A series of arson fires set in Masonic lodge halls on the Lower Mainland is cause for concern, says the secretary of a lodge in Langford.
Gary Robertson of Goldstream Lodge No. 161 was closely watching news of the fires at three Mason meeting places Tuesday morning — two in North Vancouver and another in East Vancouver.
Vancouver Police Department members arrested a 42-year-old suspect in Burnaby on Tuesday morning, following a joint investigation with the North Vancouver RCMP. Investigators are recommending charges of arson.
“Somebody obviously has something against Masons for some reason,” Robertson said. “These conspiracy theories pop up occasionally and it’s really too bad.”
Robertson said Island lodges are aware of the situation. “The hope is RCMP are aware of the fires and keeping a close eye on lodges,” he said, adding there were no plans to hire security.
The Society of Freemasons was founded more than 300 years ago as a trade group and continues as a social organization operating around the world.
Robertson said the Masons strive “to be better men” and its service arms include charitable causes such as the Shriners. The Langford hall also operates a food bank on Fridays and sponsors a scholarship each year to a local high school student.
There are 144 lodges in the province and more than a dozen on the Island, from Victoria and Sooke to Salt Spring Island and Tofino and north to Port McNeill.
Robertson said some groups don’t have their own temples and share with those that do.
The Mason organization also includes Order of the Eastern Star and Daughters of Job for women, and DeMolay for young men.
RCMP said a fire broke out just before 7 a.m. at the Lynn Valley Lodge Masonic hall in North Vancouver.
A second fire was reported minutes later four kilometres away at the North Vancouver Masonic Centre.
A third fire, at a Masonic hall in southeast Vancouver, was reported about 15 minutes after the first blaze. Fire officials said it caused little damage.
Outside the Lynn Valley Lodge, members were in shock.
“Basically, someone knocked down the door and threw a firebomb in,” said Tom Anstruther. “Pretty darn strange, isn’t it? It’s rather scary. Why are you attacking the Masons?”
It took about half an hour to extinguish the Lynn Valley fire. The 97-year-old building suffered heavy fire damage near the entrance and smoke and water damage throughout, said assistant fire chief, Jeremy Duncan.
The Lonsdale fire, meanwhile, totally destroyed the historic 110-year-old three-storey structure. By the time crews arrived, it was too late to save the building, said North Vancouver Fire Chief Greg Schalk. All they could do was stop it from spreading and consuming surrounding structures.
Capilano Lodge senior warden Peter Hill said members are totally baffled as to why they were targeted.
“We haven’t done anything to hurt anybody,” Hill said, noting the fire may be a setback for Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Harvest Project’s food bank and Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, which all receive contributions from the Masons.
“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He is not only harming the Masonic lodge, he’s harming people that depend on them for help.”
— With a file from Ben Bengtson, North Shore News