Masonic Spring Workshop 1990
Bro. Jack Collett
In Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, there is a well known speech
by Jacques wherein he tries to explain to his distressed father the
Duke, the ways of the world.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances:
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His Acts being seven ages.
Jacques goes on to outline those seven stages starting with the
infant and ending with old
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Human life does not progress through these various stages as
smoothly as Shakespeare would have us think.
People get stuck at a
certain stage and never progress.
There are individuals that never
get out of their adolescence no matter how old they are. Some
don’t even get out of the whining schoolboy age.
Organizations are very much like the human being.
They start with
a newness and an excess of energy and, normally should progress to
maturity and wise old age. So
often organizations get stuck at one
point of development and go no further.
The Masonic Order does not differ from human beings or from other
organizations in this regard.
There is always the possibility of
getting stranded at one stage of development and remaining there
while the rest of society forges ahead to new concepts and exciting
Masonry came into Alberta when on January 13, 1882, the Grand Lodge
of Manitoba granted a dispensation for Saskatchewan Lodge No. 17,
G.R.M. to be established. This Lodge was instituted on February 13
of the same year and consecrated on April 21, 1882, with 13
members. Despite the Shakespearean model of development,
Saskatchewan Lodge did not develop beyond infancy and the charter
was surrendered on February 13, 1889.
Another start was made two
years later when the Grand Lodge of Manitoba issued a dispensa tion
to erect Bow River Lodge No. 28, G.R.M. on January 1, 1884.
In its infancy in Alberta, the Masonic Order grew very well. There
were no great problems. With
the influx of settlers more Lodges
were organized. Many of them met monthly at the time of the full
moon so that the members could have some light for their treks to
the meetings and for their way home if their meetings did not last
until the first light of the dawn.
It was a time when the Lodges
met quietly and when fellowship was most essential to these
pioneering folk who had little enough contact with othe r people.
Time moved on and the district of Alberta attracted more and more
settlers. The North West
Mounted Police brought law and order to
the western lands. The
Canadian Pacific Railway bound the country
together with its bands of steel.
By the summer of 1905 there were
eighteen Masonic Lodges operating in the district of Alberta.
result was that the Grand Lodge of Alberta was established on
October 12, 1905, just about one month after the Province of
Alberta had come into existence.
Masonry in Alberta, following the Shakespearean model, moved into
its adolescent period. It was one of great growth and of deep
interest in the development of the Grand Lodge Constitution and the
consecration of various Lodges. Even the First World War, 1914 -
1918, did not stop the expansion of the Masonic Order in Alberta.
poured in to northern areas and into many other parts of
the Province. At the
conclusion of the Great War, the Grand Lodge
of Alberta had 110 Lodges under its jurisdiction.
Masonry in Alberta continued to flourish in spite of the great
depression of the thirties and World War Two which ended in Europe
on May 7, 1945, and in the Far East on August 29, 1945.
was in the Alberta air because of economic prosperity, especially
when the oil boom hit Alberta.
Despite the fact that there was a
spirit of optimism in the province there were indications that
instead of following Shakespeare and going immediately from
adolescence into maturity, the Masonic order was in for a period
non-development. One Grand
Master asserted that the Masonic Lodge
“should be a factor in the life of the community.” Another Grand
Master asserted that it was time for Freemasonry to set its house
in order and he said this could not be done by “the weary
occupation of how we can beat up a new enthusiasm,” but that it
could be done by clarifying the goals for which the order stood.
Grand Master felt that Masonry should move out of it s
tendency to shield itself from community life and proposed t hat
the Grand Lodge organize a Boys’ Farm to reclaim delinquent
adolescents. Loss in
membership caused some concern.
Lodge communication in 1966 heard of a decrease of 170 and the next
year it was 180. At the same
time there were cries that the
quality of applicants was decreasing.
When I was a newly ordained minister I was sent in 1938 to the
small town of St. Paul in north eastern Alberta.
It was a largely
Roman Catholic, French speaking area.
Most of the Protestants in
town were transient, Bank employees, C.N.R. employees, R.C.M.P. and
so forth. A number of them
were Masons. Although most
were faithful church members, to this day I do not know where the
Masonic Hall was located. I
visited St. Alban’s Lodge 145 when I
was Grand Master and no one could understand why I h ad not applied
for membership while I was there. St. Alban’s did not survive.
was constituted on July 29, 1926, and on July 7, 1973, it
amalgamated with St. George’s Lodge No. 169 of Elk Point.
My next appointment was at Taber.
The Church Board there was made
up almost completely of Masons.
The Secretary was an Anglican.
summer, he would come over to our house with flowers and
vegetables for my wife. At
the same time he would enter into a
very pleasant conversation with me.
Never once did the subject of
Masonry come up. When I
visited there when I was Grand Master,
they told me they could never understand why I did not apply for
membership. Doric Lodge
constituted on July 10, 1908, but on May
4, 1979, Doric Lodge No. 31 amalgamated with Lucerne Lodge No. 159
and the Lodge meetings were moved from Taber to Vauxhall.
Then I moved to Claresholm.
Tuesday nights in Claresholm were
Lodge night and no other meetings were ever scheduled for Tuesdays.
I became exasperated with this inflexible situation and I
said to the Clerk of Session, “What in the world is so important
about these Lodges that we all have to plan around what they claim
is their special night.” He calmly asked me if I really wanted to
know and I said, “You bet I do.” You see where that rather rash and
hasty statement landed me.
In Claresholm, the barber was Bill McKenzie.
He was my coach. As
most of you know, I never boast about my ability as a ritualist. In
fact there was one time when I was raising a candidate in the Third
Degree I wandered off the track, but being accustomed to ad
libbing, I continued on until the candidate was finally raised.
the Lodge was closed a brother, very skilled, came over to me
and said, “I want to compliment you on your work tonight. It was
done very well. Would you mind telling me what rite you were
working in?” Bill was an excellent coach. I would go down to the
barbershop and he could immediately, in the middle of the morning,
pull down all the blinds and lock the door.
Then we would go at it
with no book visible at all.
The members of the Lodge would go by
the barbershop and say, “Well Bill’s at it with Collett again I
wonder if he’ll ever make it.” We did make it, but it is a source
of constant regret that Cairo Lodge today struggles f or its very
One day, when I was Grand Master, I was in the Grand Lodge Office
and the Grand Secretary, the late Ned Rivers, asked me if I would
like to make a surprise visit to Picture Butte that night and I
said yes. So Ned got on the
phone. We rounded up two carloads from
Calgary. He telephoned Del McQueen, a Past Grand Master who lived
in Vulcan, who arranged for another two carloads and the District
Deputy of Lethbridge who arranged for several cars.
We arrived in
Picture Butte after nightfall and had supper in a small cafe. To
my surprise, Ned was not sure where the Lodge Room was located.
asked the waitress and she had never heard of the Masons, she knew
about the Lions, the Knights of Columbus but not the Masons. An
R.C.M.P. constable was having a cup of coffee.
He couldn’t help.
went outside and then saw a dim light a block away and decided
that was the Lodge Room. I
have a distinct recollection of the
Junior Warden on the telephone trying to persuade e his wife to make
more sandwiches. He said,
“They’re coming by the carload from all
directions. We’ve got to do
something.” The Master of the lodge
survived the shock and received the party well.
The Lodge Room had
never seen such a crowd and what a great evening it was.
part was that the Masonic Lodge was making no impact on the
community as far as being a public presence was concerned.
The Masonic Spring Workshop started in my term as Grand Master when
we decided to have a study session the Tuesday evening before the
Grand Lodge sessions commenced. Those were the days when the
brethren came into the city the night before Grand Lodge opened and
were at loose ends for something to do in the evening.
was prompted first of all by the conviction of many that we needed
to talk informally about Masonry and also by a popular book that
had been written by M.W.Bro. Dwight L. Smith, then Grand secretary
of the Grand Lodge of Indiana, titled Whither Are We Traveling and
an article, Why All the Confusion in the Temple. These works were
attempts to study the wide-spread malaise that was beginning to
affect Freemasonry. Alberta
was reporting a decline in membership,
an alarming decrease in attendance and increasing talk about
amalgamation or surrendering Charters.
That first evening at Mount Royal College was overwhelmingly
successful. We had such a
large attendance that we were pressed to
find rooms for the small groups to meet in for discussions.
led to the proposal that Masons throughout Alberta should be given
an opportunity to get together to discuss Masonry in an informal
and unstructured way, not hampered by the formalities of Lodge
meetings. We were fortunate to have Mel Dunford in the Grand Lodge
Office as Assistant to the Grand Secretary. He had a background of
experience with the United Church Men’s Conference that was held in
Banff annually. After some discussion it was decided that we would
attempt a Masonic Spring Workshop organized along the lines of the
United Church effort. It
would be a tragedy if we did not pause
here to pay a tribute to Mel Dunford who bore the brunt of the
organization of the Workshop and acted as its secretary some
I can well remember the First Workshop.
The Banff School of Fine
Arts was not organized to handle the large number of Masons who
wanted to attend. There were no large residence buildings.
the Committee arrived two days early to set up the Workshop Mel was
handed all the keys and told to assign rooms.
Somehow he had
everything ready when the influx came. I suspect he went without
sleep for at least one night.
Not only did we have a profitable
time in discussions but we had a memorable social time a s well.
Woods proved to be an efficient Parade Marshall, visiting rooms
with the aid of a Piper to unheard of morning hours.
there were difficulties in the early years, but they were not
sufficiently serious to mar the real purpose of the gathering.
The problem that Masonry was facing, if we follow our Shakespearean
model was that Masonry had stalled in its growth and remained in
its late adolescent years.
The craft was so bent on secrecy and
self-examination that it was failing to make a meaningful impact on
the community. It was not visible amongst the multitude of
organizations in the community. The general public did not know
what Masonry was and what it did. There were many amazing stories
around about Masonic practices. Even the members of the Masonic
Order were not at all certain of their purpose.
Indeed it was a
typical mixed up adolescent age. The basic problem is one common to
all organizations which have a long history.
The organization has a purpose and a philosophy with which it
starts. It also exists within
a society. The organization takes on
some of the characteristics of the society in which it lives.
you have a combination of the basic principles of the organization
combined with the peculiarities of the society, which makes up the
way in which the organization operates.
The difficulty comes when
the human society changes and in the last eighty years our society
has changed very rapidly.
When an organization refuses to move
with the changes in society, then that organization ceases to be
started with a number of basic principles.
lived in a pre-modern society and took unto itself many
characteristics of the society.
It became static and wanted to
carry with it not only the basis principles but also a multitude of
outworn customs. Because of
this it has found itself in the
backwaters of modern life. So the Masonic order is in difficulty
with the church, the younger generation and society in general.
must look at itself, decide what basic principles are
fundamental and must cast aside those prejudices and practices that
are not essential. It was
fine fifty years ago for a Lodge to meet
quietly for the sake of fellowship and not to talk about its
purposes and objectives. Society accepted that for the age of
communication had not arrived.
When the new age did come, Masonry
was not prepared and was passed by.
The time has come now for the Masonic Order to examine itself and
ask two questions:
1. What are those things that are basic to the order?
2. What are those elements that are not essential and can be put
aside as accretions in order that the order will fit into the world
of the twenty-first century?
Tonight we are looking at the past. In the next couple of days
other speakers will analyze Masonry as it is today and as it must
Let us look at the past. What elements do we bring from the past
that must be maintained today and tomorrow?
1. When we take away all the trappings with which Masonry has
surrounded itself during its long history we find that the
fraternity exists for one purpose and that is to preserve, to
transmit to posterity the worthwhile parts of civilization that our
forefathers passed on to us.
2. Masonry is an organization of human effort to preserve and
promote civilization but it does not do this in terms of caste or
creed or within political, territorial or religious limits. In
other words it is universal. Because of this the Masonic Order will
run into trouble with some organizations, secular and religious,
that would like to confine themselves to one section of society or
one religious outlook. This Masonry must constantly refuse to do.
is universal in its outlook.
3. If Masonry is to pass on the best of our modern civilization if
it is to embrace all religions, races and cultures then it has to
rid itself of some of its static and unproductive ideas and get
into the stream of present day life.
The ideal of the eighteenth
century was knowledge; the ideal of the nineteenth century was the
projection of morality into the new knowledge; the ideal of the
twentieth century is the development of communication so that
knowledge, ideals, morality can be a part of a universal culture.
in this world there is a Lodge of Masons, that Lodge
should be in the forefront of communicating by modern means the
ideals of knowledge, morality and universality.
When the Entered Apprentice stands before the Master of the Lodge
some working tools are placed in his hands. He is told what they
are to be used for. He must
use them and then return them to the
Master. They never become his
own. The Grand Master of
Universe has entrusted to the Masonic Order working tools by which
the life of this suffering world may be molded. We do not own those
working tools; they are just for us to use and then to
return them to the Eternal.
When we return those tools, we pray
that they may have been used in the Craft of humanity so that the
great Lodge of this world will have pleasure and profit.
For after all:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time
plays many parts....