Heritage Toronto recently commemorated an intriguing part of our history - the Poulton Block at 792-798 Queen East, the former Orient Hall Masonic Lodge, a wing of the world's oldest and most secretive fraternal order. Today's multi-cult ethos makes it easy to forget how ethnic supremacy ruled in 19th-century Orange T.O., with its Masonic elite. Look closely: our landmarks are still adorned with its symbols.
The world's largest Masonic symbol
Is it a coincidence that the Royal York is the same height as the Great Pyramid at Giza? Legend has it that the hotel's design was changed - original plans show a flat roof - at the behest of influential local Masons to give it its distinctive triangle shape, the pyramid being a major Masonic symbol. And what are we to make of the goat heads looking down from their stony perches? The goat, long a symbol of man's striving to reach God through the building of temples, is also a near-anagram for the Grand Architect of the Universe (GAOTU) worshipped by Masons. Ooh, scary.
Union Station is another example of Masonic handiwork. Not so obvious is the meaning behind the names carved in 3-metre-high letters on the station's stone frieze. The Franklin, is for Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of American Freemasonry. If that doesn't pique your curiosity, then turn your attention to the laurel wreaths, an ancient symbol of victory and triumph often used in Masonic regalia. Masonic symbols also surround the station's western entrance, among them the winged hourglass, which is emblematic of the passage of time and the necessity of making the most of life while we can.
William Jarvis, former secretary of state of Upper Canada, is remembered in stained glass in St. James' Cathedral with the iconic square and compass of the Masons. The pentagram denotes his position of Grand Master of Ancient Masons.
Evidence that Masons occupied the highest echelons of old money is carved right there on the front doors of the Toronto Club on Wellington: the Masons' all-seeing eye, which sometimes takes the shape of the sun. The building is noteworthy, too, for its Corinthian pillars (Freemasonry is said to be supported by wisdom, strength and beauty) and brickwork. The rough brick was a reminder for Masons of "the rough and imperfect state of nature," the smooth brick of "the state of perfection at which we hope to arrive."
All-seeing, all the time
Old City Hall, the seat of power in Protestant Toronto, is replete with Masonic symbols: the all-seeing eye, this time in the triangle at the peak of Old City Hall, as well as the iconic compass and square, the basic tools of masonry, and a reference to "act upon the square," a basic Masonic tenet to be straightforward and honest. The square is the "Worshipful Master's" jewel, and the "G" sometimes found in the middle represents God or geometry and the attainment of perfection. Not to be confused with the Star of David, the star made from intersecting triangles is revered in Masonic rites and harks back to the Temple of Solomon, to which Masons track their beginnings.
A connection etched in stone
Tucked in a glass case in the Great Library of Osgoode Hall is a real-life piece of Masonic history - a stone from the Inner Temple in England that was destroyed during the Blitz. How did it come to rest here? It was a gift to the Law Society in recognition of its financial help in rebuilding the Temple. The treasurer's chair in Osgoode's Benchers' Dining Room was also a gift from Masons of the Inner Temple.
The Orient on Queen
Poulton Block on Queen East was constructed for William B. Poulton, a painter and Mason. A parade of prominent Masons and civic leaders marked the laying of its cornerstone in 1885. The Masons hosted everything from vaudeville acts to secret rituals in its banquet hall.
Sources: Local historian Bruce Bell (brucebelletours.com); Brent Morris’s Guide to Freemasonry; The Everything Freemason’s Book; Liber Capricornus, The Symbolism of the Goat, by Eugene W. Plawiuk, Master Mason; Mason Resource Centre; Heritage Toronto; torontomasons.com; scottishritemasons-can.org; freemasonrywatch.org; altreligion.com