Majestic Masonic Temple was at 20 Toronto St.
Toronto has had some remarkable buildings that would be venerated today had they survived the onslaught of post-WWII Urban Renewal.
Among the lost treasures was the dramatic Board of Trade Building at Front and Yonge; a perfect bookend complement for the still standing Flatiron Building. And Chorley Park, the Lt. Governor’s residence in Rosedale that was described as the most magnificent official residence in North America.
Then there was the General Post Office on Adelaide Street E. with its front façade a copy of the eastern colonnade of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Also there was the astonishing Masonic Temple that at one time stood at 20 Toronto St., built in 1858 by William Kaufman.
This impressive little gem was originally built to be a concert hall for A&S Nordheimer, the foremost piano makers and music sellers in Toronto.
Initially it was to have stores and a reception hall on the main floor, offices on the second and third floors and on the top floor a new music hall rising up two storeys.
In 1857, when it was decided that Ottawa and not Toronto was to be the nation’s capital, there occurred an economic slowdown and plans for Toronto’s newest music hall were scaled back.
At the same time Albert Nordheimer, the building’s owner, was becoming involved with the growing and highly enigmatic Masonic movement that was sweeping through North America. So he decided to convert the former upper floor music hall into the various homes to the nine Masonic Lodges then in Toronto.
The Masons have been in Toronto since the late 1700s with one of their first permanent lodge homes standing where the entrance to 35 Church St. is today. Back then it was the site of Russell’s Hotel (c.1848) of which the upper floor was built especially for the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons.
It was de rigueur for men in early York (and later Toronto) society to belong to this mysterious and beneficent organization with its constitutional declaration of a belief in a Supreme Being. It was the only way to get ahead in business or to climb the social ladder (today there are about 5 million members worldwide of the Masons).
Those early men of York had as their grandmaster none other than the Duke of Kent who lived here in York from 1799 till 1806. As well as being the fourth son of King George III, he is best known to history as the father of Queen Victoria.
In 1860 the Masons moved out of their Church Street Lodge and into the much more opulent Toronto Street Temple.
That same year the publication, “Handbook to Toronto—A City Guide” wrote of the imposing new building: “Its elaborately finished exterior façade calls to mind somewhat the exterior of the stately Munich Cathedral. The richness, variety and beauty of its numberless perpendicular lines carry the eye at once upward to its entire height, and give lightness and elegance to the whole structure.”
Inside it was a whole different look with a gilted Chapter Room complete with a throne underneath. A crimson canopy topped off with a crown finial greeted members of the chapter as they went about their rituals secure with the knowledge that all who entered had sworn an oath of secrecy.
In 1876 the Canada Permanent Co. acquired the Toronto Street Masonic Temple, however the Masons stayed on in their Lodge rooms until 1901 when the upper floors were converted over to office space.
At that time the various Mason Lodges began to move into separate and more spacious premises like the massive Temple Building (1896-1970) at Bay and Richmond-one of the largest buildings in Toronto at the time-and the still-standing Masonic Temple on Yonge at Davenport (1918), now a CTV studio.
In 1930 Canada Permanent moved out of the former Toronto Street Masonic Temple and the Excelsior Life Insurance Co. moved in. In 1964 they demolished it, replacing it with the present office tower at 20 Toronto St. (a very bland building but not nearly as offensive as some).
Paradoxically, in 1930 when Canada Permanent moved into its new headquarters at 320 Bay St. (still one of the most outstanding art deco office towers in Toronto), they etched into their dazzling brass lobby elevator doors for all to see even today an imprint of the former Masonic Temple that at one time graced Toronto Street
Join me Sunday May 3rd at 10am for the annual Jane’s Walk celebrating the life of urban activist Jane Jacobs as we go exploring the fascinating Art Deco Skyscrapers of Downtown Toronto. Meet me on the front steps of Old City Hall on Queen Street. Admission is free and lasts about 2 hours.
The join me Saturday May 16 at noon in the Market Kitchen in the west mezzanine of St. Lawrence Market for a special tour of the Market and St. Lawrence Hall as part of the city’s Festival of Architecture and Design. For more info please visit www.brucebelltours.ca to sign up for these unique tours.