Have you ever voted? Maybe you checked the name of a person on a piece of paper and placed it in a ballot box? Well, if you were fortunate enough to be a part of a fraternal society, voting was very different and, in fact, resulted in a common expression still used today.
A fraternal society is a voluntary brotherhood formed to support the social and professional needs of its members. Fraternal societies were originally for men with a business background or wealth. Examples would be the Canadian Order of Foresters, Independent Order Odd Fellows, the Masonic Lodge (also known as the Grand Lodge) of Manitoba, as well as the Orange Lodge.
The oldest fraternal society is the Masonic Lodge begun in Musselburgh, UK, and dating back to the year 1599.
Within seven years of Virden’s existence, all four lodges were established in the town.
Voting began with a box shaped similar to the one in the photograph that would be passed among the members. Sometimes there would be additional drawers to help store the small black and white marbles.
Members would vote people into the society by anonymously selecting a white or black ball to put in the empty side of the box as a vote. If there were three or more black balls, you were not allowed into the fraternal society; therefore, you were “blackballed”.
Today blackballing refers to banning a person from joining an organization or club.
Incidentally, none of these lodges exist in Virden anymore but can be found in other locations.
Submitted by Nicholas Crawford, Assistant Curator and Tour Guide, Virden Pioneer Home Museum