A BRIEF LOOK INTO THE PAST
An omen perhaps?
On the 9th day of November, 1882, "Lucy Dalton", a wood-burning locomotive, steamed into a forest clearing near the shores of Lake Nipissing, bringing with it North Bay's first settlers. The omen? The locomotive was designed by a William MASON of Taunton, Mass. The Masonic fact had begun its existence with the establishing of North Bay as a stable community. North Bay was a child of the railroad and, because of it, the “Bay” became a gateway that opened the doors to the Ontario Northland for new adventurers.
Climate is the standard-bearer that shaped the lives of those adventurers who chose the “North” - endurance, self-reliance and enterprise are the qualities of its survivors.
Railways were the new bloodline. They were synonymous with economic growth and prosperity. Also synonymous with North Bay's fortunes were many Masons who were instrumental in settling the area and establishing the new village.
Freemasons played a large part in the early years of North Bay -North Bay's founder - John Ferguson; the first preacher - Silas Huntington; the first druggist - John Cormack; the first doctor - Archie McMurchy; the first baker - James Lomax; the first jeweller - W.C. Ross; the first general store proprietor - William McDonald.
Five years after North Bay's inception as a railway divisional point, a number of gentlemen who were members of the Craft decided to form a Masonic Lodge. A leading spirit in the movement was the Rev. Silas Huntington - a noted pioneer missionary and Pastor of the Methodist Church (now Trinity United Church). This took place in the year 1887. Rev Huntington and others petitioned the Grand Lodge of Canada for dispensation to make, pass and raise Freemasons in a Lodge to be named "The Nipissing Lodge".
Of the thirty-one who signed the petition, twelve were members of Mattawa Lodge No. 405.
Henry Robertson, Esq., L.L.B., of the town of Collingwood, then Grand I Master of the Most Honourable Fraternity of Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons of Canada, on November 21st, 1887, granted to the petitioners dispensation empowering them to form themselves into a Craft Lodge, under the name of The Nipissing Lodge, to be held in the Village of North Bay, to meet on the Thursday on or before the full moon of every month, and to proceed as a regular lodge. The first officers of the lodge were Bro. Silas Huntington, Worshipful Master; Bro. John G. Cormack, Senior Warden; and Bro. William H. Burgess, Junior Warden. The inaugural meeting of Nipissing Lodge took place on November 29th, 1887, with thirty-one in attendance. R.W. Bro. W.R. Whyte, Past D.D.G.M. of the Ottawa District No. 16, took the chair and read the dispensation authorizing and empowering them to meet as a lodge under dispensation. The officers then took their chairs, with Bro. Silas Huntington in the East. R.W. Bro. David Taylor, D.D.G.M. of Ottawa District No.16, was then escorted in and given Grand honours.
No Lodge is without some form of controversy during its lifetime. In Nipissing Lodge's situation, it came some months after the Inaugural meeting had been fulfilled and recorded in the minutes. On the petition for the formation of Nipissing Lodge, Silas Huntington was listed as the proposed W.M., although he had never been installed as a Master, nor had he served as Warden. The name on the petition on file at Grand Lodge has been scratched out and the name of E. W. Cross inserted in its place. Being a diplomat, Silas Huntington resigned as W.M. on May 10th, 1888, prior to the charter being presented at Grand Lodge in July of that same Year. E. W. Cross was appointed as Worshipful Master and his name remains as Charter Worshipful Master. Even though Silas Huntington's position was as W.M. was invalid, our minutes cannot be changed and since Silas Huntington did preside at our first meeting as Worshipful Master, he still remains our first Master.
The first initiation of Nipissing Lodge took place on January 12, 1888 in the person of Thomas H. Smith and before the charter year had ended twenty-six in total were initiated - a record still unsurpassed. In all there were fifty-nine degrees conferred in 1888 spread over twenty-three meetings. The immediate question is, “Where did they find the time?”
When Grand Lodge met the following year Nipissing Lodge was grant a Charter as Nipissing Lodge No. 420, on the Grand Record of Canada, dated at Hamilton on the 18th of July, 1888, signed by M.W. Henry Robertson, Grand Master, and J.J. Mason, Grand Secretary.
It was common for the Lodge to be still at labour past the hours of midnight. On two occasions, the Lodge was closed in harmony at 0400 hours.
The Lodge register of membership is proof of the proficiency and the industrious attitude of Nipissing Lodge's first officers. Thus when Grand Lodge met in July 1888, the Lodge was granted a charter and given the number 420 on the Grand Record.
To be a Mason in North Bay in those early years was indeed a prestigious position - it placed a man on a higher plateau. As such they felt privileged but with those privileges came the expectations of living and acting in such a manner as to fulfill the duties of a good citizen.
From the minutes of those early years of Nipissing Lodge, it is quite evident that the conduct of its members was closely scrutinized both inside and outside of Lodge. There appears to have been no hesitation in reprimanding officers for non-fulfillment of their Masonic duties. Masons who did not adhere to their family responsibilities were also subject to Lodge discipline. Attendance in the annual Church parade was compulsory. Dues were paid monthly and only receipted at Lodge.
The Lodge took on many forms of charity: helping Brothers in distressed circumstances; assisting widows of deceased members (there was no Welfare then); conducting Masonic funerals within the Lodge, with the Lodge often assuming all funeral expenses incurred.
Over North Bay's first twenty-five years, many of its leading citizens were members of Nipissing Lodge: J.W. Deegan -Shoe Business; G.E. Hay and J. W. McDonald - Hardware; James McCluskey - Coal Merchant; N.J. McCubbin - General Store; A.A. McIntosh - Groceries; Wm. J. Parsons -Dry Goods; Robert Rankin - Groceries; A.C. Roraback - Druggist; Silvanus F. Weegar - Magistrate; G.A. McGaughey - Lawyer; W.H. Milne - Lumber; J.M. MacPherson - Plumbing and Fuels.
List of the First Officers of Nipissing Lodge
Wor. Bro. Silas Huntington, Worshipful Master
" Edward W. Cross, I.P.M.
" John J. Cormack, S.W.
" William H. Burgess, J.W.
" James Shotton, Treasurer
" Robert G. Croskery, Secretary
" Samuel Huntington, S.D.
" James Lomax, J.D.
" John Ferguson, S.S.
" Jas. Halpenny, J.S.
" James Dick, I.G.
" John Hill, Tyler.