One of my favourite things about Inuvik is the amazing river valley right at our doorsteps. Much of my youth was spent exploring the hills, woods and hard-to-reach places around my birth-province, so it’s great to continue that tradition up here.
Inuvik’s river valley is not just a treasure in itself, but it also seems to contain countless treasures within — and I’m not just referring to the bonanza of empty bottles found around the trails. Seriously though, there has to be at least $100 in empties around town for an ambitious entrepreneur if Caps off Recycling ever opens up again (as of this writing, they are not.)
My better half and I were taking a stroll on the Boot Lake trail about half a week ago when she saw something odd sticking out of the ground. It looked like it was hand carved and had a “G” painted on one side.
Secret societies have always been a personal fascination for both of us, so we quickly recognized it as a Freemason symbol, though I was not sure what exactly it was. It definitely wasn’t intended to be left upside down in the dirt in several pieces, however.
Freemasonry is a tradition that dates back to the 1400s, though some claim many of its rituals date back to the crusades and further back to biblical and even ancient Egyptian practices.
I looked around the area and found two other pieces of the item and gathered it together, then took a photo of it and posted to the various boards on Facebook and got a response right away. Folks got me in touch with Chris Garven, who was the master of the Inuvik Freemason Lodge when it was in operation from 2005-2010.
He explained it was a “Warden’s Column” — when the lodge is in operation, the column sits on a desk in front of two officers. It symbolizes when the lodge is open for business or closed.
It’s one of a pair, with one pointing up or down. Depending on which direction it is pointing, it tells members what the status of the meeting is. Usually they look similar, but sometimes there is a different symbol on one side.
Unfortunately, Freemasonry’s lifespan in Inuvik was hard to sustain. Garven explained to me the minimum quorum needed to hold an official meeting was seven members and while the lodge had 14 members at its peak, because so many people come and go with work it was near impossible to keep a regular schedule.
Members used a small building just off Duck Lake road at the top of the hill. But since it fell into disuse it’s been repeatedly broken into, which the consensus said was likely how the column ended upside down in the dirt further down the hill.
Garven said most of the relics from the lodge are now in safe keeping at various members’ homes. He estimated there were still about five masons in town.
He added that given the amount of work needed to maintain a lodge, there weren’t plans to get one back in operation anytime soon. Instead, if there was enough interest, he would be open to starting a Compass and Square club, effectively a social group. Lodges are still in operation in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Dawson City.
Regardless, I feel quite honoured to have been able to bring an item of importance back to its rightful owners.