Description of Historic Place
The Masonic Memorial Temple National Historic Site of Canada is a monumental, elegant neoclassical stone building built from 1929 to 1930. Designed in the Beaux-Arts tradition, it resembles a Greek temple and occupies a corner lot in Montréal’s urban core. The imposing main façade features a rusticated limestone base with four openings and a central entrance flanked by two freestanding columns supporting terrestrial and celestial spheres. The main double-door is made of bronze. The decorative belt course that defines the upper part of the base features ornamental carving and words in relief. The property slopes with the elevation of downtown Montréal. Official recognition refers to the building on its legal property.
The Masonic Memorial Temple was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2001 because:
- it stands as an exceptionally refined example of a late Beaux-Arts Classical building;
- it is an allegorical representation of Freemasonrys Enlightenment ideas, which used monumental classical architecture to symbolise its moral beliefs.
Built to honour the Freemasons who had served and fallen in the First World War, today it is the meeting place and headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Québec. Designed by prominent Montréal architect John Smith Archibald in 1929-1930, the Masonic Memorial Temple uses a form of classicism favoured by the Beaux-Arts school of design during the first decades of the 20th century. With its prominent portico, temple-like entrance and windowless expanses, the building evokes a traditional Greek temple. The complex interior layout uses Beaux-Arts principles of rational symmetrical planning to suggest the Biblical temple of Solomon.
Beaux-Arts classicism appropriately expressed the morality of the Freemasons, a fraternal organization who looked to the past for their identity and believed in the superiority of antiquity and of classical architecture. Masonic rituals emphasized moral uprightness through the language of science and mathematics, as well as through the mechanics of building. The moral beliefs of Freemasonry are symbolized in the design and detailing of the temple, expressed in classical language.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- its location on a prestigious street in downtown Montreal;
- the placement of the building almost flush with the sidewalk on both of its major elevations;
- its rectangular massing and footprint;
- the classical design and detailing of its Saint Marc street façade, including its tripartite division, Ionic pilasters, carved medallions, rusticated ashlar foundation and carved cornice;
- the classical design and detailing of its Sherbrooke street façade, including its tripartite division, rusticated ashlar foundation, carved cornice, carved entablature, portico with alternating Ionic columns and tripod light stands, its carved pediment, its medallions flanking the portico, the foundation frieze with classical and Masonic motifs, and the main entrance with its bronze door and surrounding motifs;
- the use of Queenston limestone facing;
- the elements of its design and detailing which symbolize Masonic beliefs, including the Ionic columns, its square form and right angles, its tripartite divisions, its classical design and detailing, the Masonic symbols along the foundation frieze, the illuminated globes atop Solomonic columns flanking the main entrance, and its interior layout, modelled on the Biblical temple of King Solomon;
- its complex interior layout, including the tripartite division horizontally and vertically into three floors with a central and side sections, and the use of both full and half stories, as well as mezzanines;
- the placement of four primary rooms in a vertical hierarchy at the core of the building, representing the inner shrine of King Solomon’s temple, a lecture hall (basement), the Memorial banquet hall (first floor), the main Blue lodge room (second floor), and the Scottish Rite room (third floor);
- the absence of natural light in the four primary rooms at the core of the building;
- the absence of windows above the first floor on the two principal façades;
- the placement of the service core at the rear of the building;
- the Memorial banquet hall, dedicated to Masonic fallen from the First World War, including its marble inlay cladding, its mural paintings by artists A. Sheriff-Scott and C.W. Kelsey, and its location on the first floor of the temple;
- the three Blue lodge rooms, including, their placement at the core of the temple on the first and second floors, their sky-blue colour, their elaborate detailing, and the use of Masonic symbolism in detailing;
- the elaborate detailing of the largest Blue lodge room, including Neoclassical chairs, plinths and pilasters, corner tassels, and a central hanging pendant with the letter “G”;
- features of the Scottish Rite lodge room which contribute to its ritualistic and ceremonial use, including its resemblance to a Jacobean Hall, its oak beams and wainscoting, its carved lions, a stage for the performance of morality plays, its choir and organ, its location on the highest level within the temple, and its insulation from exterior light and noise.