by WBro Graeme Boyce
In the spirit and tradition of remembrance, lest we forget, I was reminded this month of a story about our flag, and the courage of a few virtuous men.
Faithfully, Canadians are reminded in November to recall the past, of previous battles, vain and critical, struggles both lost and won, of wars fought around the world on foreign shores, long ago and nowadays at home, to appreciate bravery and reflect notably on sacrifice. In their honour, we salute our young nation’s cherished red and white flag.
Last month I received my copy of Valley Talk, and in it was a piece concerning our very illustrious brother John Ross Matheson, who passed to the GLA several years ago. He went to war for his country and was gravely wounded fighting in Italy in 1944. Among other tributes, the Judge Matheson Gates at CFB Kingston are named in his honour. Elected to the House of Commons, as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who credited Matheson as “the man who had the most to do with the creation of the Canadian Flag than any other,” he again accepted his duty and led the charge to provide us our unifying emblem for all Canadians.
Noted historian and esteemed Freemason, Wallace E. McLeod, Professor Emeritus of Classics at Victoria College, University of Toronto, (Harvard Ph.D grad, and also a Past President and Fellow of The Philalethes Society), as taken from a book he co-authored called Freemasonry & Democracy: Its Evolution in North America, states:
“On February 15, 1965, after prolonged debate, a distinctively Canadian flag, with the Maple Leaf, was adopted, to take the place of the so-called Red Ensign. The prime mover in this discussion was the Honorable John Ross Matheson, who had been initiated in Queen’s Lodge, No 578, Kingston, in 1940.”
As Canada’s flag was heralded into existence with the aid of a Freemason, and since proudly flown and defended in every corner of this planet, speaking of democracy, we should recall Canada itself was created and heralded into existence a hundred years earlier with the aid of another Freemason, Sir John A MacDonald, our first and only appointed Prime Minister.
Locally, a few streets west of my own humble abode in The Beach – once known as The Beaches a few years ago (and hence our lodge’s namesake) – is the site of our former and original temple at the corner of Balsam and Queen; though a few streets to the east is a house located at 62 Laing Street and upon its front lawn once grew a rather massive maple tree.
(Here’s a link, courtesy of The City of Toronto, explaining recent events concerning the tree, which inspired the song originally and that was felled during a storm.
As a launching point for this article, I’ve been trying to find out for years whether The Maple Leaf Forever, a song written and intended to celebrate Confederation, and until O’Canada was officially adopted in 1980 was considered our “unofficial” national anthem, might have been written by a Freemason who had perhaps once lived in that house. The songwriter’s name was Alexander Muir, and he wrote the song after serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto in the Battle of Ridgeway against the Fenians in 1866. Although he was an Orangeman, apparently he was not a member of ours or any Freemason’s lodge in Toronto.
Neither it seems was John McCrae, who authored In Flanders Field a few decades later when Canada proved itself as a nation on the battlefield, and which is solemnly crucial to our Empty Chair ceremony in November – yet several other remarkable men who commanded our valiant forces overseas were, including Sir Arthur Currie, Sir Sam Steele and Sir David Watson, as well as Captain Roy Brown who while piloting his Sopwith Camel shot down The Red Baron, Germany’s air ace, Manfred von Richthofen.
A few years ago I regularly attended luncheons held at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto, organized by Masons to discuss numerous interesting topics. The Institute’s founding patron in 1890 was Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada and a Freemason, and a few years later another Governor General and Freemason, the Duke of Connaught, laid its cornerstone. Displayed nestled among its many private collections is one of the institute’s most legendary artifacts, the seat of Baron von Richthofen’s Fokker Triplane, donated by Bro Brown in 1920.
Two other notable men who proudly served Canada with the 48th Highlanders in Europe during World War I were Conn Smythe and Jack Bickell. It is quite likely the many members of The Beaches Lodge who did not return home, and who are solemnly remembered during our annual November meeting, enjoyed a good game of hockey and those fortunate enough to return cheered locally for the “Blue Shirts” in 1918, Toronto’s newest professional hockey team (who actually won The Cup); while in the warm summer months for the Maple Leafs, in fact a baseball club owned by Bickell.
Over the past hundred years many hockey players have fought to win Stanley’s Cup including Freemasons Tim Horton and Charlie Conacher, who both wore the Leafs’ blue and white jerseys, which used to be green and white back in the day but never red and white. When Smythe bought the Toronto hockey team in 1927 he changed the colours to blue and white, and along with Bickell and a few friends, such as the Eatons, who owned the property at Carlton and Yonge, during The Depression built Maple Leaf Gardens.
The 48th Highlanders have not missed a Leafs’ home opener since 1931, and fittingly they play The Maple Leaf Forever to herald each new hockey season. According to biographers, original owner Smythe and team president Bickell agreed to instil “a sense of ceremony” for the grand opening of their new hockey arena, and tasked the historic regiment’s pipe and drums to perform. The vaunted regiment’s motto is Dileas gu brath, Gaelic for “faithful forever”.
On another level, Smythe’s son (Stafford) went on to run the Leafs after buying the team from his dad, but as a young hockey player was coached by none other than Harold Ballard, a Freemason. Among the many gravestones and monuments in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery is the Masonic tomb of former Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Steve Stavros, who as a boy attended the Duke of Connaught Public School, a few minutes walk from Laing Street, and worked in his father’s grocery store at the corner of Queen and Coxwell.