The Independent Order of Odd Fellows formed in St. Catharines in 1846, a year after the settlement became a town. St. Catharines wasn’t incorporated as a city until 30 years later in 1876.
Last week, members of Lodge 16 gathered to celebrate its 165th anniversary, making it the oldest working Odd Fellows Lodge in the province.
“We’ve been here a long time and have a lot of history in this city,” said Lodge 16’s Nobel Grand Ron Stecyk.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization with the mission of helping others in the community. Throughout the years, the Lodge has sponsored many local sports teams for youth, provided scholarship funding, and helped with fundraising initiatives. They’ve also been active with the provincial organization’s pet project - Camp Trillium, a camp for children with cancer. In fact, a few years ago when the island that Camp Trillium leases land on went up for sale, the Odd Fellows pooled resources and purchased the land.
“It’s a cause that’s very important to us and we didn’t want to have to see them move,” explained Jim Edwards, Grand Master for Ontario.
The Oddfellows started in 18th century England, at a time when helping one’s neighbour wasn’t very common.
“Things were different back then, helping others wasn’t a top priority,” said Edwards. “That’s what the Odd Fellows is all about, helping others.”
The club made its move to North America in the 19th century, taking on the name The Independent Order of Odd Fellows to differentiate itself from the British Oddfellows society.
While things have changed within the organization over the years, for instance members no longer have secret hand gestures they use to identify one another while on the street, the basic tenents are the same: friendship, love and truth.
Like many other fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows has seen its membership numbers dwindling over the last few decades. While in its heyday, Lodge 16 boasted more than 400 members — with the number in the Niagara Region reaching into the thousands — now the number of members at Lodge 16 sits just under 50. In an effort to reach out to a new group of people, the Lodge is starting Ontario’s first youth chapter. On March 31, there will be a charter presented to the youth group - United Youth Group, New Hope Lodge #1. The group will be open to youth in Grades 7 through 12. Peter Panos, Lodge 16’s past Nobel Grand, will be heading up the youth chapter. Stecyk said the new group will reach out to not just the youth themselves, developing a new generation of potential Odd Fellows members, but to their parents as well who may consider becoming involved like their children.
The event on Saturday night saw members from Niagara Falls, Port Colborne and other parts of Ontario coming together in celebration of the Lodge’s anniversary. Stecyk said it was great to have everyone out celebrating together and is looking forward to many more anniversaries.