The Sons of Scotland association was established as a mutual aid society in Toronto in 1876 to provide insurance to its members, also including in its activities elements of sociability and the celebration of Scottish culture. The specific objectives were:
- To unite Scotchmen, sons of Scotchmen, and their descendants, of good moral character, and possessed of some known reputable means of support, who are over eighteen years of age.
- To establish a fund for the relief of sick members, and to ameliorate their condition in every reasonable manner.
- To provide or establish a Beneficiary Fund, from which, on satisfactory evidence of the death of a member, a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars shall be paid, as provided by the Constitution and laws of the Order relative to the Beneficiary Fund.
- To cultivate fond recollections of Scotland, its customs and amusements.
- The Camps shall at all times be free from all political and theological sectarianism, and be subject only to the laws of God and of the land in which they respectively exist.
At the helm of the organization stood the Grand Camp, with other camps designated either as subordinate or juvenile camps. The Grand Camp, headed by a Grand Chief, provided leadership for the organization as a whole, with other Grand Officers in place in roles reflecting those also used at subordinate camp level, including, for instance, a Grand Physician, who had responsibility for issues relating to the medical examination of those applying for membership. Annual—later biennial—gatherings of the Grand Camp brought together delegates from member camps from throughout Canada. Designed as roving conventions, these meetings were held in diverse locations throughout Canada, and were concerned, first, with the transaction of business, including the delivery of annual reports and financial statements, as well as the election of officers. There usually was, however, also a more social element to the proceedings. In 1891, for example, the Grand Camp met in Toronto and spent the day discussing business matters, and then in the evening a banquet was held at McConkey’s, ‘provided for the visiting delegates by the city camps’; toasts were made and the programme also included musical intervals with ‘selections of national music’.
One of the Sons of Scotland’s subordinate camps, Inverness Camp, No. 54, S.O.S., based in Goderich, Ontario, provides insights into how subordinate camps operated. The Inverness Camp did not fail to give recognition to its Scottish link, adopting, for example, the Hunting McLaren tartan as the tartan to be worn for its main events, and met regularly on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Besides passing the relevant eligibility assessments (nationality and health included), those who wanted to become members had to pay an initiation fee based on their age: for 18 to 30 year olds this was set at $8, for 30 to 40 year olds at $9, and for 40 to 50 year olds at $10; these fees included the required medical examination and the issuance of the beneficiary certificate. Once accepted, payment of a monthly due of 35 cents was required. For those who had been members for six months and were not more than three months behind with monthly dues, a sick benefit of $1 per week was provided for 13 weeks in cases of illness. That illness had to ‘be verified by a physician and the chairman of the Sick Committee’. When sick, members had to notify the Chief, who would then initiate the required procedures. For the provision of mutual benefit, too, as with charity, the character of recipients and their conduct played a part. As outlined in the Inverness Camp’s by-laws:
[a]ny member of the Camp who shall by drunkenness, immoral or disorderly conduct, bring upon himself sickness or disease, shall not be entitled to assistance for the funds of the Camp. … should any member while receiving benefits from the funds be found intoxicated, or guilty of any conduct to prolong his sickness, he shall not be entitled to any assistance from the funds of the Camp during the remainder of such sickness.