My family is a Masonic Family. My grandfather immigrated to Canada as a Mason. My Canadian-born father was a Mason. My husband is a Mason today. My husband and I are also educators and members of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. The story of John Hamilton Graham resonates with us on several levels. It was thus an honour to be asked by the Grand Lodge of Quebec to research Graham’s history and write his story for the 150th anniversary of his installation as their first Grand Master.
John Hamilton Graham
The Graham family loved the view from their home on the hill overlooking the town of Richmond and the valley of the St. Francis River: the gently rolling hills, the scattered farms, the foliage ablaze with fall colours at this time of year: reds, oranges and golds. The house was on the campus of St. Francis Academy, a prestigious grammar school for boys where Hamilton Graham was headmaster. Affiliated with McGill University, the curriculum included two years of university courses. It served a vast district extending from Chicoutimi on the Saguenay River to the New England States.
Scottish born John Hamilton Graham and his American wife, Almira Jones, emigrated from Northfield, Vermont when, in 1858, Graham accepted a teaching position at the school. Their first-born, Mira was just a year old. Her siblings, Abigail, George, James and Caroline, were all born in Richmond. I assume the boys attended the grammar school while the girls went to school in the village.
Richmond was largely settled by New England colonists in the late 1700s so the Graham family must have felt at home among their neighbours. Graham arrived as a Presbyterian and a Mason and soon joined the local church and the St. Francis Lodge. As she grew, Mira likely led her siblings in trying to weasel out various Masonic secrets. “Just show me the secret handshake, daddy”. But off daddy would go to another night at Lodge with none of them any wiser. His Masonic career included becoming the Master of St. Francis Lodge, the Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Townships District and, ultimately, the Registrar of the Grand Lodge of Canada.
In 1862, Graham was made headmaster of St. Francis Academy. His interest in education, however, went well beyond discipline and instruction in his own school. While teaching in Vermont he had taken an active part in the movement to establish normal schools in the state and served at different times as president of three teachers’ associations. He continued to work with teacher associations in Canada and in 1870, he and Jasper Nicolls, president of the St. Francis Teachers’ Association, established the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers known today as the QPAT, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. Graham was the first president. As president, he protested the Roman Catholic dominance of education in the province, the underfunding of Protestant institutions, the importation of textbooks rather than the development of Quebec texts, and the separation of church and state in our schools. Clearly a man ahead of his time.
In 1872 Graham resigned as headmaster to run as a Liberal in the federal constituency of Richmond and Wolfe. He was referred to as a “Scotch Radical”. Following his defeat, he found a job as a railroad manager, Richmond being the railroad center of the area, and devoted much of his free time to private teaching, to writing, and to Freemasonry. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Vermont and McGill University.
With the coming of confederation, Graham took the lead in a movement to create a grand lodge in the new province of Quebec. The founding of the Grand Lodge of Quebec aroused a great storm within Canadian freemasonry because the new institution was created out of, and in competition with, The Grand Lodge of Canada. Graham engaged in ongoing disputes with several lodges in Quebec that continued to act under warrants from the grand lodges of Canada, Scotland and England.
In 1869, one hundred and fifty years ago, Graham became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec. Hopefully his wife and children were they proud of his achievement and did not resent the hours and days away from family that it took him to get there.
Graham was widowed in 1881. His eldest daughter Mira was 24 and a teacher, Abigail was 21, George 18, James 14, and little Caroline only 4. Likely Mira kept house for her father following her mother’s death and raised her youngest sister. I suspect, too, that this responsibility limited her chances of marriage.
The 1891 census records Graham as a lodger in a boarding house without any of his children. Later records show all siblings, save for Mira, married and living in various parts of the United States until their deaths. Where Mira ended is unknown.
In August 1899, Graham died suddenly at age 75 in Hartford Connecticut during a visit to New England. His body was returned to Richmond where it lay in state at the Town Hall. The funeral was the largest in the region for many years: local Masons, prominent Masonic officers from all over Quebec, family, friends and neighbours. He was buried beside his wife in St. Anne’s Cemetery and given full masonic rites at the gravesite. Ten years later the Grand Lodge of Quebec unveiled a monument to him.
In the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Graham’s career is described as following a pattern established by many Scots Presbyterians in Canada in the 19th century: hard work and a taste for controversy producing modest success.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography. http://biographi.ca/en/bio/graham_hamilton_12E.html
The Sherbrooke Examiner: http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine,details/52327/2985600?docpos=4
Townships Heritage WebMagazine. http://townshipsheritage.com/aeticle/st=francis-college
Healy, Esther. St. Francis College. The Legacy of a Classical College. 1854-1898. https://openlibrary.org/
Hamilton Graham. Ancestry.ca
Conversations with Jody Robinson, Archivist, The Eastern Townships Resource Centre, Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, QC. www.townshipsarchives.ca