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Algoma District Travelling Square


MEASURING THE LODGE - October 03, 1974





This talk was prepared about a year ago and since that time much has appeared in the press that might in some way reduce the novelty and the impact of the topic, but as it will affect all of us in some way or another.  I hope you will bear with me for some of the things I shall say will stand repetition.


I have titled my talk “measuring the lodge” perhaps it should have been “measuring the world”, but if we accept the fact that masonry covers the whole of our globe, I shall stick with my original title.


In the first book of kings we read that in the building of King Solomon’s Temple, two imposing brass pillars were cast. They were placed at the entrance of the temple to constantly remind the children of Israel of certain events in their history.  The size of the pillars we are told was eighteen cubits in height and twelve cubits in circumference.  To visualize the size of the pillars we must pause and ask ourselves “just how much is a cubit”?


Well, the cubit was an odd measurement -- it varied with the builder.  It was the length of his forearm from his elbow to the tip of his middle finger.  Can’t you picture Hiram Abiff, the builder chosen by King Solomon, calling his workmen together before construction started and saying to them - “now I want to make one thing perfectly clear — on this job this is the Length of my cubit”.


We may smile but what is so funny?  We use the imperial inch system, and originally the inch was established as the length of “three barley corns, full and dry”.  Our inch is divided usually into eighths.  We then expand the inch into feet, multiplying it by twelve.  The foot is a third of a yard.


We use a pound that is divided into sixteenths, but a pound of gold only has twelve parts which gives rise to the old riddle about which weighs more, an ounce of gold or an ounce of feathers.


Then we have a gallon that is compounded into pecks, bushels, firkins, and barrels, or divided into quarts, pints, noggins, gills, or teaspoons.  In Newfoundland there are even legal measures called a salt box and a herring barrel.


Our measurements are just as confusing as Hiram Abiff’s cubit. But to get back to Hiram Abiff, we must remember that he was the finest builder of his day.  He used the very latest construction methods known in his time — he was as modern as tomorrow and had he been aware of a better measuring system I am sure he would have used it.


There is a better measuring system than his or our cumbersome inch-pound scale.  It is the S.I. or SYSTEM INTERNATIONALE and it is used by 90% of the populations of the world.  As well, 70% of world trade is carried on using it.  All of us learned it once in school carried out some experiments in it then forgot all about it.


But now we are hearing more about it, for Canada is committed to change to the S.I. or metric system by the 1980s.


Why the need for such a drastic change in our measuring you may ask?  Well there are two very good reasons.  First it is a clear and logical system for measuring distance, mass, temperature and electrical power.  The units relate to one another and calculations between units are very simple. Do you remember the long struggle you had in public school learning the common fractions?  One reason you had to learn them was so that you could convert units in our measuring system. The metric system is based on tens and is as easy to calculate as our currency.  The second and more important reason for the change is economics.  When Britannia ruled the waves and later when the American dollar was the symbol of world stability, those people who make up the other 90% of the world were told “If you want to buy our products then take them in the sizes we make them in”.  Now the shoe is on the other foot, the 90% is saying “If you want to sell to us -- then sell them in the measurements we use.”


That is why the automobile industry is setting up new toolings in metric sizes.  That’s why the Canadian Wheat Board has announced that in 1976 it was going to change to metric measurements.  That is why the economic council of Canada and every major segment of business is studying, in committee, just how the S.I. will affect it and how it best can make the Change.


The switch-over will be costly, but perhaps like Britain’s recent change to decimal currency, not as costly as originally expected.  Our real cost is in the delay, for our suffers on the world market by not being able to supply the sizes needed, or if it can, by having to maintain duplicate inventories in order to sell in the North  American market, as well as the metric bloc we are indeed caught in a world squeeze.


Let’s just review for a moment the standard units of the S.I., and I use the term repeatedly, for we are not just converting to metric measurements our existing sizes, but are adopting the units of the Systeme Internationale.


The basis of length is the metre, spelled ‘re’ in deference to the French who first adopted it.  This unit was originally calculated as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator.  It is broken into hundredths or centimetres, and thousandths or millimetres.  One thousand times a metre is a kilometre.  A cube ten by ten by ten centimetres has a volume of one thousand cm and forms a measure called a litre.  The weight of that amount of water under certain conditions of temperature is one thousand grams or one kilogram.  In other words, one cm of water weighs one gram.  A delightful arrangement.  I wonder if I told you that a cubic foot of water weighed 62 ½ pounds, you could give me the weight of a cubic inch before the evening was over.


At school you learned that when reading temperature on the centigrade scale zero was freezing and one hundred degrees was the boiling point.  This is now referred to as the Celsius scale and quite recently they have started giving temperatures at the airport on this scale.  Within a very short time rainfall will be quoted in millimetres.


What is the impact of all this going to be?  Well we shall lose some of our old expressions.  We shall no longer be able to say “all wool and a yard wide”; “give him an inch and he’ll take a mile”, the lecture in the working tools in the first degree may have to undergo a slight revision. We may have to refer to the “traditional” twenty four inch scale, or even change it to Centimetres.


We shall soon learn that a young lady whose vital statistics are eighty nine-fifty six-eighty nine is a shapely dish indeed.  But actually in our everyday life the impact will be slight.  We have always paid our light bill on the metric scale for the ampere is a basic standard of electricity. The gas tank of our car will be filled with so many litres of gasoline and we shall drive so many kilometres.  In fact some of our road sign already show metric.


Packaging will be done in metric sizes, but the change will be gradual.  Already you buy your toothpaste in one of four standard metric quantities.  Think of the advantage to the storekeeper in reducing basic inventories and the advantage to you in comparing unit prices.


If you read the globe and mail you are reading from a metric sized sheet. All letters and publications from the Ontario government are on a metric sized sheet.  The big problem at present is that few mills are set up to produce the original stock from which these sheets can be cut without waste.


There are many problems in making such a drastic changeover, and as I mentioned earlier each segment of industry is trying to make plans so that the transition will be a smooth as possible.  One area where there is already much controversy is in the construction industry.  Architects who must plan years ahead are being asked to design buildings using metric sized components when many of these are not yet produced.  So we have an impasse.  The change is not yet here but it is coming fast.  Educators are already studying the best way to introduce S.I. standards to children.  It is being started in the primary grades for these children when they leave school will be living in a metric world.


The method of teaching will be positive.  In other words they will be taught to think metric.  They will not be taught conversion but both systems side by side until the imperial system is phased out.  Conversion will only be used where absolutely necessary.


As you are aware, the publicity about S.I. has already started and you will hear much more as the changes become fact.  It won’t happen overnight.


So brethren, as Masons all of us should keep our eyes and ears open and learn what we can about the metric system.  Learn the language and how to express the various units in writing the visual sizes of the unit and the heft of the various masses.  In other words, learn to “think metric”.  If you don’t, grade school children are going to know more than you do.  If you do then you will be in possession of one secret that was never revealed to Hiram Abiff.


Presented by W. Bro. J.B. Evans