The reader will recall that in 1605 Champlain, the French explorer, established the settlement of Port Royal on the west side of Annapolis Basin. This settlement was the predecessor of the more noted Port Royal and Annapolis Royal, built some miles to the northward, the scene of many sieges and history making events, including the organization of the first Masonic lodge on Canadian soil.
On this first site was discovered in 1827, what some Masonic students and historians have regarded as the earliest trace of the existence of Freemasonry on this continent, namely certain marks on a stone found on the site of this early settlement.
There are two accounts of the finding of this stone. The first, from the pen of the Hon. Thomas Chandler Haliburton (the famous author of "Sam Slick the Clockmaker") was written in the year of the finding of the stone or very shortly afterward, and is to be found in his History of Nova Scotia, published in 1829.
The stone is described by Haliburton as "about two feet and a half long and two feet broad, and of the same kind as that which forms the substratum of Granville Mountain. On the upper part are engraved the square and compass of the Free Mason, and in the centre, in large and deep Arabic figures, the date 1606. It does not appear to have been dressed by a mason, but the inscription has been cut on its natural surface."
"The date is distinctly visible, and although the figure 0 is worn down to one-half of its original depth and the upper part of the figure 6 nearly as much, yet no part of them is obliterated they are plainly discernable to the eye and easily traced by the finger."
The other account of the finding of the stone is from the pen of Dr. Charles T. Jackson of Boston, the celebrated chemist and geologist, and was written in June 1856.
"When Francis Alger and myself made a mineralogical survey of Nova Scotia in 1827 we discovered upon the shore of Goat Island, in Annapolis Basin, a gravestone partly covered with sand and lying on the shore. It bore the Masonic emblems, square and compass, and the figures 1606 cut in it.
"Judge Haliburton, then Thomas Haliburton, Esq., prevailed on me to abandon it to him, and he now has it carefully preserved."
About 1887 the stone was given by Robert Grant Haliburton (son of Judge T.C. Haliburton) to the Canadian Institute of Toronto with the understanding that the stone should be inserted in the wall of the building then being erected for the Institute.
Sir Sandford Fleming wrote that he received the stone from Mr. R. G. Haliburton in order that it might be properly cared for. There is an entry respecting it in the minutes of the Institute, acknowledging its arrival and receipt.
"When the building was erected on the northwest corner of Richmond and Bertie Streets, Toronto, instructions were given by Dr. Scadding to build it into the wall with the inscription exposed; but, very stupidly, it is said the plasterer covered it over with plaster, and even the spot cannot now be traced, although the plaster has been removed at several places to look for it." ***
I further offered a reward of $1,000 for the stone if it could be found, but it was all to no purpose. ***
If ever the present building be taken down, diligent search should be made for the historic store, perhaps, the oldest inscription stone in America."
The theory that the stone might commemorate the establishment of a lodge of Freemasons has virtually nothing to support it, though there are some who profess to see such a lodge in the famous "Ordre de Bon Temps," established there by Champlain in the winter of 1606-7.
The theory that the stone marked the last resting place of one of the settlers would seem to have more to support it than any other. It was apparently found in or near the burying ground shown on Champlain's map of the settlement, and we know, too, that at least one of the colonists died in the year 1606 and Champlain gives the date of his decease, November 14, 1606.
Freemasonry In Canada before 1750, R. V. Harris [Reginald Vanderbilt] (1881-1968). Halifax : Canadian Masonic Research Association, [195-?] 1 v. ; 23 cm. SERIES: Canadian Masonic Research Association Canadian Masonic Research Association; [papers read before the association] no. 31