The Order in Ontario grew out of the early development of Odd Fellowship in Canada.
It survived however, the fate of the Grand Lodge of British North America who eventually walked away from its own charter in 1853. One hundred and forty three years later, Ontario still practices the principles and objectives of the Order. This enduring record is due to those few Odd Fellows who at the time of the forfeiture, believed in this fraternity and took steps to prevent its demise within Ontario. The decision to commit to a strategy for the preservation of the Order has permitted many fraternal relationships over the passage of time.
The first Odd Fellow Lodge was instituted on June 17, 1845 in Canada West (later to be known as Ontario). Victoria Lodge No. 6 was located in the village of Belleville. New lodges working under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Canada were numbered in the sequence of their creation. The actual location of a lodge within the country was not relevant. Although Victoria Lodge became the sixth lodge in the country it was the first in Ontario.
Federal members of Parliament, who were also Odd Fellows, enjoyed the benefits of the Order in the city of Montreal. They also wanted to continue this relationship in their home towns in Canada West. Although they may have been considered small players in Montreal, they would be the big players if a lodge was created in their home town. In 1846 they prevailed upon the leaders of the Order to make an effort to expand and open up this vast virgin territory.
A delegation composed of three special deputies was established. It was given the authority to visit the populous sections of the Province, with powers to establish lodges wherever the opportunities occurred. The commission left Montreal on March 4, 1846 by stage coach returning on April 3rd. Its journey was tortuous observing that many of the roads traveled were constructed of logs and during the Canadian spring they were not suitable for a comfortable trip.
The committee had exclusive powers, mandated by the Grand Lodge to enable it to recruit new members and initiate lodges without being prevented by bureaucratic red tape. The members of the commission were Deputy Grand Master Thomas Hardie (the brother of John Hardie, the father of Odd Fellowship in Canada), Past Grand George P. Dickson and District Deputy Grand Master Edward Murney.
The delegation was sent on its mission with the powers that left nothing to be questioned. It was in possession of a list of all the Canada West members who belong to the Montreal lodges. It possessed a stock of blank withdrawal cards, which were authorized to be issued to any who were disposed to unite and petition for new lodges. The commission was permitted to initiate Odd Fellows on sight, receive applications, grant dispensations; and institute lodges. In the words of its instructions to "Do and perform all other acts and things which might be or become necessary for the due and proper fulfillment of the objects and purposes". No red tape was to trammel the operations of these pioneer missionaries.
The three commissioners were successful during the journey in instituting ten Odd Fellow lodges in Canada West, all chartered by the Grand Lodge of Canada. In addition, a new lodge was instituted in Bytown (Ottawa) on August 2, 1846.
In 1847, two more Odd Fellow Lodges were instituted in Toronto and Oshawa. Records show that a total of 22 lodges was operational having 2,280 Odd Fellows contributing to the Order in Ontario.
On January 19, 1847 the new Grand Sire of the Grand Lodge of British North America called into session the first meeting of the recently chartered body. Six officers and twenty-one representatives answered the roll call. This session adopted a constitution, and divided British North America into eight subordinated Grand Lodge Jurisdictions, namely, Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Quebec, Fredericton, Halifax, Charlottetown and Newfoundland.
During the first year after receiving authority to operate as a quasi-independent jurisdiction, there was an apparent prosperity and growth. The total number of lodges had reached twenty-two with a membership of 2280. After 1848 it began to decline, at first slowly, with irregular efforts being made to hold its own, then more rapidly, until finally, in 1851, it collapsed. The Grand Lodge met on August 29th of that year with only four officers and three representatives attending the meeting. The only order of business on the record was the election of officers, then the Grand Lodge adjourned. Little did the officers realize that this adjournment would be permanent. The Grand Lodge of British North America was dead. In 1853, the Grand Lodge of the United States tried to resuscitate it but there was no interest shown in Montreal to maintain the operations.
During this period, the active lodges were apprehensive about the abandonment by the fraternal leaders in Montreal of their responsibilities. Fortunately, Brother Thomas Reynolds of Brockville was an Odd Fellow who had the energy and determination to inspire other Brothers to seek a solution. He wrote to the remaining active lodges in Canada and invited their Past Grands to a special meeting to discuss and plan a strategy for survival.
The special group met on July 8, 1853 in Brockville. It was quickly decided that Dr. Thomas Reynolds, PG of Brock Lodge No. 9 should be selected as Chairman. It was realized that the provisions of the Constitution stipulated that the subordinate lodges also ceased to exist upon the forfeiture of the Charter of the Grand Body. The group drafted and adopted a resolution appealing to the Grand Lodge of the United States for consideration of working directly under their authority.
In 1853, Wilmot G. De Saussure, Grand Sire visited Quebec and reclaimed the charter. He declared the remaining lodges to be in the same position as they were before the granting of the quasi-independent jurisdiction, that is, the Grand Lodge of the United States was the governing Grand Body until further notice. He also declared that Canada would be divided into three districts, with a District Deputy Grand Sire in charge of each. These were the Lower Provinces, Canada East and Canada West. The surviving lodges were Albion Lodge No. 4 of Quebec City, Brock No. 9 of Brockville, Ontario Lodge No. 12 of Grafton, Union No. 16 of St. Catharines, Industry No. 25 of Haldiman, Victoria No. 27 of Caledonia and Arcadia No. 26 of Halifax.
Given the chance, the remaining lodges in Canada West implemented their expansion strategy. The area west of Toronto was up to this time undeveloped in the American Order. There were quite a few lodges operated by the Manchester Unity, however, this did not deter the Odd Fellows who felt that the area was ready for new opportunities for fraternity. They were able to convince some Manchester Unity lodges to convert to the American Order. Within a short period of time they had instituted seven new lodges under the protection of the Grand Lodge of the United States.
Subsequently, the Brothers felt confident that they could manage the operations of a new Grand Lodge and in 1855 they petitioned for a new charter for the territory known as Canada West. This was granted on July 27, 1855 and the Grand Lodge was instituted on August 23, 1855. The territory was re-named Ontario in 1867 at the time the birth of Canada was decreed under the British North America Act by the Parliament in England.
Many events and achievements have occurred since that time. Ontario created an Odd Fellows and Orphans home, and formed an Odd Fellow Insurance company for collection and payment of benefits. Ontario has enjoyed a great period of fraternalism since its revival and at its peak in 1920, it had 403 Odd Fellow Lodges containing 61,833 members. From the early decision to retain an Odd Fellow presence in Canada West, numerous people over the years were able to obtain many social values garnered in the lodge halls. This knowledge made them better citizens in their respective communities and everyday life.
Most of this history has been obtained from the official journals of the Grand Lodge of Ontario. 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.