The Masonic Temple is a two-and-a-half storey brick building with a basement level, located at 6 Cathedral Street in St. John’s, NL. Built between 1894-1896 and inspired by Classic Revival design, the Masonic Temple is the largest brick fraternal meeting hall in the province. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
The Masonic Temple was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1995 because of its aesthetic, historic and cultural value.
The Masonic Temple was built as a meeting place for the Freemasons, an international fraternal organization. Freemasons in Newfoundland received their first warrant in 1746. The first confirmed Lodge in St. John’s was established in 1774, although it had faded out by 1832 and was not revived until 1848. In these early years, the Freemasons of St. John’s met in hotels and public halls. The first Freemason’s Hall was constructed at Long’s Hill in 1885. When the Great Fire of 1892 destroyed the hall, plans were quickly drawn to construct a new and larger building. Sir William Whiteway, a Freemason and the longest-serving premier of colonial Newfoundland, laid the cornerstone of the new Masonic Temple on August 23, 1894. Among the other Freemasons in attendance (many of whom were local businessmen and politicians) were then-Governor Terence O’Brien and well-known architect J.T. Southcot . By late 1896, the building was close enough to completion that the first Lodge meeting could be held there. The building was officially opened on April 23, 1897. It was used for Masonic meetings until 2007, when the Lodge relocated to the Freemason’s Hall in Mount Pearl. Since 2008, the St. John’s Masonic Temple has been owned by a local theatre company and used as a performance venue.
The Masonic Temple was designed by English architect James Wills Sr., who also designed the nearby St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in 1893. It is an architecturally impressive example of a fraternal lodge in the Classical Revival style. This style is typical for Masonic Temples across North America and is intended as a visual link to the supposed ancient history of the Freemasons. The many Classical Revival motifs on the front facade include pilastered towers, free-standing columns and multiple pediments. The central bay features the words “Masonic Temple” surrounding the Masonic emblem of the Square and Compasses. Above, on a central pediment is another Masonic symbol, the All-Seeing Eye. These symbols emphasize the building’s Masonic affiliation to passersby. A large plaque at the bottom of the leftmost bay once displayed meeting times. The Masonic Temple has the distinction of being the largest brick fraternal meeting hall in the province. As such, it holds a unique place in the architectural history of the province and stands as an important example of Victorian lodge construction. The interior is as equally impressive as the exterior, with detailed woodwork, decorative plaster and ornate ceiling details.
The Masonic Temple is a reminder of a time when fraternal organizations played a significant role in the social and business life of St. John’s. These groups provided friendship and benefits such as life insurance for their members. Membership in such organizations was a source of pride and a highly sought-after honour. The men who met at the St. John’s Masonic Temple were influential merchants, politicians and civil servants. The Masonic Temple’s highly visible location in the heart of St. John’s reflects this influence.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – St. John’s Masonic Temple – 1419”
Character Defining Elements
All those design features reflective of the Classical Revival style, including:
-five bay facade;
-three pilastered towers on front facade;
-copper-trimmed pediments on towers;
-transom windows on side towers;
-columns and rounded arch on upper central tower;
-pilasters and rounded arch on upper central tower, and;
-heavy cornice belt course.
All other exterior features reflective of the age and construction of the building, including:
-original roof type;
-two-and-a-half storey construction, with basement level;
-Accrington brick facade;
-brick-and-mortar construction, with wooden roof and floor framing;
-eaves brackets on centre tower;
-size, style, trim and placement of windows;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior doors;
-use of decorative bronze;
-entrance on centre front facade, and;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.
All those interior and exterior features reflective of building’s historic association with Freemasonry, including:
-original interior woodwork, trim, detailing and plasterwork;
-original main staircase;
-black-and-white checkered floor panel on second floor;
-interior Masonic decoration and insignia;
-repeated use of arch motif throughout the interior;
-layout of the upper floor lodge rooms;
-one storey Corinthian columns and capitals with globes on main entrance;
-Masonic symbols on centre tower;
-“Masonic Temple” inscription within arch on centre tower;
-plaque on left tower;
-original cornerstone, and;
-prominent location in downtown core of St. John’s.
Location and History
City of St. John's
6 Cathedral Street
1894 - 1896
James Wills Sr.