that this Lodge desires to become independent of The Grand Lodge of England if said Lodge has not responded to the petition of the Kingston Convention by the time of their next meeting February 7, 1843.” “I second the motion of our Junior Deacon,” said Tom Hicks. “All in favour ? Carried.” “Is there anyone available to attend this convention in Kingston?” inquired George. “We don’t have enough funds to send a delegate,” commented Treasurer Adams. “The sleighing in this part of the province is very bad right now. I propose that we solicit Right Worshipful Brother Phillips to act as our proxy, and that we send him a copy of our resolution,” suggested secretary Rufus Olmstead. “Agreed,” nodded the brethren.

Several members who lived in Wolford and Montague Townships began to feel that it would be more convenient for them to have a Lodge in Merrickville. As a result, Basil Church, Walter McCrea, Col. McCrea and Gavin Russell met in Merrickville and composed a letter dated June 14,1843 to Rideau Lodge proposing that the Charter be transferred to Merrickville. There is no record of this communication in the minutes of the Lodge.

“It is only fair to mention that the brethren west of Kingston have, so far, not seen fit to support last February’s actions by Right Worshipful Brother Phillips,” said Elisha Collar to the assembled forty-six brethren seated in the Lodge room in Smith’s Falls on February 6, 1844. “But there are eight lodges represented here and I move that we hereby form an independent body to be known as The Grand Lodge of Free Masons, Canada West.” “I second the motion,” affirmed Worshipful Brother James Shaw from St. Francis. With the meeting under way, it was not long before Ziba M. Phillips was elected Grand Master of The Grand Lodge of Free Masons, Canada West. The new constitution was approved on October 2, 1844 and on St. John’s Day the following warrant was issued. It reads in part:

“To all our Trusty and Right well beloved Brethren around the Globe: SEND GREETING : NOW KNOW YE, THAT I ZIBA MARCUS PHILLIPS,of the Town of Brockville, Esquire, Grand Master of Masons and Masonic jurisdiction in that part of Canada formerly Upper Canada, &c., &c., &c. Have on the petition of our Trusty and Right well beloved George Landon Burritt et al, seven of our Master Masons and a number of brethren praying to be set apart and formed into a regular Lodge to be held in the Township of Oxford

In obedience to the prayer of the said petition and by virtue of the powers granted by the Grand Lodge, I do hereby form you . . . and a constitutional number of your brethren, Master Masons, when duly congregated, to open and hold a Lodge under the style and title of the Rideau Lodge Number Two and therein make Free Masons to the third degree according to ancient form
In testimony whereof I have caused these our Letters to be made patent, and the seal of The Grand Lodge to be hereunto affixed. Done at Brockville this Twenty-seventh day of December, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty-four, and of Masonry Five Thousand Eight Hundred and forty-four.

Ziba M. Phillips
Grand Master

Attested by,
Ebenezer Bell
Grand Secretary

The next month seventeen members were present for the reading of the warrant and applied to Ziba Phillips for a warrant for a Mark Master’s Lodge. It was issued March 13,1846. On July 8,1846 the following resolution was passed: “resolved that this Lodge shall stand adjourned for the term of four months, if not specially convened. The Lodge paraphernelia was packed in its pine chest and stored in the garret of Abel Adams’ house where it remained untouched until discovered by members of Mount Zion almost half a century later in 1893.

At about the same time as some members from Merrickville were advocating a change of venue to Merrickville, Robert Leslie, who had been initiated in July,1844, was sitting in Lymon Clothier’s tavern in Kemptville with Alex Christie and Benjamin Dickenson who were one and two months respectively, his juniors. The air was heavy with the cloying aroma of stale beer and the unmistakable redolence which accompanied those patrons who had just finished their farm chores. Robert looked around the dark room with its round wooden tables at which sat several men engaged in their own private discussions. “You know, it would be much more convenient if we could establish a lodge in Kemptville, our own community, and save that long ten mile ride to Burritt’s Rapids each month,”he suggested. “You are right,” replied Alex,” and I was talking to John Boyce who said that there are some brothers of Union Lodge No. Five at South Gower who feel that they don’t have the numbers to continue. I know they would like to join with us if we could get established.” At this moment, Truman Hurd entered the room. He paused at the bar, picked up a flagon of foam and picked his way through the tables over to his friends. When advised of the topic under discussion, he proclaimed, ” I will start a petition and forward it to Ziba Phillips. He and I have known each other for some time. As a matter of fact, I was a visitor at the very first meeting of Rideau No. 25 thirty years ago. Very likely he would look favourably upon the idea.” Truman was true to his word and added John Christie, and William, Malon and Benjamin Beach to the petitioners. Ziba was delighted with the idea and wrote to Alexander Matheson of St. Francis. ” These brethren are no drones but real workers, and will add much to the respectability of the institution. They are recommended by Rideau Lodge and I feel quite confident that upon their organization, Bytown will immediately fall in and take out a warrant and so will Edwardsburgh.”

The new Lodge was formed and the officers installed at 1:00 p.m. on June 9,1845. After the meeting, Ziba was surrounded by the members of the new Lodge in their back room in Clothier’s Tavern. “Brethren,” he intoned, “our noble institution is still embroiled in organizational controversy. Our brethren to the west are less than enthusiastic about the way I have assumed leadership. Just last month, St. Andrew’s Lodge in Toronto decided to recommend the appointment of Thomas Gibbs Ridout as Provincial Grand Master. At that meeting Sir Allan Napier McNab, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, appeared and informed the astonished assembly that he had been appointed to that very office by the Grand Lodge of Scotland and The Grand Lodge of England nine months previously. Now, why he had kept it a secret until then is any body’s guess. However, when he produced the papers to prove it, in the interests of harmony, the brethren then nominated Brother Ridout as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. It is not my intention to sow dissension within our institution, but until this situation is cleared up, I intend to remain in control in this jurisdiction.” “Well, Right Worshipful Sir,” pronounced Robert Leslie, “you can count on us to continue to support you.” “Thank you, Robert,” replied Ziba. “I have some other information which may surprize you. The brethren from Rideau Lodge want to arrange a merger with you here in Kemptville and, assuming you agree, in two weeks, on the festival of St. John the Baptist, I will confirm the merger.”

“We would be delighted to have our mother Lodge join with us,” commented Benjamin Dickinson. “This will be most convenient for everyone.” So, on the twenty-fourth of June in 1845, Rideau and Kemptville Lodges merged. The charter members were Hiram Holmes of Harmony Lodge, St. Johnsbury, Vt.; Alfred Holmes of Unity Lodge, Linden. Vt.; John Byce, Whitney Emery and John Selleck of Union Lodge No. 5, South Gower; Robert Leslie, Alex Christie, and Benjamin Dickinson of Rideau Lodge No. 25, Burritt’s Rapids; Andrew Holmes of Zion Lodge No. 193, Tyrone, Ireland; and Truman Hurd. Forty-six days after the merger, as Ziba Phillips had predicted, the lodges west of Kingston met in The Masonic Hall in Hamilton and with Sir Alan Napier McNab presiding, formed a committee to frame by-laws for a new Provincial Grand Lodge. Early in 1847, Ziba confided to Ebenezer Bell, “I am growing weary trying to hold this great institution together. I am also getting too old to deal with factions which tend to separate rather than unite. We must meet with the Third Provincial Grand Lodge and forge a bond that will never break.” The meeting never took place. On September 28, 1847 Robert Leslie summoned the members to the room in Clothier’s Tavern. “Brethren, I have received tragic news ! Rt. Worshipful Brother Ziba Phillips has today passed on to the Great Grand Lodge Above. Tomorrow, I and any who are able to join me, will leave for Bethel where he is to be buried in the Reid Cemetery, to pay our last respects to departed merit. No more active Mason ever lived in Canada. He will be greatly missed.” With the rest of the province forming its own Provincial Grand Lodge, Robert Leslie was concerned that the factions might result in some dissolution of lodges. “Let’s apply to Grand Lodge of England for registration there,” he suggested. “Good idea ,” agreed John Boyce. As a result, in 1848, Kemptville Lodge came under the jurisdiction of The Grand Lodge of England and was granted a warrant, dated January 14, 1850 by the Grand Master, the Earl of Zetland. It was now registered as Kemptville Lodge No. 25 in the Provincial Grand Lodge and No. 836 in the Grand Lodge of England. November had blown in with its biting winds. The first snows of the winter of 1849-50 had come and were proving most stubborn in their determination to stay. Harvey McAlpine, the current Master, had just joined Simon Fraser and Eli Hurd in Clothier’s Tavern. They were huddled around a huge cast-iron stove which glowed ruddily and in which heavy blocks of maple and ash were roaring. While they warmed their insides as well as their outer extremities, Harvey lamented, “You know, we should do something about making our lodge room more impressive. We currently are meeting in a back room over the tavern with a few chairs around the walls and a bare wooden floor with cracks so wide that it really does feel as if you are stepping over an open grave.” “And we need jewels for our officers, ” added Simon. “Why don’t we try to get the furniture and jewels from Burritt’s?” asked Eli.

As a result, the following agreement was presented to George Burritt :

“Kemptville, December 5, 1849”

“We, the undersigned officers and members of the Kemptville Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, do hereby severally promise and agree to deliver to the Master of Rideau Lodge, or his order (in as good repair and condition as we shall receive them) at any time they may be demanded, the following Masonic jewels and furniture, which they have kindly permitted us to use viz.: One Master’s Jewel (a square); One Senior Warden’s Jewel (a Level); One Junior Warden’s Jewel (a Plumb); One Secretary’s Jewel (Cross Pens); One Treasurer’s Jewel (Cross Keys); One Senior Deacon’s Jewel & One Junior Deacon’s Jewel, all of silver, and one carpet, all the property of the Rideau Lodge.

Harvey McAlpine, W.M.
Simon Fraser, S.W.
Eli Hurd, J.W.
Don Mackenzie, Sec’y.
Wm. Laing, Treasurer pro tem.
Alexander Christie, Senior Deacon and P.M.
Hugh Fraser, Junior Deacon
R. Leslie, Master of Ceremonies.

Five days later, Eli presented to George Burritt a receipt for these items together with a silver square and compass.

The years continued to march in their relentless fashion and Masonry flourished in the Province and in Kemptville. Ziba’s dream of a united Grand Lodge became a reality. On October 10, 1855, at the Masonic Hall in Hamilton, the following resolution was passed : “That we, the representatives of regularly warranted Lodges, have in convention assembled resolved that the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Canada be and is hereby formed upon the ancient charges and constitutions of Masonry.” Most Worshipful Brother William Mercer Wilson was elected the first Grand Master. At the same time there was another Grand Lodge of Canada under Sir Alan Napier McNabb to which Kemptville surrendered its warrant from the Grand Lodge of England and which granted dispensation to Kemptville Lodge for the next year. On July 14, 1858 the two Grand Lodges were united under William Mercer Wilson and Kemptville Lodge became Mount Zion Lodge No. 28, G.R.C. Today, one hundred and eighty years after Ziba Phillips, the Burritts, Hurds, Olmsteads and others met at Lot 6, of the first concession of Oxford, their Masonic progeny continue the tradition of practising friendship and brotherly love at Kemptville in Mount Zion Number twenty-eight.

Winston Kinnaird
May 17, 2001


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