Herb Dobbyn, an early member of the Oddfellows Lodge in Melita
When a town comes into being, those who move to the new community want to join in common causes. This can mean joining town council, the fire department, or any number of the organizations that pop up. Melita was no different, and it was not too long after the founding of the community that residents began to think about starting an Oddfellows Lodge.
Several of the early residents to Melita were already Oddfellow Lodge members when they came to the community, so it was natural that they would want to create a new Lodge in their new town. In 1891, ten members came together to hold a meeting and petition for a charter. The approval of that charter came on June 23 of that same year, with the Melita Lodge No. 20 being formed by Dr. More of Brandon, who was the Grand Master. The first Noble Grand of the Lodge would be Alex Trerice, with Joseph Campbell serving as Vice Grand.
Five of the charter members of the Melita Lodge were members of the Dresden Lodge in Ontario.
In 1892, the Oddfellows Lodge in Melita got down to work improving their community. The first thing they did was build a footbridge to Melita Park across the river. The next year, they started a brass band and Robert Lennox was hired as the band instructor. He was paid $300 per year at the time.
With money coming in through dues and donations, the members had to travel to the Merchant’s Bank in Brandon in those early years since Melita did not have a bank.
Upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the members sent a condolence card to Edward VII.
The chapter quickly began to thrive and would help open new chapters in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In 1900, they instituted a lodge in Carnduff. Two years later, members instituted a Lodge in Waskada, followed by another in 1905 in Napink and one more in 1906 in Carievale.
In 1904, the organization bought a piano to be used at their hall.
In 1905, the blacksmith shop and hall were sold to Robert Hartley. He moved away relatively soon after and the building was bought by the Lodge for $600. In 1907, they would sell that building, which would move down the street and become the Cornish Lucky Dollar store. With three months to build, the Lodge members got down to work, while also holding their meetings at the Sturgeon Hall. The building would be 25 feet by 60 feet and have a 13-foot high ceiling. On Aug. 14, 1907, the cornerstone was laid down and on Jan. 22, 1908, the building was officially opened. An invitation had been sent to the Napinka, Waskada, Lyleton and Pierson Lodges to attend the opening, and a banquet was held at the Metropolitan Hotel.
In 1909, the members began to rent out the lower part of the hall for dances, suppers and banquets, which helped bring in a lot of funds for the organization. That same year, the Lodge, along with town council, opened River Park. Over 1,000 Oddfellows and their friends and family attended the opening.
Over the next two decades, the organization would continue to upgrade its hall and help the community. In 1930, members were able to get the children of the community treated with a diphtheria serum. One year later, they began a policy of leaving extra clothing in the rest room for anyone who needed it during The Great Depression. Throughout The Great Depression, the Lodge helped many people in the area. In 1937, they sent a large shipment of vegetables by freight train to Saskatchewan to feed people there.
As the decades wore on, several of the other Oddfellow Lodges closed their doors, including the Napinka Lodge in 1968. Nonetheless, the organization in Melita continued to help the area. In 1972, they purchased an amblyopia machine for the area, and in 1974 they gave $500 to help with the building of a care wing at the hospital.
Over the course of the first 100 years of the Lodge, there were 380 members, three Past Grand Masters and three Past Grand Representatives.
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Information for this column comes from Melita: Our First Century.