By the mid-1880’s the Northwest Territories already had five Masonic lodges. Three were located in communities that would become part of Saskatchewan, Moosomin, Prince Albert and Regina, and in future Alberta there was one lodge at Edmonton and one at Calgary. There was no Masonic lodge in Lethbridge, but there were Masons, and they maintained a fraternal association. In late December of 1886, the Lethbridge News reported that the local Masonic fraternity had decided, “to take immediate steps for the formation of a Lodge.” A committee was appointed to find a suitable hall, and within a week another meeting was held to begin taking, “the necessary steps for procuring a dispensation from the Grand Lodge at Winnipeg.” These meetings were the first historical glimmer of what would eventually become North Star Lodge in Lethbridge.
Nearby, in Fort Macleod and Medicine Hat, the Masonic community was already seeking warrants, first from the Grand Lodge of England and then from the Grand Lodge of British Columbia. Finally in 1897 a warrant was granted to Alberta Lodge No. 37 on the Grand Register of Manitoba. Alberta Lodge would shortly thereafter sponsor the creation of North Star Lodge, and in March 1888 the Grand Lodge of Manitoba granted dispensation to tyle Masonic meetings in Lethbridge. The first meeting of North Star Lodge was held on April 16th 1888 in rooms above a furniture store in downtown. The dispensation was brought to this first meeting from Calgary by the DDGM RWorBro. James Brigden who installed and invested the first officers of the lodge. There were eight officers and one member.
These first charter members of North Star represent a cross-section of the social and economic activities present in Lethbridge at the time. Thomas McPherson, the Worshipful Master (he was also the first WM of Medicine Hat Lodge) was an engineer on the paddle steamer “Alberta” which travelled between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat on the Old Man river. In 1885 he also drove the first locomotive to reach Lethbridge from Medicine Hat, on the old narrow gauge railway known as “the turkey rail.” During the Riel Rebellion, he was engineer on the “Northcote”, transporting troops and supplies along the Old Man, North and South Saskatchewan rivers. McPherson later went on to be Grand Senior Warden of the the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. Robert Niven, Senior Warden, was in charge of the hoisting works at the top of the incline at the mines. Frank Lowrey came to Lethbridge from Ohio to demonstrate a new coal-cutting machine. Frederick Champness was the first Collector of Customs for Lethbridge. Edward Mathewson was the first Rector of St. Augustin’s Anglican Church and later became Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Saskatchewan. Malcolm McKenzie owned and operated a hotel. Charles McKillop was the first resident Presbyterian minister, was known as, “the fighting parson,” and eventually had a local church named in his honour. James Pierre lived in a house at the river bottom at the ferry landing. Alex Ross was stable boss for the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company.
North Star’s first petitions for initiation were received less than a month after that first meeting, with three applicants on May 3rd. North Star’s early meetings saw many new members and visitors. Prominent among the visitors was Thomas McNabb from Ontario. In 1891, McNabb affiliated with North Star, served as Worshipful Master five times and went on to become Grand Master in Alberta in 1911.
On March 11, 1889, the lodge convened for the first time under its new charter, as North Star Lodge No. 41, under the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. It would be remiss if thanks were not expressed to the Grand Lodge of Manitoba who sponsored the lodges in the Northwest Territories and whose officers supported, visited and rendered every service possible to these lodges to ensure their success. The affection of the lodges is demonstrated by motions in the books of Macleod No. 37 and North Star #41 that they continue their affiliation in the Grand Lodge of Manitoba after the formation of the Grand Lodge of Alberta in 1905. With the formation of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, North Star No. 41 GRM became North Star No. 4 GRA.
As membership grew from the original nine members, it became necessary for larger quarters to be obtained and in the intervening years North Star became very mobile, moving its meeting place eleven times. On February 9th, 1920, the joint building committee reported the purchase of our present building from the Sons of England for $16,500, and on March 8th the lodge moved into its new home on the ground floor of this building. At the time, the upper floor was used as a popular dance hall or to hold very large Masonic meetings.
For the first twenty years of its existence, North Star was the only lodge in Lethbridge. By 1908 it had more than 200 members and in order that younger members could find an opportunity to participate in the work of the Lodge, it became necessary to form new lodges. Several members demitted to become charter members in these new lodges. Over the years, North Star assisted in the formation of Lethbridge No. 39, Chief Mountain No. 58, Diamond City No. 65, Charity No. 67, York No. 119 and others.
Since North Star is one of the oldest lodges in the west, its history portrays the development of the country and in particular southern Alberta. Its membership indicates the days of coal mining, the arrival of the Mounted Police, the coming of the railway, immigration, the rancher, farmer and development of irrigation, business and professional man and of course military service in times of conflict. Of the first one hundred names on the register, at least a quarter were members of the North West Mounted Police. Member George Steele served as a guard on the death cell of Riel in 1885. Dr. Frank Mewburn Master in 1893 and 1894, performed the first appendectomy west of Winnipeg, established the Galt School of Nursing, and served as Mayor. We have members who were veterans of the Basuto Campaign, the Riel Rebellions, the Boer War, World Wars One and Two and the Cold War. A most prominent member was VWorBro. Dr. J.S. Stewart who attained the rank of Brigadier General and who also served in public office. Many members have served in political office from school boards, city council to the legislature and parliament. A look at the Chief Magistrate’s position (Mayor) will see a number of familiar names from our rolls. Our members have also been well represented in the judiciary and legal profession, and as well the medical community.
In times gone by, membership in the lodge was frequently sought and by now, North Star has had over 1300 regular and almost 1000 emergent meetings. Since the world wars, however, membership declined and it became necessary for some local lodges to amalgamate back into North Star. This was the fate of York Lodge No. 119 in June of 2005 and Diamond City Lodge No. 65 in June of 2009. Amalgamated members of both lodges continue a vital practice of masonry with their North Star brethren. Our annual Burns Night, a great success and jewel of the lodge was brought to us from a tradition established in York Lodge.
The brethren of North Star continue to represent a vital cross section of life in Lethbridge, with professionals, businessmen, servicemen and retirees of many stripes. We are currently undergoing a resurgence of interest from the community and enjoy a steady stream of new petitions for initiation. Each year North Star hosts a Burns Night, a Ladies Night, a Table Lodge, a picnic/BBQ a concessions tent at the air show and has just begun a new tradition of an outdoor lodge this past September.
There cannot be a doubt that in 75 years at our bicentennial there will be many new milestones and that our traditions will be all the more precious for their long reign.