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With a documented history traceable back to the 1600s, and a tradition reaching back to the times of the Romans, the Freemasons are the oldest recorded fraternal society in the world. Founded on the triple principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, the Masons are a pure "fraternal" society, dedicated to the principle of support and relief for members.

While in the public opinion Masons are seen as having some mysterious religious connection, in fact the Masons have never had any specific religious view, except the requirement that members must declare a belief in a Supreme Being. As such, only professing Atheists may not be members. A significant part of the rituals practiced by the "members of the craft" is the prominent display on the altar of the Scrolls or Books which are fundamental to the individual beliefs of all members present. In this way, members are encouraged to recognize and support the beliefs of all professing faiths.

In accordance with the principles of Masonry, in 1902, a two and one half acre section of the brand new Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver was set aside for the exclusive use of Masons and their families. While ownership rested with the City, a Board of Trustees was appointed by the member Lodges to administer the area. While single graves were sold at $2.50, and a sliding scale provided for prices up to a sixteen grave plot at $24.00, it was arranged that no payments need to be made to the city until the cost of setting up the area had been recouped. This complete cost was estimated at $625.00 for clearing land, and $110.00 to fence the entire area! For many years, until well into the 1960s, the Masonic Section in Mountain View was administered and maintained by a Masonic Board of Trustees, representing the local Lodges. Eventually, control of the section was transferred back to the City of Vancouver.

By 1922, this area appears to have become insufficient for the estimated needs of the Masons, and thus was born the concept of an entire Cemetery set aside and administered by member Masons for themselves, their wives, and immediate families.

The decision was made right at the beginning that the Cemetery would not belong to any one Lodge or group of Masonic Lodges. Rather, it was organized as a separate entity, with a Board of Directors, elected from the membership of local Lodges. Interments of Masons and their families from all over British Columbia, and indeed the rest of Canada and around the world, take place regularly.

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Land in the Municipality of Burnaby was selected and purchased — an area of some thirty-five acres. A complete overall plan for the Cemetery was surveyed and published, a plan that has been followed and maintained with only minor adjustments to the present day. One small area was sold to provide for the Beth Israel Cemetery. Since the overall plan allowed for further detailed definition within sections as they were opened, changed in interment practices have been easily incorporated. The cemetery now contains large areas for cremation interments, which were almost unknown when the Dedication Service was held in May of 1924.

Even before the Cemetery was dedicated, the overall plan was laid out as roadways, and major progress was made in planting throughout the Cemetery. These young plantings can be easily recognized in the old black and white photograph of the Consecration Service. Compare that photograph to its modern counterpart, where the park-like setting designed over seventy-five years ago has reached maturity!

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Lushly planted when it was first opened, the Cemetery has continued to make its appearance a priority. The roads and pathways are lined with shrubs and trees, some of which have a role in the Masonic symbols, and all of which have traditional meanings. The yellow Acacia is a symbol of Friendship and Secret Love; the Holly is a symbol of Good wishes, Defence, and Far-Sightedness. Ash, traditionally though of as a wood for furniture, is the traditional symbol of Prudence, Dignity, and "With me you are safe". Even the common Cedar carries with it the traditional meaning of Strength and "Think of Me". As well, there are large plantings of seasonal flowers, borders of colour, a large variety of Rhododendron, and Pampas Grass in massive swaying sprays. With the passing of the seasons, the Cemetery presents ever-changing views of the site.

Along with the office and other necessary buildings, there is only a single Mausoleum in the Masonic Cemetery. Privately built, the Woodward Mausoleum is the final resting place for the founder of the Department Store and his family. The Mausoleum was apparently completed as soon as the property was obtained and is built in accordance with Masonic tradition. Built in the Druid fashion, according to the records, the walls lean away from the sun, and only the north wall is plumb. The rear wall of the Mausoleum frames a magnificent stained glass window.

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Having outgrown the original Masonic section in the Mountain View so quickly, one of the criteria for the Cemetery location was that it be outside the rapidly expanding city. Early documents make much of the Cemetery's location, described as "...serene, rural solitude...Safe from disturbance from the City's growth....Beautiful -- Parklike -- Peaceful..." Indeed, the early photographs show the cemetery as isolated, completely surrounded by rolling hills and greenery. Most of the early documents contain instructions on how to find the Cemetery when coming out from the City. Again, compare that to the modern photographs, which have been taken from the vantage point afforded by the front lawns of homes, and clearly show the surrounding apartment buildings and commercial area. It is clear, once again, that no one was able to predict the explosive growth of urban areas.

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Early management of the Cemetery was particularly proud of the system developed for record keeping, where names and locations were recorded on large charts for reference. The charts were kept in duplicate, with one set off site in case of damage or loss -- an early form of backup! Modern needs for more complete information and data analysis encouraged management to adopt a completely computerized system for recording sales, documenting the status of sites, and automatically updating more convenient maps of the interment sites. Terry Staley, current manager of the Cemetery and leader of the project to computerize all the records, was surprised to find that there were conflicts between the various copies of the maps, and was even able to recover areas for interment that were previously thought unusable. Stone Orchard was proud to be the provider for the Masonic Cemetery's software -- its their largest installation in Western Canada.

In introducing visitors to the Cemetery, Terry is fond of asking: "Where else could you find the Founder of a major department store, an Olympic Gold Madallist, a World War I Victoria Cross winner, and a disgraced Police Chief, all in one place?"

The answer, of course, is in the Masonic Cemetery of British Columbia.

Research shows the Masonic Cemetery in Burnaby is believed to be the only Cemetery in the world owned and operated exclusively for members of the Freemasons. Here in the heart of the modern City of Burnaby, and dedicated to the memory of the thousands who will sleep within its borders, is a permanent and visible monument to the Craft of Freemasonry.

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