Grand Lodge of PEI History
Masonic charity had a slow and uncertain beginning in the Grand Lodge of Prince Edward Island. The first Grand Lodge Constitution provided for a ‘Fund of Benvolence’ but the intent of that Fund was not acted upon and when the Constitution was revised in 1881, the Clause was accidentally left out. (Gordon, p.25)
In September 1895 M.W.Bro. Roderick MacNeill, the Grand Master visited New Brunswick and noted that the Grand Lodge of that Province was dealing with the issue of a home for aged and infirmed Masons, their widows and orphans. A Committee was appointed to meet with a similar Committee in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and to report on the matter. M.W.Bro. MacNeill was prompted to act and therein lies the origin of the Grand Lodge Benevolent Fund which had a net worth of $161,272.71 on April 30, 2000.
M.W.Bro. MacNeill issued a Circular to each of the Craft Lodges on October 18, 1895. In it he noted that Grand Lodge did not have a charity or benevolent fund wherewith relief could be offered to distressed Brethren. He proposed a ‘Relief Fund’ and he appealed to each Freemason to provide a nucleus for such a fund by vote or subscription equivalent at least to $1 per member. The Grand Master caused the topic to be raised in every Lodge during his Visitations that year and all Lodges except one contributed in the first year. There were five hundred and nine Freemasons in the Jurisdiction in 1895 and $268 was forwarded to the Fund.
After the initial thrust by M.W.Bro. MacNeill, the Relief Fund received little support for several years. M.W.Bro. William K. Rogers, who was first elected as Grand Master in 1906, must be credited with reviving the Fund. He lamented that the Fund was not well supported. He issued a Letter to each Freemason in December 1906 requesting a contribution of $5 per member. Lists of contributors were published in the Grand Lodge Proceedings of 1907 and 1908. Two Hundred and thirty-one of the seven hundred members responded and $787.12 was added to the Fund as cash with an additional $943.88 in pledges. In 1907 Grand Lodge voted $150 from the General Fund for the Grand Master to distribute for charitable purposes. M.W.Bro. Rogers returned the balance of $115 in 1908. The Fund had assets of $844 when M.W.Bro. Rogers became Grand Master in 1906. At the end of his second term the Fund stood at $2128.48 Following his second term as Grand Master M.W.Bro. Rogers became a Trustee of the Benevolent Fund and served until his death on September 1, 1937. During that interval the fund grew to more than $17,000. (Proceedings, 1938, p.18)
Bye-Laws and a Constitution for the Relief Fund were presented to Grand Lodge in 1909 and were included in the revised Grand Lodge Constitution and Bye-Laws in 1910. Section 6 of the Bye-Laws limited the claim by a Lodge to $50 annually. The ceiling was increased to $150 in 1923. M.W.Bro. MacNeill advised that the Relief Fund be capitalized at $10,000. M.W.Bro. Rogers suggested $5,000. Section 1 of the Bye-Laws set the goal at $10,000 with relief payments being available from interest earned after the Fund reached 25% of its goal. Section 21 of the 1910 Bye-Laws pertaining to Grand Lodge required that any balance above $400 in the General Fund at the end of the Grand Lodge Year be transferred to the Benevolent Fund.
The Grand Lodge Benevolent Fund was incorporated in 1911. In 1918 Grand Lodge took steps to have the Government of Prince Edward Island amend the Act to Incorporate the Trustees of the Benevolent Fund to enable Craft Lodges to purchase property and to permit the Trustees of the Fund to hold the property In Trust. (Proceedings, 1918, pp. 53-54) The action followed the prolonged struggle beginning in 1895 by the Brethren of Prince Edward Lodge No. 14 to purchase the local Church Hall from the Presbyterian Church.