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The Masonic Temple: From Secrets to Success

The Masonic Temple in downtown Winnipeg is a little piece of the 19th century, still standing proudly at the corner of Donald Street and Ellice Avenue. It is a beautiful reminder of early Winnipeg life, when no expense was spared to construct buildings that would stand the test of time. Many Winnipeggers may remember it as the popular Mother Tucker's Food Experience, or have heard stories about ghosts that used to give staff the chills. But long before it was a restaurant, it was a magnificent Masonic Temple, their first permanent home in western Canada and the only building in Canada built by the Masons, for the Masons.

The Masonic Temple in 2019.
Source: CBC News Manitoba.

Freemasonry is thought to have it roots in the stonemasons' guilds of the Middle Ages, with the most agreed upon date for the founding of the Masonic Order being 1390. The Masons primarily originated in Europe, but some claim to trace their history back to ancient Egypt. Freemasonry grew in popularity during the 19th century, providing a social safety net that the government did not. It is a mysterious organization with secret rituals and traditions, but is very transparent about its commitment to philanthropy and the betterment of society through individuals. Over the centuries the organization has grown to nearly 8 million members worldwide, welcomes people from all walks of life, and includes opportunities for all ages and genders.

MASONIC PRINCIPLES
• Act with honour and integrity in everything you do.
• Believe in a Supreme Being and keep faith in the center of your life.
• Be tolerant and considerate of different religious, social, and political views.
• Strive to leave the world a better place than when you entered it.
• Practice mutual help – give and accept help when it’s needed.
• Uphold and maintain the principles of good government and oppose divisive and degrading influences.
• Value self-improvement over financial success.
• Remain good at heart.
• Strive to live a brotherly life.
-Grand Lodge of Manitoba

The Masons officially came to Manitoba in 1864, establishing the Northern Lights Lodge in the Bannatyne Block on Main Street, just north of Portage Avenue. A branch of the Grand Lodge Of Minnesota, several prominent Winnipeggers were officers, including A.G.B. Bannatyne, John Schultz and William Inkster. This lodge received its own charter in 1866 but was short lived, being disbanded in 1870 due to the Riel confrontations. Freemasonry returned to Winnipeg in 1870, when Winnipeg's first lodge, Prince Rupert's Lodge No. 240, was established. The location of this lodge shifted several times, finally moving into in the Western Canada Loans and Saving Company Building at Portage Avenue and Main Street in 1894. Unfortunately, the same year the Masons took up residence in this building, it burned down, which ultimately served as the catalyst for the Masons deciding to construct their own building.

A drawing of the Masonic Temple from the day the cornerstone was laid.
Source: Winnipeg Daily Tribune, August 16, 1895, page 5.

The Masons soon embarked on building their new home for the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, breaking ground on July 17, 1895 at 335 Donald Street. Well situated near the downtown, it was also close to the Hudson's Bay Company Reserve were many of its members lived. The building was designed by George Creeford Browne, a Montreal born architect who was also a Mason. Fresh off of his successful design of Wesley College, which is now part of the University of Winnipeg, he was known for his use of brick and symmetry. For the three storey Masonic Temple he blended the Romanesque Revival style with classical elements, creating a pleasing and balanced appearance. Costing about $22,000 to build at the time, a rough stone foundation supported cream brick facades with Selkirk limestone accents proclaiming "MASONIC TEMPLE" high above the front entrance. Inside, a library, offices, banquet hall, kitchen, meeting halls and more were all furnished with the finest materials.

The laying of the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple on August 15, 1895.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society.

The Masonic Temple was in use by the Masons until 1969, when they departed for their newly built home at 420 Corydon Avenue, which you can visit during Doors Open Winnipeg. The Temple sat empty for a year, until in 1971 was reopened as a restaurant and dance club called the Rec Room. The Rec Room was short lived, as was GG's Cabaret and Supper Club that followed it. After a two storey addition to the back of the building, Mother Tucker's Food Experience opened in the building in 1975, remaining there until 1999. Two more restaurants came and went, with the building sitting empty by 2003. Although the building had been completely altered on the interior, the exterior was relatively unchanged from when it was originally built.

The Masonic Temple circa 1900.
Source: City of Winnipeg.

During the time the Masonic Temple was used as a restaurant, stories began to circulate about the building being haunted. Some of the staff reported that late at night and in the early morning hours, lights would flicker and objects would be mysteriously moved. The ghost was thought to be a mischievous partier, using napkins and making a mess for staff to clean up the following morning.

The Masonic Temple is on the far left of the image, with the red brick Eaton's Department Store in the background (where the Bell MTS Centre is now located), circa 1915.
Source: PastForward.

By 2019 most of the buildings surround the Masonic Temple (on the far left) have changed, with the Bell MTS Centre now being just down the street on Portage Avenue, where Easton's once stood.
Source: Google Maps.

The Masonic Temple is currently owned by Peter Ginakes, owner of the Pony Corral restaurant chain, who bought the building 16 years ago with his business partner, who is now sadly deceased. Passionate about conserving this historic building, they embarked on an ambitious redevelopment project, replacing windows, repointing bricks, installing a new roof and gutting the interior. The building was brought up to modern building codes, with a new elevator and new washrooms, ensuring accessibility and functionality to all who enter. Well located on the periphery of the Exchange District and only one block from Bell MTS Place, it now has limitless possibilities as a mixed use space, potentially accommodating a restaurant, commercial space, art studio and theatre. Recognizing that this historic building can never be replaced once it is lost, Ginakes has spent $4 million on ensuring the Masonic Temple continues to stand proudly at the corner of Donald Street and Ellice Avenue for at least another 100 years.

A new elevator was installed in the Masonic Temple to ensure it is an accessible building.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

The entire interior of the Masonic Temple has been completely redeveloped and brought up to modern building codes, include the third floor.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

A proposed patio for the redeveloped Masonic Temple.
Source: Peter Ginakes.

On March 21st, 2019, the Masonic Temple was given a heritage designation by the City of Winnipeg. As the interior of the building had long since been altered, only the exterior of the building is impacted by this designation. This allows for excellent flexibility and adaptability on the interior while ensuring the historic envelope is conserved.

The exterior of the Masonic Temple in August 2019.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

After a long and painstaking redevelopment, the Masonic Temple is ready to open its doors once again. Its owner has endured many years of hard work, always believing that the building will be a vibrant part of the downtown community. Ginakes is now looking for tenants that have as much unique character as this historic building. Heritage Winnipeg applauds the dedication of Ginakes in finishing the redevelopment of the Masonic Temple and looks forward to seeing it filled with tenants. An excellent example of adaptive reuse, the Masonic Temple illustrates how heritage buildings can be continually reinvented, allowing our diverse history and heritage to be showcased for generations to come!


Interested in the Masonic Temple?
Contact Colliers International at 204-926-3835 for tenancy opportunities!


Special thanks to Peter Ginakes for giving Heritage Winnipeg a tour of the Masonic Temple and John Drew for sharing his knowledge of the Masons' history!


Written by Cheryl Mann, with contributions from Ian Drysdale, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg


SOURCES:
Biographic Dictionary of Architects in Canada - Browne, George Creeford 
CBC Archives - Winnipeg's friendly Masonic Temple ghost
CBC News Manitoba - Former Masonic Temple ready for a new beginning after years of renovations
City of Winnipeg - 335 Donald Street 
Google Maps
Grand Lodge of Manitoba - About Us
Manitoba Historical Society - Masonic Temple
Masonic Service Association of North America - History of Freemasonry
PastForward - Looking South on Princess Street from Ellice Street, Winnipeg, Man., Canada
The Uniter - Hometown Haunted


THANK YOU TO THE SPONSOR OF THIS BLOG POST:
https://www.yarrowsashanddoor.com/
 

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