History of Odd Fellowship in Canada
By H. Robert Howard
August 10, 1843 -- Twenty-four years after the birth of the American Order in Baltimore, Maryland, the first Odd Fellow lodge instituted in Canada was Prince of Wales Lodge No. 1 in Montreal, PQ. It received its charter through the efforts of two American Odd Fellows living in Montreal. They petitioned the Grand Lodge of the United States for a lodge charter. That authority granted the charter after some very serious soul searching and deliberation.
Within fifteen months, there were three lodges in the Montreal area who petitioned and received a charter to operate as the Grand Lodge of Canada under the leadership of W.M.B. Hartley as Grand Master.
This was the beginning of a brief period of prosperity. The Order spread rapidly to become a fashionable and popular society in Canada. Montreal was the capital of Canada in 1843 and there were amongst the Odd Fellows, many prominent elected members of parliament. The lodges became private social clubs in the eyes of some of the members. These members could retreat from their daily hectic parliamentary lifestyle to enjoy some private male activities.
During the formative years, those members engaged in parliamentary activities were strong free thinking nationalists. Having learned of the change approved by the Grand Lodge of the United States, they felt that the Canadian operations should be more independent. Accordingly, they petitioned the Grand Lodge of the United States for sovereign status as a quasi-independent jurisdiction. Subsequently, the Grand Lodge of British North America received this authority with some limitations on their powers. This new Grand Body was the first of its kind and included both the Odd Fellow and Patriarch branches in Canada.
At the peak of its short-lived history, the Grand Lodge of British North America chartered four Grand Lodges and twenty-eight Odd Fellow Lodges under their respective jurisdictions. In addition, because this Grand Body served all of Canada, one Odd Fellow Lodge located in Nova Scotia was granted a charter. However, the burden of this organization may have been too heavy or the novelty of membership in the Order may have worn off on the senior officials of the Grand Lodge of British North America. They defaulted on their responsibilities to the subordinate members of the Order. All lodges in the city of Montreal formally disbanded in 1853. The debts of the Grand Lodge were paid by the subordinate lodges remaining. The leadership walked away from the charter, so that finally in 1854 the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the United States made a visit to Quebec City. He was trying to ascertain whether any hope was evident to resuscitate the Order in Canada. Unfortunately, there was no positive evidence to revive the charter of the Grand Body in Canada. The Grand Secretary, reported to the annual session of the Grand Lodge of the United States these facts. He recommended that the seven orphaned Odd Fellow Lodges in Ontario and the one in Nova Scotia be brought under the umbrella of the Grand Lodge of the United States.
The short career of the first sovereign quasi-independent jurisdiction ended. In retrospect, the Order has survived in Canada and seven jurisdictions continue to operate under the Sovereign Grand Lodge to this day.
Most of this history has been obtained from the official journals of Sovereign Grand Lodge especially those of 1843 to 1855. Additional information may be found in:
Odd Fellowship in Ontario up to 1923 by W. Sanfield Johnston, PGM printed by the Macoomb Press, 1923.
Concise History of Odd Fellowship - By Joseph Powley, Past Grand Sire printed by the Macoomb Publishing Company Limited, 1952.