Vancouver Island Masonic History Project

As part of our Vancouver Island Masonic History Project series, which includes pages on Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments, here is some information on John Gordon McKay (died April 1871, aged 50), who is buried in Pioneer Square, Victoria, B.C.

At present, the little we know of John Gordon McKay’s life comes from the Victoria newspaper reports of his death and Masonic funeral. He was a member of Victoria City Council. He was a member of Victoria Lodge, No. 1085. [Note: Victoria Lodge, No. 1085 was merged with British Columbia Lodge in 1871 to become Victoria-Columbia Lodge No. 1.]

He died of tetanus after cutting his finger on broken glass, a reminder of how injuries we might consider trivial today could often result in fatal infections in the days before modern antibiotics.

John Gordon McKay was buried in Pioneer Square in April 1871 but his tombstone was among those later removed by the City of Victoria. These tombstones are now in the custody of the Old Cemeteries Society. Due to John McKay’s headstone having been removed, we do not know the actual location of his grave in Pioneer Square.

Here are the contemporary newspaper reports of John McKay’s death and funeral:

“DIED – On the 1st inst. John Gordon McKay, aged 50 years.

The funeral will take place from Masonic Hall TO-MORROW (Monday) at 2 p.m. Friends are respectfully invited to attend.”

(Source: Daily British Colonist, 2 April 1871, page 3, column 1)

“DEATH OF COUNCILLOR JOHN GORDON McKAY – It becomes our duty to announce the death of Councillor J G McKay who expired at an early hour yesterday morning of tetanus, which resulted from a cut upon one of his fingers inflicted by a piece of glass some ten days ago. At first Mr. McKay regarded the cut as quite trivial, and medical aid was not summoned until too late to save his life. Mr. McKay was a native of Scotland and was aged about 50 years. He resided a long time in Canada, and was an early and warm friend of Sir John A MacDonald, Premier of Canada, [note: Sir John A. MacDonald was a Freemason] with whom he maintained a correspondence. Mr. McKay was a pioneer of California as well as of British Columbia, and represented Yates Street Ward in the City Council for several terms. He leaves a widow to mourn his loss. The funeral will take place under the auspices of the Masonic Order, of which deceased was a member, to-morrow at 1,30 p.m. from Masonic Hall. The deceased was a valuable and respected citizen and his loss will be keenly felt.”

(Source: Daily British Colonist, 2 April 1871, page 3, column 3)

“FUNERAL OF THE LATE J G McKAY – The funeral obsequies of the late John G McKay took place yesterday afternoon from Masonic Hall, where the body lay in state from Sunday afternoon. The obsequies were under the direction of Victoria Lodge, of which deceased was a member. W M Thorne opened the lodge at 1 ½ p.m. and read the first portion of the Masonic funeral service. At 2 p.m. the procession moved from the Hall. The pall-bearers were Messrs. E Grancini, J C Nicholson, R H Wilson, James Burnes, Thos Lowe, Capt Nagle, T C Nuttall and J F McCreight. The various lodges of the city and many visitors from other lodges, together with the Fire Companies in uniform, the Mayor and City Councillors and a number of ex-Councillors joined the line and the procession marched to solemn music by the Victoria band to St. Andrew’s (Presbyterian) Church, where the burial service was performed by the Rev. S. McGregor, after which the line reformed and the remains were bourne to the cemetery when, after a prayer by Rev McGregor, they were consigned to the grave with full Masonic honors. The service at the grave was conducted by the Worshipful Master of Victoria Lodge. The attendance of citizens not connected with any of the Societies was numerous.”

(Source: Daily British Colonist, 4 April 1871, page 3, column 1)

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