Today we have many Service Clubs in Tillsonburg. Although only ten are listed on the Town of Tillsonburg website, I know there are more than ten in town. Some are relatively new like the Probus club which received its charter in 2005 and some, like the Masons, have been about for about 150 years, taking them back to the early 1860s.
Today I am writing about the second-oldest service club in town, the IOOF which began Aug. 10, 1868 and still exists, barely, today.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in 1700s in England, and it was deemed ‘odd’, to find people organizing aid for those in need, which is a far cry from today’s attitudes. But these Odd Fellows took it a big step further they did their work without recognition! Their goal was to pursue projects for the benefits of mankind.
The order spread first to the United States in the 1820s then up to Canada, arriving first in Montreal in 1843. Only 25 years later, Tillsonburg began meeting at the Otter Lodge at 97 Broadway back in the early 1870s. Where they met for the few years between starting in 1868 and when the Tillson Block was completed in the early 1870s is unknown, but since then they have been in the same location. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see inside this venerable old meeting hall.
I was on the quest of carvings done by John A. McFarlane and learned that the IOOF had a chair specifically carved by John, which is still there today. I got an appointment to see the chair and asked if we could also film two 30 Second Facts of the Week segments with Rogers Cable at the same time; one about Mr. McFarlane and one about the IOOF.
Stepping into the lodge today is like entering 140 years ago, although we were not required to give any secret password at any of the doors. The main hall is two stories high and steeped in the history of its many hundreds of past members.
Many photos of what looked like a hundred members at one time going to special conferences adorn the walls. This was obvious a very popular group in the past. The walls, probably once plastered, were all covered in panelling, most likely in the 1960s or thereabout but the glory of this large room could still be seen in the beautiful wood trim.
Ceiling mouldings, door and window trim and the second-floor balcony railings and door partitions were dark and warm with age. Three large two-story windows facing Broadway are the backdrop for the dais, lined with beautiful old chairs which look more like thrones than chairs. Each has carved designs on the backs including the IOOF’s symbol of three connecting links, which stand for Friendship, Love and Truth, which are the basic guidelines that they follow in their daily lives, and which binds their members together. In some areas they are known as the "The Three Link Fraternity."
The whole perimeter of the room is lined with wood and leather padded benches and their interspersed by more of their beautiful chairs. The back of the room between the two large doors and under the balcony had a smaller raised dais and more of the beautiful chairs.
The chair carved by John McFalane was also there, with carved lion heads to rest your hands upon and a lion head ready to bite the heel of a human foot, carved on the chair’s high back. That reason for that symbolism is unknown.
It is unknown what the original reasons for the balcony were, although now it has a recreational purpose. There were other large rooms with cupboards and storage areas, which we saw before going to the very large kitchen. It was breathtaking. A full set of kitchen cupboard only went up half the height of the wall which must have been about 20 feet!
The old tin ‘ceilings’ adorned walls, wainscoting and ceiling with beautiful patterns. The canary yellow was a bit overwhelming but the glory of the tin designs shone through.
The Deans were gracious hosts as we filmed our segments and I asked a thousand questions. The only distressing part of the whole experience was finding that this fine service club is bereft of members. After almost a century and a half of doing service for our town it is about to fade away.
Perhaps not getting recognition for their good works, although part of their order, has left them hidden behind the more prominent service clubs. Of course it also maybe that they were ‘founded on the inspired word of God as revealed to man in the Holy Bible.’ In today’s fast-growing churchless society that does not seem as important, as it was 100 years ago.
However, if you believe in Friendship, Love and Truth and feel they are the basic guidelines to live by; if you believe in a supreme being, the creator and preserver of the universe; and you want to make a difference, then the IOOF is for you. Check out www.ioof.org or call Mike at 519-688-0729 for more information.