History of Masonic Hall Company
In 1855 There were 33 Masonic Lodges in Ontario, by 1880 there were 340.Prior to 1880 Lodges in the London area met in various buildings in rented spaces. The Huron and Erie building at 442 Richmond Street was used by several lodges. Others included Robinson Hall on Ridout Street, the Albion building Richmond Street, the Balkwell Hotel at King and Talbot, the Whitehouse bldg at King and Richmond.
With increasing membership it was decided to build a proper Masonic Temple. Letters Patent were applied for and on the 22nd of December, 1877, were granted to “The Masonic Temple Company of London, Ontario.”
The first Board of Directors was as follows;
V.W. Bro.R. Lewis 18°President
R.W. Bro. Geo. S. Birrell 32°Vice-President
W. Bro. H. Waterman 14°
W. Bro. T. Beattie
W. Bro. W. Green
V.W. Bro. Wm. Carey 32°
Bro. E. W. Hyman
Bro. J. Beattie
Bro. C. F. Goodhue 18°
All of the above were prominent business men of the city. Robert Lewis1 was the Mayor of London in 1878 – 79. George Birrell was Registrar of the London Sovereign Chapter Rose Croix. Herman Waterman2 with his brother Isaac owned Atlantic Petroleum, one of the companies that became Imperial Oil. Ellis W. Hyman owned Hyman Tannery, a shoe manufactory and a pork packing plant. Charles Goodhue3 was a Barrister and built “Waverley Place” in 1883.
The By-Laws of the Company provided that at the Annual Meeting nine members would be elected as Directors. Such persons must hold not less than ten shares in his name. Directors were elected for one year all resigning at the annual meeting. At that meeting the nine members receiving the highest number of votes would be the new Board of Directors. These directors would then elect from their numbers a President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary.
Investigation was made of Masonic buildings in Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto and elsewhere for designs and ideas. Architect and Brother, George Durand was chosen to supervise the design, and property was chosen at King and Richmond Street. This property was next to the City Hall of the day. The building was to include some stores on the ground floor and a theatre or “Opera House” seating 1100 people at the west end.The front and the Masonic entrance faced Richmond Street, the Opera House entrance was on King Street.
The cornerstone was laid with full Masonic ceremony by Grand Lodge on August 5, 1880. Special trains brought visitors from around Western Ontario. Grand Lodge, led by the Band of the7th Fusiliers, paraded from the barracks on Wellington Street (Victoria Park) along Dundas to Richmond Street and down Richmond to King Street.
The Grand Secretary read the following scroll:
The building was dedicated with full Grand Lodge ceremony on 7 March, 1882. In addition to Lodge rooms, there were Scottish Rite apartments, Royal Arch Chapter rooms, and Drill room for the Preceptory. The Masons of London were proud to have the Twenty-Seventh Annual Communication of Grand Lodge in the new building commencing on Wednesday the 12th day of July 1882. Most Worshipful Brother James Moffat on the throne with Right Worshipful Brother Daniel Spry, Senior Warden, Right Worshipful Brother Wm. Hayden Junior Warden. A most eloquent address of welcome was read by W.M. John S. Dewar W.M. of St John's Lodge 209a.
By 1896 there were problems with the arrangements for purchasing shares. The company had capital of $80,000 with shares valued at $20 payable at 50 cents per month per share. Not enough shares had been paid for. The original directors had put up money for shares on the understanding that the lodges and individuals would buy them. In 1895 the lodges were given a 60-day option to purchase before those shares would be sold elsewhere. Among the commercial tenants was the Dominion Savings and Investment company. This company had aquired about $13,000 in shares and so purchased a further $48,0004 from those directors, thus giving them effective control of the company. One of the terms of the purchase was that the building would always be called “The Masonic Temple”. They then proceeded to put the company on a paying basis. Some rents were raised and some expenses were cut. Some of the Masonic brethren became unhappy.
The building was virtually destroyed by fire on February 23, 1900. Most of the Lodges lost all their records and regalia. The building was rebuilt at once with some changes.The owners decided not to rebuild the Grand Opera House and so the proprietors moved up Richmond Street and built on the present Grand theatre site.
The Masonic rooms were reopened by St John's Lodge #20 Tuesday September 3, 1901 with great ceremony. The London Free Press reported “the Blue Room is not equaled in Canada.” They gave glowing description of the new furnishings with emphasis on the “Emblematic carpet.”
The building known as the Masonic Temple was not controlled by the Masons however, and a movement began to get a building of their own once more, smaller but for Masonic purposes only. On January 5th 1910 a new company was formed, “Masonic Hall London Limited.” Property was purchased on Queens Avenue, on the North side, near Wellington Street.