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