Some say it’s a cult, others a secret society.
But few know exactly what goes on behind closed doors of the Masonic Hall, Langley City’s oldest commercial building situated on 207 Street and Fraser Highway.
“It’s not a secret society. It’s a society with secrets,” said Duncan McIntosh, a Freemason who attends meetings at the Langley hall.
The retired CP telecommunications employee is a member of the Eureka Lodge, a fraternity of men who practice the ‘Ancient work’ of Freemasonry.
“Brotherly love, relief and truth. . .that’s what we are all about,” said McIntosh.
On a recent tour of the hall, McIntosh set the record straight, explaining what exactly goes on inside the mysterious structure.
Joining him were Bob Synge, Herb Willberg, Don Wrightman and Ed Ackerman, all Langley residents who have devoted themselves to the ‘ancient work’ of Freemasonry— the oldest fraternity in the free world.
“You won’t see any voodoo or witchcraft in here,” laughed McIntosh.
“We have a secret password for members and keep quiet about our initiation ceremonies but that’s pretty much it,” said McIntosh.
McIntosh remembers his initiation in 1958, as if it were yesterday.
“It was a very special time for me because my uncle, dad and cousins were there to witness it,” he said.
“All of the men in my families were Freemasons so it was only natural that I was to become one as well.”
For the 69-year-old father of five, being a member is like having a large second family.
“I’ve never had a brother or sister so all the people I’ve met through the hall have filled that void.”
The practice of Freemasonry is believed to date back several centuries ago, in the days of the ‘Operative Masons.’
The Operative Masons were a group of highly skilled men who built the ancient cathedrals, abbeys and castles. Despite a decline in the need for such buildings in the following years, the practices and customs of the Operative craft have persisted.
This persistence led to a movement that began in the second half of the century.
Historians believe that a Freemason was free of his guild, which entailed having had the freedom of its privileges and were entrusted with certain rights.
Today, Freemasons consist of men over the age of 21, who possess a skill or trade that they can offer to their local community.
This includes a variety of men of various ethnicities, age and status.
It’s not just men of the trades who belong, but also lawyers, teachers, judges and even doctors.
Willberg, a retired RCMP staff sergeant who joined in 1992, says that equality is key to their organization.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, lawyer or businessman, when you walk into these doors, you are considered an equal,”said Willberg.
Throughout the years, its wording and teaching styles may have been revamped, but their basic three principles have stayed intact.
In B.C. Freemasons practice one of the following rituals: Canadian work, emulation, ancient work or Australian work.
Although the Eureka lodge owns the building, several other bodies meet inside including: the Shriners, the Order of the Eastern Star, Daughters of the Nile and the International Order of Job’s Daughters.
Willberg says the lodge’s biggest obstacles has been in keeping the building up and running.
“It’s been a real battle to keep the hall going,” said Willberg, who also revealed that the hall pays around $8,000 a year in taxes.
Currently they rely on fundraisers, memberships and the maintenance work done by the hall’s Freemasons to keep going.
Several members recently donated their time and energy to painting the exterior of the building.
According to McIntosh, the veil of secrecy which has always hung over their society has proved to be their greatest hang-up.
“We haven’t been allowed to recruit new members and have had very strict rules when it comes to advertising, that’s probably why so many rumours do exist,” he said.
Type in ‘Freemasonry’ in any search engine and one is bombarded with numerous conspiracy theories.
Essays proclaiming that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason, and asking whether the Great Seal which appears on the American dollar bill symbolizes the fraternity are just two of the topics up for debate on the Internet. None of the theories have ever been proven.
What most do not know is the large degree of charitable work they do for the local community, such as, raising money for schools and providing the underprivileged with scholarships.
They also launched the ‘Canadian Cancer Car Program,’ enabling cancer patients to get to treatment centres with a minimum amount of difficulty. This involves having volunteers take patients from their homes to treatment and back again.
McIntosh says their secrecy makes it a greater challenge to recruit new members, especially younger ones.
Fortunately, an interest in their society from the younger generation has recently started to pick-up.
“We were outside doing renovations just last week when two men in their early 20s said they’d like to become members. They said, what else have we got to do, other than sit at a bar?’’ said McIntosh.
Although the public often confuses the Masons with service clubs such as the Rotary, the Legion and the Lions, there is one defining feature that makes the free masons truly unique.
This is evident by the large symbol of the letter ‘G’ on the front of their building.
The letter represents ‘the great architect of the universe.’
“To join you have to believe in a supreme being,” explained McIntosh. “If you are an atheist, you cannot be a member.”
Because an individual’s right to his own beliefs and practices are paramount, a Mason is not allowed to discuss matters of religious or political controversy in the context of the Lodge.
A member must also make a pledge to make themselves available for service to themselves, their families and their communities, he explained.
Any male over the age of 21 is eligible to become a Mason, but must meet with a reviewing committee beforehand.
McIntosh says he couldn’t imagine how his life would be were he not a Freemason.
“Nothing beats the satisfaction of being able to do good and help the less fortunate,” he said.