The History of Central Masonic Temple, Edmonton, Alberta

Bro. Bud Cameron


With assistance from Mrs. Honey at the City of Edmonton Archives, a small payment to the Provincial Land Titles Office, and a few exciting sessions with John Sanders, we all will, very shortly, be able to speak with great authority on the history of this, our Masonic Temple.

The Planning

During the early period of the 1900's, the Edmonton Masonic Lodges were housed in a building on 102 Street, (the replica of which now stands in Fort Edmonton Park). The hierarchy long had felt the need for a Masonic Temple, that would be centrally located and of sufficient size and stature to, not only house all Northern Alberta Masons, but primarily to allow the craft to flourish in future years.

To this end, there appeared in the Edmonton Bulletin on September 9, 1910, a small ad stating that subscriptions for shares in the Edmonton Masonic Temple Association Limited, was now open at their office, 114 Jasper Avenue W. It would appear that the share selling game was not too brisk, as the next step we noted was the purchase of land by the Association November 3, 1929, some 19 years later. By the way, the share price was and still is $10.00 and you've still got time to buy in.

The Land

The land upon which the Temple stands is legally known as the Westerly 75 ft. of Lots 87, 88 and 89, Block 3, Plan B of the Hudson Bay Reserve. It is 150 feet in depth.

The first owner of the three lots was G. Hutton, who purchased the land in 1895 and the title listed the value at $3037.73. The land then passed to La Banque Jacques Cartier in 1897 for unknown reason and then on to various members of the Braithwaite family from 1903 until 1929. Dr. E.H. Braithwaite, who inherited the land from his mother in 1914 led a rather colorful life. He served in the N.W.M.P. as a medic from 1890 until 1931. Incidentally, he was a witness at the hanging of Louis Riel (just a little trivia).

While employed at the N.W.M.P., Dr. Braithwaite served as Edmonton's first Coroner and also as the Provincial Coroner. He was a member of Edmonton Lodge #7, and was acting Deputy Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Alberta. He was involved in Masonry for 60 years and died in 1949 at the age of 87.

The family home was on the present site of Foster and McGarvey Funeral Home and, if you were to look out the north-east window on the top floor of the Temple, you will see the roof of the original home still visible.

Discovered during research, the number of Writs, Caveats, etc. that showed up on the Titles may be an indication of troubled times in the Twenties- and not too much change from today.

Anyway, back to business. In 1929, with the value of the land now at $12,500.00, the Association purchased 75 ft. from Dr. Braithwaite. It has been suggested that he was more than fair in his asking price. The remainder of the land was then purchased from Dr. Braithwaite by Foster and McGarvey in 1934, the value then being $17,500.00. From $3,037.73 to $35,000.00 in 35 years!

The Construction

William Blakey, a well-known Architect, a member of Ivanhoe Lodge and a Temple sharehoider, was selected to design a structure worthy of the craft. R.W. Ritchie, who was a member of Empire Lodge #63 and also a Temple shareholder was selected as the General Contractor.

The Subcontractors were now in place and included firms such as Lockerbie & Hole, Hillas Electric, Empire Marble, Marlboro Cement and Thomas Dyke. Needless to say, there was the odd Mason involved in this group.

The sod-turning ceremony was held July 12, 1930 with Dr. Braitwaite doing the spadework. The photographs that are here in the Temple indicate it was very well attended. Have not been able to locate any media accounting, but it would appear that the construction of the $200,000.00 structure was about to begin.

The four storey structure is constructed of steel and concrete and has a red brick facing. The stonework and cement follows the Gothic design and the lines of piers, buttress and tower gives the structure a medieval appearance.

The Masonic emblems have been embedded in the facade and there are six canopied recesses in the exterior upper edge that were earmarked to hold statues. Of whom, we have no knowledge.

The building has the two entrances, the one on the right for public access to the auditorium, and the doorway on the left for "The Special Prerogative of the Craft." The inside door plates and handles are struck with the Masonic emblems.

On November 1, 1930, and prior to the completion of the Temple, a ceremony to commemorate the laying of the cornerstone was held. At that time, coins of the day, copies of the Edmonton Journal and a list of Masonic memorabilia was laid in an opening beneath the stone, prior to it being levelled by D. McIntosh, acting Sr. Gr. Warden. Some of the many dignitaries in attendance that day included the Provincial Premier, J. E. Brownlee, the Lt. Governor Dr. Egbert, Acting Mayor J. Collisson and many well known Masons in the persons of Dr. S.N. Sneddon, Gr. Mst. for Alberta, (whose name is engraved on the cornerstone); J. Martland, Jr.Gr. Warden; Rev. R.H. Lyttle, Gr. Chaplain and S.T. Hubbard, President of the Temple Association. The photos of this occasion are also in the Temple.

You may be interested in some rituals involved in the ceremony. Firstly, Wine is poured on the stone as a sign of Cheer (or, Cheers, as the British say), then Corn is sprinkled on the stone as a sign of Plenty, and, finally, Oil is sprinkled on the stone as a sign of Brotherhood. (This maybe why the expressions — getting corned, or getting oiled may relate to the pouring of wine)

We now move into the Temple for a look at some of its central features and purpose.

The auditorium, located on the first floor, was installed, not only to handle Masonic work, but also to generate some revenue for the upkeep of the Temple, by renting it out for private functions. To protect the lovely oak floors, canvas was laid out during public meetings or when the room was not in use. (Would imagine it would be tough to dance on).

The original newspaper release on this room states that the light fixtures were "12 delicately-wrought brass electroliers of refined and tasteful pattern".

The report also stated that the room would seat 500 — 600 and an equal amount in the balcony. Our R.W. Br. Don Maskell thought that would be possible in the Hungry 30's as everyone was pretty thin.

In actuality, the room will hold 150 and the balcony 50.

Soundproofing of the Temple took priority and it may be noted that, while a jackhammer was operating in the auditorium, no sounds could be heard in the lodge rooms on the third floor.

The remainder of the first floor has been taken up with offices and foyer.

Moving on up the very handsome oak and wrought iron staircase, you would find a library (since replaced by a small lodge room) and offices and meeting rooms.

Carrying on up the staircase to the third floor, you come upon the primary function of the Temple and that is the two Masonic Lodge rooms. The larger of the two (on the north side) has four stained glass windows that run along the south wall. They illustrate the first three degrees of Masonry, as well as the emblems of the Knights — Templar and Scottish Rite.

The smaller Lodge room (on south side) has three stained glass windows and illustrate the symbols and virtues of the first three degrees of Masonry.

It was planned to have pope organs installed in each of the rooms, but this did not come about. Too bad, really, as W. Br. Bill Hite would have played up a storm.

The very fine oak panelling, the balconies and the fine woodwork involved in the construction of the officers chairs, is self evident and need not be enlarged uopn.

Continuing up the stairway to the top floor, you will find a meeting room and a cubby hole for the storage of Masonic regalia.

If you were to take the elevator down to the basement area, here you'll find the gourmet section of the Temple containing a large kitchen area, and a banquet hall seating 150 people. The decor goes without saying. The piece'd resistance would be the lounge room that, at one time, was very dry indeed, but cooler heads prevailed and wet became the byword.

The entire structure contained some 25,500 sq.ft. of usable floor space and, if the figures indicated were correct, was built for less than $10.00/per sq. ft., excluding the land.

It was one of the finest buildings erected during this period and, although it remains unprotected by Historic Resource Designation, it would probably qualify, if such a request was made.