Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Fraternal Societies in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Fraternal societies were brought to Canada from Great Britain by the tide of immigration in the nineteenth century. In the case of those Canadian societies, however, which. have a parent body in Great Britain, the link is purely one of fraternal association; the jurisdiction of the central authority of a British order is restricted, by the Friendly Societies Act, to the British isles. The chief function of Canadian fraternal societies is to grant life insurance to their members; other benefits, notably for sickness, are also granted, but are relatively unimportant.


The insurance activities of Canadian fraternal societies began in 1852 when the Canadian Order of Oddfellows commenced to give sick and funeral benefits, and organized a widows' and orphans' fund. Endowment and mortuary assurance benefits were later added. The friendly societies movement, however, really commenced in Canada in the '70's and '80's. The Ancient Order of Foresters was established in the country in 1871; the Independent Order of Foresters was founded in 1874, as a death assessment society, and was reorganized by the able and vigorous Mohawk, Dr. Oronhyatekha, in 1881. The Catholic Mutual Benefit Association was organized in 1880. After this period the growth of the movement was rapid, particularly in Ontario. Until 1919, fraternal societies were not required to be valued each year by an actuary. During the early history of the movement they were conducted on a most unsound basis: the rates charged were too low, and sufficient reserves were not accumulated. Some societies adopted the "post-mortem assessment plan" under which it was only proposed to make an assessment on members to pay claims which bad actually matured by death or sickness. With the increasing frequency of assessments, as the members grew older, the societies became increasingly unpopular with young men and were converted into old men's societies, with heavy rates for both death and sickness. Eventually the members were unable to keep up their payments and these societies were discontinued. Other fraternal societies adopted the plan of making regular calls upon members; but no provision was made either to increase the rate as a member became older or to charge from the beginning a rate calculated as adequate to carry the insurance to the end of the member's life. In 1892 the Ontario legislature required friendly societies to make annual returns of their condition on December 31 of each year. In 1898 Quebec passed a similar Act, and enacted a minimum rate as the lowest which could be employed with safety. Gradually, sounder business practice was introduced; by 1899 the Independent Order of Foresters had adopted rates deduced from the operations of the Canada Life Assurance Company for a period of 47 years and from the experience of the National Fraternal Congress of the United States. However, the only valuations of Canadian fraternal orders, made by 1899, revealed that the Ancient Order of Foresters and the Sons of Scotland had each considerable funds on hand, but not a sufficient amount. In 1919 an Act of the Canadian parliament required that the benefit funds of friendly societies must be valued annually by an actuary. If a deficiency of funds is shown, it must be made good within a reasonable period, by an adjustment of rates and benefits. Many of the societies have gone through several adjustments of rates and benefits. Although having suffered a consequent loss in membership and a temporary setback, the societies are now doing business with due regard for sound principles. In 1931, eight Canadian societies reported to the Insurance Department of the Canadian government: they were the Alliance Nationale, Ancient Order of Foresters, Artisans Canadiens-Français, Canadian Woodmen of the World, Catholic Mutual Benefit Association, Commercial Travellers' Association of Canada, Independent Order of Foresters, and Grand Orange Lodge of British America. Business was also transacted in Canada by 24 foreign fraternal societies, including the Jewish National Workers' Alliance, the Knights of Columbus, and the Women's Catholic Order of Foresters.

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 392-393. 


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College