Quebec City Freemasonry – Right Under Your Nose

Quebec City Freemasonry – Right Under Your Nose

LIQ_Mag_Nov2013_CoverThis article first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
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Twice a month, except during the summer, a few dozen men gather at night in the historical upper town district of this 400+ year old city.  Walking up rue des Jardins, between the tall stone structures on the narrow street, they arrive dressed in suits and ties, carrying small suitcases, and converge upon the century-old building marked only with a square and compass next to the door.

They enter the elevator, travelling past the offices on the floors below. At the end of the short ascent, someone unlocks the uppermost level with a special key. The men disappear for several hours.  To the outside observer, that’s all most will notice of the activities of a group calling themselves Freemasons.

The Freemasons (or Masons) are probably the world’s oldest and most well-known fraternity, tracing their organizational origins back to at least the early 1700s, though written references to the society date back to the late 1300s.  The long history of Freemasonry, combined with its mystical and private (the uninitiated would perhaps say secretive) nature, has often resulted in suspicion, wild conspiracy theories, coupled with distrust and persecution from certain governments and religious organizations.

More recently however, Freemasonry has seeped into popular culture through authors like Dan Brown, who have used the organization’s reputation as the background for modern thrillers.

Today, Freemasons are organized into small groups, called Lodges, which can consist of anywhere between seven to several hundred members.  Each Lodge belongs to the Grand Lodge of its territory, who oversees the rules and manages the jurisdictions of each Lodge.  A Grand Lodge of one territory is in theory equal in standing to all other Grand Lodges and completely independent in its rules and regulations, though in practice most Grand Lodges in North America historically take their cue from the United Grand Lodge of England.  The Grand Lodge of Quebec, headquartered on rue Sherbrooke in Montreal, is no exception.

Quebec City has two Lodges answering to the Grand Lodge of Quebec.  One of them, named Albion #2 (Lodges traditionally have names and numbers representing their origins and age), operates in French and is the older and larger of the city’s Lodges.  The second, St. John’s #3, is the city’s English-language Lodge, and in October 2013 celebrated its 225th birthday.  Both Lodges meet in the same building, on rue des Jardins in the old town, on the first and third Monday of every month.

Freemasons are generally tight-lipped about what exactly goes on during their meetings, preferring to keep the details of their activities private.  Outwardly, they describe their goals as simply “making good men better”, through self-improvement, volunteering, fraternization, and the study of Freemasonry’s complex myriad of symbols and allegories based in mathematics, geometry, and architecture.  It should be noted that most Freemasons are men (there are some Lodges for women, although they are not recognized by the Grand Lodges). To be made a Freemason you must profess belief in a spiritual higher power – be it God or something else.  That being said, Freemasons will tell you that their organization is neither a religion nor does it have any political affiliation.  In fact, political or religious discussions during meetings are forbidden.

Men from all walks of life, regardless of wealth or social standing are welcome.  Most members don’t make their membership known to anyone outside of their immediate families (and preferred not to be named in this article), preferring to keep their motivations and membership to themselves, though when asked they’re quite open about it.  “It just works better that way,” one member says, “because there are things that are better understood if you don’t try to talk about them too much.  It’s a very personal thing.”

Along the same vein, Freemasons do not recruit, nor do they advertise, preferring to let curious men approach the organization on their own.  “Any man who wants to join the fraternity only has to contact us to ask, and we’ll usually take it from there,” explains a member.  The application process can usually take a few months, and involves meetings with existing members who will report to the Lodge for a vote.  In order to be accepted, an applicant’s request must be approved unanimously.  “In practice, though, when a candidate gets through the interview process, they’re almost always accepted.”

Lodges do have the occasional activity open to all.  Most recently, St. John’s #3 invited curious members of the public to join in with Freemasons from across Quebec to take part in their 225th anniversary celebrations.  Both St. John’s and Albion host regular “open-house” type events and formal dinners – often a chance for immediate family members and friends of Freemasons to see the inside of the building and ask questions to existing members.

The modern groups are clearly trying to shake off some of their “secret society” reputation.  “Our name is on the front door,” one member points out, “and we have a website with contact details, and plenty of other information is available online or in books.  We’re not hiding; we just don’t really shout about what we do, either.”

Still, for a group that has continuously existed for over two centuries, the Masonic Lodges of Quebec City are very low-key, despite having many of its members actively involved in community work, charities, businesses, education, and a whole host of other outlets.

Like any other group, Freemasonry is not immune to the changing times, having to contend with an ever-faster pace of living, a world of instant expectations and instant results, and ever fewer moments for contemplation and reflection.  “In many ways, that just makes what we do so much more important to us,” muses one member, “Freemasonry gives us some quiet and calm time to think about what really matters, and how we can do more good in the world.”

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