My in-laws 75th anniversary was last month. My wife and I joined them for dinner one evening to celebrate the milestone with them. I asked what they remembered of their wedding day. “Not much” was their response. They were both too excited and after all, it was 75 years ago. About all they recalled was the church and the reception afterward. No dinner, just coffee, tea and sandwiches. It was held at the Odd Fellows Temple on Kennedy.
The last time I remember anything about Odd Fellows was listening to the radio on CJOB every Sunday morning. This is back when the television stations didn’t come on until noon, so we listened to the radio most of the time. This is back in the early 60s. Do you remember the Shut-ins program?
It was the mellow voice of host George McCloy. He would introduce a song that had been dedicated to a friend or family member in a hospital or an “old folks’ home” or a facility such as the Odd Fellows Home on Roblin Boulevard. After introducing the tune, he would say, “…Music, just for you.”
I’ve come across a lot of odd people in my life, both men and women. But, I have not knowingly known an Odd Fellow. Time to tell their story.
The first documentation of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) was in England in 1730. It arrived in North America in early 1800s with the first Odd Fellow lodge in Canada instituted in Montreal on August 10, 1843.
The first IOOF lodge in Winnipeg was founded in 1873, and alongside their female counterparts, the Daughters of Rebekah or, more commonly, Rebekahs. The IOOF became the first national fraternity to accept both men and women. As well, both can belong to both organizations. At one time the Odd Fellows lodges outnumbered all fraternal organizations including the Masonic lodges.
Their symbol is three chain links, often with the letters F, L and T which stands for their motto “Friendship, Love and Truth”. Their main objectives are to improve and elevate the character of mankind, to help make the world a better place to live by organizing charitable projects which benefit the youth, the elderly, and less fortunate.
As stated on their website, “We endeavor to bridge the gap of differences and serve as venue where acquaintances and even enemies can become true friends using the purest and practical form of fraternity. We are simply about promoting the culture of caring and sharing, of not leaving each other behind, of thinking beyond self, and of helping others in need. The command of IOOF is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
There are numerous notable members of the IOOF including Charles Lindbergh, Red Skelton, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Sir John A. MacDonald.
The Odd Fellows Home opened in 1923 and became a municipally designated heritage site in January 2023. It was the second such home in Canada second only to that in Toronto. There are still several active lodges in Winnipeg and Manitoba. There are currently around 12,000 lodges and 600,000 members in 30 countries worldwide.
All that remains of the Odd Fellows Temple on Kennedy where my in-laws had their wedding reception is the façade of the original two-story building built in 1910. It was saved from demolition and is incorporated in the north face of Portage Place, a mixed-use shopping centre in downtown Winnipeg.
So, to all the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, past and present, who’ve volunteered their time and energy to an outstanding organization and to my in-laws who had that connection 75 years ago, this simple story has been “… just for you”.
Jim was a writer-broadcaster and producer on television and radio for 40 years. He is also a podcast host on Lifestyles 55 Digital Radio. Find Radio Redux, Mid-Century Memories and many others at www.whatsupwinnipeg.ca
More about the history ...
The exact date of the first founding of Odd Fellowship is lost in the fogs of antiquity. Some historians trace its roots back to the Medieval Trade Guilds of the 12th and 13th Centuries. Others estimated that it existed before 1650. What is clear is that there were a number of Odd Fellow groups in England in the 1700.
The Lodges were originally formed by workingmen for social purposes, and for giving the brethren aid and assisting them to obtain employment when out of work. When a brother could not obtain work, he was given a Card and funds enough to carry him to the next Lodge, and if unsuccessful there, that Lodge facilitated his farther progress in the same way. Where he found employment, there he deposited his Card.
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