The narrow strip of land separating the Lake of the Woods from the Winnipeg River at its source runs across the northern end of the lake. This area, now a part of the City of Kenora, (formerly the towns of Keewatin and Kenora), has always been a place of portage, where muskrats crossed from the river to lake and back again, where the Ojibway portaged their birch bark canoes and often camped, and where the early explorer's, coureurs de bois, and fur traders pitched camp and made crossings. There are several outlets for water to pass from lake to river, all of them too swift and dangerous for passage by canoe.
The narrowest part of the portage was the section at its western end, in what is now Keewatin, and it was here that most of the early travelers crossed.The name "Keewatin" is derived from an Ojibway word meaning "north". The portage area was known as Kiwetini O Shask-o-ni-gum" or "The Northern Muskrat Portage". Another rendition of this expression is "Waszush Onigum Kee-way-din". The early French explorers, such as La Verendrye, who used this portage, referred to it as "Portage du Rat". It became not only a crossing place but also a meeting and camping place, and was used in this way for centuries."
On April 15,1887, a meeting was held in the School House at Keewatin "for the purpose of discussing the advisability of establishing a Masonic Lodge at Keewatin". Several of the masons present were Keewatin residents who were already members of Pequonga Lodge, Rat Portage, which had been given a charter as Lodge #22 by the Grand Lodge of Manitoba on June 8,1882. Following settlement of the Manitoba - Ontario boundary dispute, which restored this area to Ontario, Pequonga Lodge was given a charter by the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, numbered 414, on March 23, 1887.
The Masonic Hall was built on the shore of Portage Bay at the north end of Wharf Street. It was completed in time for the first meeting of Keewatin Lodge, (Under Dispensation) held on June 10,1887, and the Lodge has continued to meet there throughout its one hundred ++ years of existence.
Keewatin Masonic Lodge (right); Keewatin early 1900's (courtesy of Lake of the woods Museum)
Keewatin Masonic Lodge (centre) early 1890s (courtesy of Lake of the Woods Museum)