He is the oldest former Masonic lodge leader in Ontario and one of Canada’s first Black Grand Masters.
Last Saturday, fraternity members from across Canada and the United States gathered at a Mississauga hotel to celebrate Arthur Downes’ 50th year as a Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge member in the province.
He served as Grand Master for four years up until 1967.
“Arthur is the dean of Grand Masters,” said Masonic Grand Master Stanley Henry. “His leadership and guidance to this organization has been an inspiration for us all to follow.”
James Jessop drove from Windsor for the grand occasion.
“I had to be here because this is a huge event,” the former Grand Master said. “Arthur has left an imprint on everyone who is here tonight to share this proud moment with him.”
Linden Kirkland, a past Master of Eureka Lodge #20 which organized the celebration, said Downes is an icon to the lodge fraternity.
“He’s a leader and someone who stands out as a shining star,” said Kirkland who met Downes 36 years ago.
Downes was among a group of five, including late lawyer B.J. Spencer Pitt and Canadian Second World War Veteran Lester Brown who died last month at age 92, who joined Eureka Lodge #20 on February 2, 1949.
“I was inspired to become a member after witnessing the care and support they provided for my father when he was ill,” said Downes. “Those were the days before there was health care so that backing was critical.”
Downes’ father, Dudley Downes, an immigrant from Barbados, joined the lodge in 1920.
In the keynote address, past Grand Master Joe Halstead paid tribute to Downes’ remarkable achievements.
“It takes strong conviction and commitment to do this,” said Halstead, chair of Ontario Place Corporation, who held the top leadership position from 2003-5. “While this evening is about Arthur, we also know that he’s about strong commitments, in particular on young people. He, like most of us, is absolutely befuddled by what is happening to our youths today. If it’s true that they are our future, it’s equally true that if we don’t think about it, we wouldn’t have one.”
The executive lead for the 2002 World Youth Day Conference and Papal visit, Halstead said it’s critical that the youth achieve success to make their mark in the global society.
“True success must be seen in a balanced lifestyle,” he said.
Downes’ masonic affiliation includes stints as Worshipful Master of Eureka Lodge #20, past potentate of Hadji Temple #61, trustee of Scottish Rite United Supreme Council northern jurisdiction, honorary past imperial potentate of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Orient of Eastern Canada illustrious deputy and Southern Jurisdiction Sovereign Grand Inspector General.
A Naomi chapter past patron and life member, he has been a member of the Order of the Eastern Star since 1954 and an Ezekiel chapter excellent high priest for the past year.
In addition to his lodge association, Downes is a retired Justice of the Peace with extensive community involvement. He’s a former Ontario Hospital Association director, Anglican Synod lay delegate, Humber College lecturer, Senegal’s honorary consul general for 16 years up until 2009 and founding chair of the board of director of Doctors Hospital Foundation, now Kensington Foundation.
“From his example, I learned a great deal about the value of giving generously of time, talents and resources,” said Kensington Health chief executive officer Brian McFarlane. “With his quiet manner, Arthur has been an outstanding leader in the community, able to influence young people in a very positive way. On many occasions, he has been a source of wisdom and counsel to those in need.”
Historian and curator, Dr. Sheldon Taylor, said Downes is the complete package. They were among the first community members to develop and implement liaison committees between the Black community and the Toronto Police Service.
“Arthur is a gentleman and a mentor to many, including me,” Taylor, who attended the event, said. “He worked at Harry Rosen (a high-end men’s clothing outlet) for years and he taught us how to dress well. He’s also a healer and someone who is very well connected in this community and very scholarly in Jewish traditions.”
The holder of a Doctor of Letters from Mary Holmes College in Mississippi, Downes is the vice-president of the Brampton Symphony Orchestra which provided a musical interlude at the historic celebration.