The Chronicle Journal - Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Masons shed mysterious side
Sunday, May 27, 2007
By SARAH ELIZABETH BROWN
Ten years ago, says Gary Atkinson, this interview wouldn‘t be happening here.
Atkinson, the grand master of the 54,000 Ontario Freemasons, sits in the lodge room of the Thunder Bay‘s Dease Street Masonic building.
Draped in blue, with blue upholstery on the ornately-carved chairs and central alter, symbolism is rife in the meeting room.
Until recently, this isn‘t a place the public would have been invited.
The Masons are trying to shed their mysterious image, largely by emphasizing the considerable volunteer time and money raised through their charitable arm.
“The doors are opening,” he said. “Society has changed.”
He just laughs when he recounts cases of people asking him about the so-called mysterious side of Masons.
“We have never had any mystic secrets.”
In 1991, the campaign to change the secretive image began when Masons starting putting up display booths at public events.
They‘re even building a display lodge in Upper Canada Village, a rebuilt 1860s village and a popular tourist draw, to show the public what they‘re about, Atkinson said.
Through the Masonic family – the plethora of associated groups like Shriners and Order of the Eastern Star – some $3 million is donated to charity each day, he said.
Masons belong to one of the oldest fraternities in the world. In Ontario, the group is called the Grand Lodge of Canada since it formed before Confederation and back in the days of Upper and Lower Canada.
Atkinson, a 35-year member of the organization, will visit each of the 44 districts in Ontario during his two years at the top.
His Thunder Bay visit this weekend was littered with receptions and workshops for members, informing them about programs the Masons are involved with.
Every local lodge has its own charities and projects, from helping out individual families to sponsoring kids‘ sports teams.
At a provincial or national level, Masons hand out grants to college and university students in their last semester before graduation, that time when money often runs out but is still keenly needed.
Cochlear implants for hearing-impaired youngsters and blood donations are other causes Masons support.
“We‘ve always done these things,” Atkinson said. “We‘re proud of what we do.”
A men‘s social club, the Masons also bill themselves as a group through which men can grow as people.
Many lodges are riddled with community leaders of all sorts, and as with many volunteers, few are involved in just the Masons‘ favoured charities, but join service clubs as well, Atkinson said.