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As the Freemasons of Ontario celebrate the formation of the first organized Masonic body, three hundred years ago, it is important to realize the role that Charity and Benevolence have played throughout its history. All over the world, Freemasons have been providing assistance to those less fortunate than themselves for three hundred years and more.
Since the earliest days of Masonic Lodges, the institution has exhorted its members to practice relief and charity, both for the benefit of its own members as well as for the needy in their district.
For example, in 1670, the lodge at Aberdeen, Scotland pledged itself to make contributions to the Mason Box, for support of distressed brethren and the education of their children. Charity and benevolence was intended to provide assistance to poor brethren, to brethren who had “fallen upon evil times”, to help Freemasons’ widows and to educate orphans and the children of poor brethren.
In 1724, the first Grand Lodge developed a centralized charity scheme which has evolved over the centuries but this has always been additional to the charity support provided by individual Masons, their Lodges and later, by Provinces and Districts.
Charity formed part of the Masonic legacy our early Freemasons brought to North America and particularly to Canada. The Upper Canada Gazette of June 28, 1797 carried a notice about the Lodge of Philanthropy at Newark (today’s Niagara-on-the-Lake), No. 4 (Upper Canada) that, ". . . at a meeting of the Lodge in their room, Newark, it was resolved that a fund should be established for the benefit of Free Masons’ widows, the education of orphans, and indigent brethren’s children."
As early as 1799, the surviving written By-Laws of the Lodge at Grimsby, No. 15 (Upper Canada), required that Masons attending Lodge meetings would make a donation ". . . to be put to the fund for indigent brethren."
These Lodges were not alone in providing charity and relief to the distressed in Upper Canada. Earlier times, in many ways, were so different. The structure of social assistance was varied and in most cases non-existent, with no pensions, no social assistance and no or limited health care. Job losses were catastrophic, and in many cases, occurred as a result of an on-the-job accident or disaster. Laws were not present to protect the workers. If a worker was not able to work, he received no pay.
The Grand Lodge of Canada was founded in 1855. Its first Constitution, approved in 1856, provided for the formation of a Standing Committee on Charity. Originally, Grand Lodge’s own general funds were used to create a Charity Fund, the interest earned to be used for charitable purposes. By 1872, $3,575 had been contributed through 98 grants.
Beginning in 1871, monies were regularly spent on disaster relief (such as Hurricane Hazel in 1955) and in supporting a Special War Service Committee when homes were opened to bombed-out and evacuated British children.
Over the years, funds have been contributed to the Scouts Canada and the Girl Guides of Canada, the Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society, CNIB Canada, Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Salvation Army Canada, the Society for Crippled Children and the Society for Retarded Children.
In 1964, Grand Lodge created a charitable foundation under a private act of the Provincial Legislature. According to the Masonic Foundation Act of Ontario, 1964, "The objects of the Foundation are to receive, maintain, manage, control and use donations exclusively for charitable purposes within Ontario". Thus, was the Masonic Foundation of Ontario established ... for more information visit: www.masonicfoundation.on.ca .
As social programs developed and expanded through social assistance, health care, pensions, employee benefits, etc., the focus of charitable donations shifted. Today, the interest earned from the Foundation’s capital fund ($14.6 million on March 31, 2016) is used exclusively in Ontario for the relief of poverty, advancement of education and the advancement of other purposes beneficial to the community.
The Foundation is committed to funding bursaries, hearing research, drug and substance abuse education in the school systems and other specific and community projects which fall within its guidelines.
At the Annual Communication of Grand Lodge in July 2016, several examples of charitable activities were reported. Some of these include (a) Red Cross Blood Service which has been supported by Ontario Masons since the first records were started in Hamilton in 1941. Blood donations totaling 13,710 units in 2015 were reported by our Masonic Districts; (b) projects targeted at various cancers including “Project Prostate Hope,” specifically designated by the Grand Master in recognition of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Masonic Foundation of Ontario, to fund projects to strengthen identification and treatment of prostate cancer; (c) Camp Trillium, a Childhood Cancer Support Centre; and (d) Child Identification Program which has seen 42,000 child ID kits provided free of charge to Ontario families as dramatic, time-sensitive recovery tool for authorities.
Grand Lodge is not alone in these efforts in support of individuals and communities across Ontario, Canada and in other parts of the world. Most Masonic bodies operate parallel charity programs often with the assistance and support of their female units.
To name a few, Ontario’s Royal Arch Grand Chapter provides support for post-secondary education and medical research; Ontario’s Cryptic Rite assists research into Alzheimer disease. National bodies such as the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite are also active in supporting research to “solve the puzzles of the mind” including Alzheimer’s and dyslexia, and Canada’s Shriners support hospital programs focusing on children’s needs.
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Monday, March 06, 2017