Masonic Memorial Hall


The Masonic Memorial Temple on the corner of Sherbrooke Street and St-Marc in Montreal is probably the most significant and outstanding example of an historic Masonic Temple in Canada.

The purpose of this study is to provide research and information on the historic, architectural and civic importance of the Masonic Memorial Temple to support this nomination, and also to outline measures now being contemplated and taken to preserve it as a heritage building.  Dedicated and officially opened exactly seventy years ago, the Temple has served both individual lodges and concordant Masonic bodies in the city of Montreal as well as the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Quebec. The Temple and its builders, the Masonic order, have also served the community for seven decades.  Since its completion in 1929, the Temple has been recognized as an outstanding example of Neoclassical architecture and an ornament to its setting on Sherbrooke Street close to the heart of urban Montreal. The owner of the building, the Masonic Foundation of Quebec, fully supports the nomination of the structure as a National Historic Site.


Temple MemorialThe Masonic Memorial Temple, as its name suggests, was conceived as both a meeting place for the Masonic order as well as a memorial to the Freemasons who served and gave their lives during the Great War of 1914-18. Since 1895, the principal meeting place for Masons and the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Quebec was the Masonic Temple on Dorchester Street, combining dedicated Masonic space and commercial space. [Milborne, 174]  Within ten years, however, the Masons were finding the property inadequate, as its dedicated space proved to be limited for the rapidly-growing order. In July, 1908, architects Archibald and Saxe conducted renovations to make the property more efficient. Following the war of 1914-18, the Masons meeting in the Dorchester Street Temple were ready to embark on the planning and construction of a spacious meeting place and memorial to fallen brethren. Cautious in their endeavour, the Masons began to raise funds for the project in 1923, and only five years later did they have sufficient means to retain an architect and undertake construction.





John Smith Archibald, Architect

Architect John S. Archibald, who had previously renovated the Dorchester Street Temple, was retained to design the new temple and supervise its construction.  Born in 1872 in Inverness, Scotland, Archibald began his architectural training in Inverness and came to Canada in 1893. On his arrival, he was immediately employed by Edward Maxwell, an architect who dominated his profession through a number of significant institutional, commercial and residential commissions built across Canada. Having worked on many of these prominent projects, Archibald and his colleague, Charles Saxe, started their own firm and remained in partnership until 1915.  From 1915 until his death in 1934, Archibald practiced alone, although at various times his office consisted of numerous architects, draftsmen and other staff members.  This period represented the final, mature phase of Archibald’s career. During this period, Archibald’s firm designed and supervised the construction of a considerable series of significant buildings in Canada.  Especially important were his hotels, including major additions to the Windsor Hotel in Montreal (1925) and the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa (1928), the General Brock Hotel in Niagara Falls (1928), Manoir Richelieu, Murray Bay (1928), the Halifax Hotel, Halifax (1928), the Bessborough Hotel, Saskatoon (1930-32) and the Hotel Vancouver (1928-39).  Other prominent commissions included the Montreal Forum (1924), Baron Byng High School, Montreal (1921), Elizabeth Ballantyne School, Notre Dame de Grâce (1921), Queen’s University Gymnasium and Swimming Pool, Kingston (1930) and three hospitals in Montreal: the Royal Edward Institute, the Montreal Convalescent Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital, all dating to 1931.

A leader in the governance of his profession, Archibald was President of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects in 1905 and President of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 1924 and 1925.  He was made a Fellow of the RAIC in 1930.  [Bland, 3,4]


Design of the Masonic Memorial Temple

John Bland, Professor Emeritus of Architecture, McGill University, describes the national significance of the Masonic Memorial Temple as a work of architecture. Its "impressive classical cut stone facade," he states, "must be among the very last of its type in Canada."  [Bland, 4]

He was referring to that period of architecture in Canada, between 1919 and 1939 that witnessed the last blossoming of the classical revival style.  Refined during the high-water marks of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, the classical style developed a "vocabulary" in the use of columns, triangular pediments and crafted masonry details within a tightly-defined system of proportions and accepted ornamental details. Since antiquity, architects throughout the ages have attempted to emulate the ancient builders. Not only did the later architects using this classical vocabulary require a measured and disciplined approach, but those whom they charged with constructing their designs also required a rigorous training in the methods of squaring, shaping and fitting stones.

The Neoclassical style of architecture was employed from the 1400s through the early 1900s, first in Europe, then in the New World.  In Canada, this style was often associated with monumental public buildings, such as legislatures and court houses, but also with commercial buildings such as banks and insurance company offices, and with places of worship. The style symbolizes dignity and permanence. 

When John Archibald first laid down lines for the design of the Masonic Memorial Temple, he was adapting the monumental, classical style to a building that would reflect several important symbolic meanings.  First, as a memorial, the Neoclassical style would connote timelessness and longevity. The building would be, externally, a war memorial for the public, as well as Masons, to appreciate. Second, the Neoclassical temple form related to places of worship and congregation in antiquity. Although Freemasonry is not a religion, but a fraternity that welcomes those of all faiths, the central edifice in Masonic tradition is the second temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon. The Freemasons’ place of meeting became known as the "temple" because King Solomon’s temple was the result of the labours of their operative forebears.  (Incidentally, the operative masons made temporary accommodation in a hut or "lodge" adjacent their worksite; the name "lodge" was adopted by Freemasons as the name for their constituent organizations, each chartered from a Grand Lodge.) Third, the use of certain parts of the classical architectural vocabulary, notably the columns and smooth ashlar masonry, were incorporated into the symbolism of Freemasons. The actual use of these architectural features enabled Freemasons, publicly and proudly, to display their enduring dedication to a fraternity which uses architecture symbolically to teach lessons of brotherhood, service to others and high moral values. Thus many Masonic temples, particularly in North America, built during the architectural period that favoured historical styles, easily and appropriately employed the Neoclassical style. Without question, Archibald produced in his Masonic Memorial Temple the preeminent example of such a building in Canada.


Description of the Masonic Memorial Temple

The two principal facades of the Temple are on Sherbrooke Street and St-Marc Street and are covered with Queenston limestone.  The main facade, on Sherbrooke Street, has an elevation consisting of three parts: the base, the main body and the entablature.  The base is comprised of courses of rusticated limestone and features four openings as well as the prominent central entrance way.  This formal entrance is flanked by two free-standing columns surmounted respectively with the terrestrial and celestial spheres. The door at the formal entrance is of detailed architectural bronze.  A decorative belt course defines the upper part of the base and consists of ornamental carving and words in relief: FIDES, VERITAS, CARITAS, LIBERTAS, SPES.  The main body of the building features a columned portico flanked by two receding bays faced with smooth limestone.  The portico consists of four fluted Ionic columns and, behind the columns, is a recessed wall. Between the columns are five bronze torches.  The two bays flanking the portico each have a carved roundel in relief masonry. The entablature consists of a course of dentillation above the central plaque featuring in relief carving "MASONIC MEMORIAL TEMPLE", and a central triangular pediment, also dentillated.  There is a sizeable carving in relief masonry in the centre of the pediment, depicting the Masonic coat-of-arms.

The St-Marc facade consists of the base level with registers of windows articulating the interior configuration of the first two floor levels. The main body features four pilasters, conforming in height to the pillars of the main facade. The business entrances are at the ground-floor level to the right side of the St-Marc Street facade.

Although the Masonic Memorial Temple is the dominant building at the intersection of Sherbrooke and St-Marc streets, it also defines and terminates the 2200-block of the south side of Sherbrooke Street.

The interior consists of four principal levels in the main bay of the central elevation, with six levels in the east bay and five levels in the west bay.  The main circulation system consists of a stairway inside the south business entrance leading to the five floors of the west bay.  Integral with the main circulation system is an original, manually-operated Otis elevator. The Sherbrooke Street entrance, formal and ceremonial in character, provides access to the Memorial Chamber, immediately above ground level.  Access to the three other principal congregating spaces of the Temple is achieved through the main stairway or elevator system and therefore at the south end of the building. 

The interior spaces consist of the three above-mentioned principal halls, namely, the Memorial Hall on level two, Lodge Room One on level three, and the Scottish Rite auditorium on level four.  Other spaces include dining rooms, a kitchen, administrative offices, lounges, offices and storage rooms. There are, in total, eight levels to the Temple, including mezzanine floors and service rooms in the basement and penthouse.

The various Masonic lodges and concordant bodies meet in rooms furnished and fitted for ceremonial purposes.  These rooms are designed for formal meetings or communications, and their interior decor reflects this purpose.  Lodge Room One is furnished with upholstered chairs and benches of the Victorian period. The Scottish Rite auditorium is embellished with oak wainscotting and heraldic devices.  This assembly room also has a pipe organ furnished by Casavant Frères. 

The Temple is of steel frame and concrete construction.  The eleven blueprints of the steel framing system reveal a robust network of I-beams resting on concrete piers.  The steel work was fabricated by Dominion Bridge of Montreal.

The architectural plans, now held by the Canadian Architecture Collection of McGill University, include a total of seventeen ink-on-linen drawings of the elevations, sections, floors and architectural details, plus the eleven blueprints of the steel framing and three blueprints of the site plan. The plans were approved by the architect on August 1, 1928 as job number 25-6.


Completion and Dedication of the Temple

The ceremonial laying of the cornerstone by Grand Master Most Worshipful Brother Henry Willis took place on June 22, 1929.  A total of thirty-six lodges and 2,000 Masons paraded to the new temple from the Dorchester Street Temple.  A Past Grand Master, Canon Allan Shatford, delivered the address or oration. [Cooper, 100] In his address, he reflected upon the nature of the Masonic order.  He stated:

We have just laid one cornerstone today, but everyone knows that four cornerstones are necessary to support any building.  Our ceremony is symbolic--it points to those moral and spiritual foundations upon which our Order stands. . . . The four cornerstones of Masonry are a Belief in a Supreme Being, the Essential Worth of Man, a Reverence for Law, and an Obligation to Service. . . . The stone we have laid is at the angle of the building where two walls are conjoined.  Masonry seeks to bind men together in a great fraternity. It can only be done by the acceptance of these four cardinal factors. [Milborne, 197]

The Grand Lodge of Quebec met for the first time in the new temple, holding its Sixtieth Annual Communication, on February 12, 1930. [Milborne, 197]

The Grand Lodge of Quebec met for the first time in the new temple, holding its Sixtieth Annual Communication, on February 12, 1930.


Significance of the Masonic Memorial Temple

Immediately upon its completion, the Temple was deemed to be a building of superb design and quality, and an outstanding example of Neoclassical architecture. The December 1930 issue of Construction, "A Journal for the architectural, engineering and contracting interests of Canada" featured an illustrated article, which described the Temple in superlative terms:

Neither our great Canadian classicists nor such well-known American practitioners as McKim, Mead and White have produced anything finer in Grecian adaptation than this Montreal building.  As a work of architectural merit it ranks with Henry Bacon’s Lincoln Memorial , John Russell Pope’s Temple of the Scottish Rite and McKim, Mead and White’s J.P. Morgan Library.  The modern Canadian buildings that are nearest to its class are Cobb’s Toronto Registry Office and Lyle’s Bank of Nova Scotia, at Ottawa.

One year later, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada announced its second annual awards, giving its First Award, Class I, Monumental Buildings, to the Masonic Temple, Montreal. [R.A.I.C. Journal, Dec. 1931]  Interestingly, the Second Award, Monumental Buildings, was given to the Masonic Temple in Oshawa, Ontario.


Important Historic Events at the Masonic Memorial Temple

One of the first important ceremonies that took place in the Montreal Masonic Memorial Temple was the dedication of the Memorial Hall or chamber on October 10, 1951. The original Memorial Tablet was unveiled by Grand Master Charles McBurney in 1923, at which ceremony an address was given by General Sir Arthur Currie,KCB, KCMG. The ground-floor chamber of the new Temple was embellished with rich marble and dedicated to the eighty members of the Masonic Order who gave their lives, and the more than six hundred "who served King and country" in the First World War.  The Memorial Hall features four large murals by the renowned Quebec artist, A. Sheriff-Scott, RCA. These murals depict important events in the history of Freemasonry and of Quebec, including the laying of the foundation stone of the Wolfe and Montcalm Monument at Quebec in 1827, and the laying of the cornerstone of the Richardson Wing of the Montreal General Hospital in 1831.

Over the years, a number of important and memorable events were held in the Masonic Temple.

A selection of these events is enumerated:

The Montreal Masonic Memorial Temple was a venue for the World Scottish Festival in August 1992. The honoured guest was the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine.  More than 1,200 participants, Masons and no-Masons alike, visited the Masonic Temple.

On October 24, 1992, the 125th Anniversary of Confederation was celebrated by Masons, their families and guests.  The event was hosted by St. George’s Lodge No. 10, and greetings were extended by the Governor General and the Prime Minister of Canada.  Proceeds for the event were donated to The Royal Canadian Legion.

Since 1991, public concerts have been held in the Masonic Temple.  Among the most interesting of these was a Mozart Masonic Concert performed by the McGill Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Alexander Brott, with the Tudor Singers under Patrick Wedd.

Public tours of the Masonic Temple are held each summer, especially for the benefit of tourists.


Preservation Program

For a number of years, the Masonic Foundation of Quebec has been working to upgrade mechanical and electrical services in the Masonic Temple.  In order to provide for the long-term maintenance and restoration of this building, the Foundation began to prepare a preservation program in 1999.  During the next several years, the Foundation will be working with architecture specialists and trades with the objective of ensuring that the Montreal Memorial Temple will continue to be an ornament to the community and the nation.  At the same time, a parallel program to catalogue and consolidate the archives held in the building will also be undertaken, thus protecting the records of an important institution.



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