De-Mystifying Freemasonry

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Next month a new exhibition will be opening at the Oshawa Museum, Freemasonry: A History Hidden in Plain Sight.   Freemasonry is shrouded in superstition and generally misunderstood; the oft-called “secret Society” has been actively involved in bettering communities behind the scenes since the 1700s.  This exhibit which opens at the Oshawa Museum on May 9 will cover the history of Masonry and some of the stereotypes portrayed in the media along with a special focus on the lodges of Oshawa.  Pop culture has been responsible for fuelling the speculations and conspiracy theories associated with Freemasonry – particularly books such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.  In this book it was suggested that the government of Washington was secretly fun by a coven of masons practicing sinister rites.

A series of large shadow boxes form the framework of the exhibition.  The exhibit walks a viewer through the various periods in History from;

  • The very early times – operative masons, establishment of Grand Lodges in England, Scotland, Ireland and so on.
  • The Migration of Freemasonry to the New World
  • The Renaissance
  • Freemasonry today
  • Military lodges
  • Concordant bodies
  • Philanthropy and Benevolence
  • Symbolism of Freemasonry
  • Portraits of famous Freemasons through history

A special focus of the exhibition while it is here will highlight the lodges in Oshawa and portray individuals from Oshawa who were Masons.  While compiling the research I discovered that my great grandfather was a Master Mason.  His name was listed in the 1958 program of the Order of the Eastern Star as Worshipful Patron.  The Order of the Eastern Star is a masonic organization that is the sister organization of the Freemasons.  It is the largest fraternal organization to which men and women both belong, although the majority of its members are female.  The stated purposes of the organization are:  Charitable, Educational, Fraternal and Scientific.  They used to meet in Oshawa at the temple on Centre Street.  Today they meet in Whitby.

William Henderson OES

The exhibit runs from May 9th to August 31 at the Oshawa Museum!  On Sunday May 29 I will be talking about Masonry in Oshawa at our monthly Tea and Talk.  Watch our social media channels and e-news bulletins for future events while the exhibition is here in Oshawa.

Freemasonry Exhibit Logo

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Fairbanks Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In less than one month, our 2016 feature exhibition will open.  We’re excited to host Freemasonry: A History Hidden in Plain Sight, travelling from Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, and with all exhibits, we supplement with local content, so Oshawa’s Masonic history will be featured! In advance of the exhibit opening, I thought sharing the story of Fairbanks Street would be a nice complement!

Detail of Fairbanks Street, from 1921 Fire Insurance Map

Who was Fairbanks?

Silas Fairbanks was born in York (now Toronto) on January 1st, 1821, the eldest son of Levi Fairbanks. He attended Upper Canada College (then located at King and Simcoe Streets) and later studied law under Mr. John Bell. On January 26, 1850, he was elected to the council at the first meeting held by the Village of Oshawa. He remained a member of the council until 1856 when he was elected Reeve of Oshawa.

In 1851 he married Hannah Arkland, daughter of Charles Arkland, and together they had two daughters and a son.

Silas Fairbanks

In 1857, he was elected a Grammar School Trustee and served in that capacity until 1871. It was during this time that his parish church (St. George’s) moved to the corner of Centre and John Streets. Fairbanks was a great influence in this move and was also one of the founders of the Sunday School at St. George’s.

Silas Fairbanks was a Freemason. He was initiated into St. John’s Lodge #75 (Toronto) on June 6th, 1859, passed July 11, 1859 and raised August 8, 1859. On July 20, 1860, dispensation was received for Lebanon Lodge, and Silas Fairbanks was named its first Worshipful Master U.D. In 1861, Lebanon Lodge #139 received its warrant of Constitution with Silas B. Fairbanks as Worshipful Master. In the following year (1862) he was re-elected Reeve of Oshawa. In 1864 he was installed as Worshipful Master for third term and the Lodge recorded its first initiation, Mr. Patrick Duffy.

In 1866 he was appointed to command the 34th Provisional Battalion when it was formed, a command he held until his death. This was also the year that Silas Fairbanks and William McCabe, both members of Lebanon formed Pentalpha Chapter Lodge.

Silas Fairbank’s tunic, on display at the Ontario Regiment Museum

Fairbanks received his appointment to Grand Lodge in 1866 and on Feb. 12, 1867 he was presented with his Grand Lodge Regalia in Lebanon Lodge. Early in 1871, Silas presented Lebanon Lodge with its Secretary’s desk.

Silas died on August 15, 1871, at the age of 50. The Town of Oshawa closed down for the day of his funeral; recorded as the largest ever held in the Town.  The Ontario Reformer reported on his funeral:

Friday afternoon last will long be remembered by the citizens of Oshawa, and the date of the most imposing funeral that has ever taken place in Oshawa – that of the late Lt. Col. SB Fairbanks.  The village wore a mournful look – business suspended, shops closed… and the streets lined with a mass of sad spectators.  The funeral procession was formed… in the following order: No 1 company of volunteers, battalion band, No 2 company, two lodges of Odd Fellows, representatives from various lodges of Free Masons, the horse, drawn by four black horses led by volunteers… then followed by members of parliament, village and county councillors and a long procession of mourners and sympathizers.

Fairbanks’s tombstone in St. Georges Cemetery

It is interesting to note that Fairbanks, a man of importance in the Masonic history of Oshawa, does not have any symbolism on his tomb.  This is likely because Freemasonry was regarded as a secret society, and it wasn’t until years later that Masonic symbols were used with frequency on gravestones.

Fairbanks Street
Fairbanks Street

Fairbanks is a fairly established street in our City; one of the earliest maps we have is from 1877, and Fairbanks is seen, an east-west street between Simcoe and Centre.  Today, the street extends slightly west of Centre, and it is the street that connects southbound Centre and northbound Simcoe, where the one-way streets join up again to become two-way.


Freemasonry: A History Hidden in Plain Sight will be on display at the Oshawa Museum from May to September 2016.

Freemasonry Poster

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