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History of Theosophy in Canada

In the ten years following the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel H.S. Olcott, and William Q. Judge, the organization broke little new ground on the American continent. During this period, there were a few individual Canadian members, but no organized Theosophical activity in Canada. When Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott left for India at the end of 1878, the Movement developed considerable interest in India and Europe. However, it was not until the mid-1880s when Mr. Judge almost single handedly brought about a revival of American interest that the Society began to grow rapidly on the North American continent.

Branches sprang up in a number of American cities, and in 1891 the first Canadian branch was chartered — the Toronto Theosophical Society. In the following year appeared the Kshanti Branch in Victoria, British Columbia, and Mount Royal Branch in Montreal. At this time, all came under the jurisdiction of the American Section of the Theosophical Society whose headquarters were in New York. (The headquarters of the greater Society were considered to be in Madras, India.)

In the aftermath of the "Judge Case", in 1895 the majority of Canadian Theosophists transferred their allegiance to the newly formed Theosophical Society in America under the Presidency of William Q. Judge. In Toronto, a new branch was formed by his followers. They named it, appropriately, the Beaver Lodge*. After Mr. Judge's untimely death in 1896, some Canadian members continued to support his successors as President, first Ernest T. Hargrove then Katherine Tingley.

In Western Canada, the movement progressed slowly. A Lodge was formed in 1896 in the unlikeliest place, the gold rush town of Barkerville in northern British Columbia. This was even before Vancouver (1897). In 1898 that city was also named on the charter as a Lodge of the Theosophical Society (Adyar).

Mrs. Tingley's group began to use the name Universal Brotherhood and only secondarily the Theosophical Society. Many found her to be more autocratic than they were willing to put up with and drifted away; some remaining as independent theosophists, others transferring their allegiance to the Theosophical Society headquartered in Adyar. By the early 1900s, most of the Theosophical activity in Canada was once again under the aegis of this Society, still headed by Colonel H.S. Olcott.

During the first decade of the 20th century, Theosophical activity in Canada flagged. This was due partly to a major scandal in the Society which had international spin offs, and partly because it appears that no dynamic leader was active. Finally, one individual, Albert E.S. Smythe, who had been largely instrumental in the formation of the original Toronto Theosophical Society, and who had been turned away by Mrs. Tingley, rejoined and by 1909 Theosophy once again became an active force in that city.

With this as impetus, from then on, as Canada grew, so did the Theosophical Society. After the creation of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, which until 1905 were part of the North West Territories, western cities became more and more receptive to Theosophy. After Regina, Edmonton was one of the first, and in 1911, a Theosophical Lodge was chartered in that city, which now boasted a population of around 30,000.

By 1919 the Theosophical Movement in Canada had become vibrant enough to warrant the formation of an independent Canadian Section. The request for a Sectional Charter was granted and seventeen lodges and approximately eight hundred members were transferred from the American Section in the process. Albert E.S. Smythe became the first General Secretary.

* The beaver is the animal emblem of Canada. Also, the beaver's home is called a ‘lodge'.