For Sale: The Masonic Temple

Once home to the strange rituals of the Masons, the Masonic Temple will be exchanging owners again in the near future.  Since March 4th, the building is no longer the base of MTV Canada either, who took ownership of it in 2006 under Bell Media.  If you hadn’t already noticed, the MTV sign at the Masonic Temple has been taken down- since late November 2012, actually.  The company revealed right after that Bell Media would be moving out of the 96-year-old Masonic Temple at Yonge St. and Davenport to a new building at 299 Queen Street West.  The new location is close to Bell’s other major Canadian network, Much Music.

Now that all the cameras and lights have been cleared out, what will become of the heritage building?  On March 4th, Bell Media listed the Masonic Temple at 888 Yonge St. with real-estate company DTZ, but left the sale price up to the bidding process.  Many speculate that the building will be used for residential purposes and, some say, another condo will be popping up on the corner because of its prime location and eager buyers.  Despite this inclination, there are plenty of road blocks that could discourage buyers with residential uses in mind.

For one, several of the building’s features are protected by heritage agreements.  That means if it were sold to developers, any new construction would have to retain large portions of the existing structure. The building’s protection under the Ontario Heritage Act also includes a stringent 30-metre height limit.

City Councilor for Ward 27 Kristyn Wong-Tam said this of the building’s future:

“Any potential buyer would need to respect the applicable municipal or zoning by-laws. We are advising potential owners to consult with the City at an early stage in formulating proposals for future use of the property. Ultimately, we anticipate that the Masonic Temple will retain the elements that led to its designation in the first place. We have plenty of condos,” she said. “But with respect to arts and culture spaces in Toronto, we don’t have enough. And we certainly don’t have enough of these really intimate spaces and music halls.”

“One of the key things we’d be looking for is cultural and community space,” she said. “The Masonic Temple has a very strong, very clear history of being a cultural animation space. . . . The neighborhood is very deficient there.”

Still, there are potential ways for avid condo developers to get around these regulations.  One would be using the building as an entranceway to a condo tower next door. Yet, the building is currently surrounded by two condos, an office building and a Toronto Community Housing Corp. building, making that scenario unlikely.

The current debate reminds us of a similar situation dating back to the early ‘90s.  The Masonic temple, it seems, has a history of fighting against condo builders.

The building has changed hands many times. Its original purpose was as a home to the Masons, a semisecret fraternal organization that performed elaborate rites and rituals in the meeting rooms upstairs. Transformed from the Mason house originally built in 1918 to a ballroom in the 1930s, the building moved on to become a sought-after concert venue named the Rock Pile in the ’60s.

Led Zeppelin even played its first Toronto concert there and other memorable performances have been given by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath, and David Bowie.

Bell Media purchased the building in 1998, originally using it as a studio for the late-night show ‘Open Mike with Mike Bullard.’

But, in the late ’90s, several years after the Masons off-loaded the property, owner Charles Moon proposed a 19-storey condo tower, which would feature 124 units and four levels of above-ground parking. The auditorium and Masonic meeting rooms would be gutted.

Toronto’s historical board and city council fought back, and the building, listed as a heritage property since the early ’70s, received additional protection under the Ontario Heritage Act. Whereas in most cases, designation concerns only building exteriors, the bylaw passed in 1997 lists a number of “important interior features,” including a patterned tile floor and other Masonic carvings and symbols in the auditorium and upper levels. The building received extra protection for its elaborate interior of Masonic carvings and a patterned tile floor.

It’s largely due to the City’s efforts in the late ‘90s that turning the Masonic Temple into a residential building will be so difficult today.

City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam advises prospective buyers to consult the city planning department, neighborhood associations and Heritage Preservation Services before submitting a proposal to purchase to understand just what can — and can’t — be done.

Who knows what the future holds for 888 Yonge St.?  Do you think it should become a condo, or retain its musical history? Only time will tell, but in the mean time we’ll be here along the way to update you, so stay tuned!

Sources (images included):

Toronto: An Origin Story

Ever wonder how Toronto became the city it is today? Or, how it got its name?  Though many citizens have no knowledge of their city’s origins, Toronto’s history is rich with culture and legacy.

“Toronto” is originally an aboriginal term, or, more specifically, a Mohawk word.  Before becoming the name of our beloved city (which, by the way, only dropped the name “City of York” around 180 years ago), the word “Toronto” journeyed all over southern Ontario. It was used as the name for rivers, towns, passages and lakes.  In fact, the name dates as far back as 1793, when British colonial officials founded the ‘Town of York’ on what was then the Upper Canadian frontier.  Over 40 years later, that village officially became the ‘City of Toronto’ in 1834.

Originally, Toronto was applied to a narrow stretch of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching at what today is Sophie’s Landing. The word as used in this case, Anglicized from the Mohawk, was spelled tkaronto and taronto and was defined as: an area where trees grow in shallow water.

For years, the word was misunderstood by various old-world explorers. As a result, it was bounced around the area between Lake Simcoe and Lake Huron and applied to both. The first colonial settlement on this part of Lake Ontario was called Fort Rouillé.  It was a French trading post depicted in drawings with a high wooden fence, situated at what today is Exhibition Place.

The small complex – alternatively known as Fort Toronto – was founded in 1750 and contained a soldier’s quarters, kitchen, a forge, and an ammunition store. It was built to attack vessels servicing a rival British trading post at Oswego, N.Y. Rouillé was abandoned and burned by its own troops retreating at the end of the Battle of Quebec in 1759, a key battle that led to France ceding much of its land claims in North America.

34 years later, John Graves Simcoe ordered a garrison built at what is now Fort York at the mouth of Garrison Creek. The English military leader believed the location inside the enclosed Toronto harbour would be easy to defend.

Simcoe renamed what was then called the “Town of Dublin” to the “Town of York” in honour of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of then-King George III. It was developed on the waterfront to the east of the military base.

The Town of York eventually grew to surround the old fort. In 1834, the province’s legislative council, the leaders of the area around what had become the largest city in Upper Canada, voted to incorporate the community of York as an official city.

The name “Toronto,” then recognized as an alternative name for the region, was favoured over “York” partly because the original York in England was considered to be a grim locale, and partly because those christening the city wanted to honour its Mohawk and Aboriginal origins.

William Bent Berczy, a member of the Legislative Committee representing Kent at the time, said Toronto had a “musical sound” and was ” in every respect much better” than the original title of “York.” The others on the committee largely agreed, and the city of Toronto was officially founded that same year.  And that is how our city came to be!

Despite dropping the name for Toronto, the York name lives on all over Toronto and the GTA, from East York, North York, York Region and the countless other York-related streets and communities. Toronto isn’t just limited to Canada- there are Toronto’s in the United States, Australia, and U.K.. All these Toronto outposts also derive their name from that narrow stretch of water near Orillia.

Want to learn more about our city?  Just click here to get tons more info on the city you live in, including heritage and history education, upcoming city events, and various lectures!

Sources (images included):

Toronto’s History Gets Sticky

Image c/o the Torontoist.

Due to its concrete jungle of skyscrapers and plethora of gentrified neighbourhoods, it is easy to forget that Toronto is actually a city rich in history. In an attempt to showcase these often forgotten events, enthusiast Adam Bunch has begun the “Toronto Dreams Project,” a project which has created quite a stir amongst tourists and Toronto residents alike.

The purpose of the project is to inform the public of significant events that occurred in particular spots in Toronto. To do this, Bunch has created what he calls “sticky plaques”- or, postcard-sized stickers containing QR codes which may be scanned using a smart phone device.

Once scanned, the codes forward readers to either blog sites such as the Torontoist or Bunch’s own site; both of which explain the significance of that particular spot in Toronto.

For example, if you scan the plaque posted across from Sidney Smith Hall at the University of Toronto campus, you will be led to an article about William Hincks- or, the “Adulterous fox”. The article explains that in 1853, when the University of Toronto was looking to hire the chair of their new natural history department, a brilliant scholar named T.H Huxley, who was second only to Darwin as the most influential scientists in history, became a front runner for the position.

That is, until William Hincks came along- a scientist whose questionable and often bizarre theories were “negligent at best and harmful at worst.” Despite his lack of scientific merit, Hincks apprehended the position. Why? Because his brother, Francis Hincks, was the Premier of Ontario at the time.

Many of the historical stories chosen by Bunch are similar to this in that they are full of irony, humour, and charm. Told in a sarcastic and casual tone, the tales are an easy and interesting read, appealing to Torontonians of all ages.

There are now about 24 different sticky plaques posted throughout Toronto, but Bunch hopes to increase this to 100 by the end of the summer. These plaques not only add a unique quirkiness to the city, but also pose as a reminder that Toronto was not always the dizzying corporate core that it is today.

Not sure where to find these plaques? The map below indicates where most of them are located:


For more information on the Toronto Dreams Project or the historical events themselves, visit Bunch’s website at or scan one of the QR codes themselves!

As always, if you would like more information about living in Toronto, feel free to contact us at (416) 929-1660 or email us at  


Jane’s Walks 2012

Toronto is renowned for its diverse neighbourhoods. Even so, many of us have not taken the time to explore all that Toronto has to offer. Luckily, Jane’s Walks is coming up this weekend. Consisting of a series of walks, Jane’s Walks honors the ideas of Jane Jacobs, a famous urbanist, by getting people to explore their neighbourhoods and connect with neighbours.

These free walking tours are held on the first weekend of May. Originally started in 2007 in Toronto by a group of Jane Jacobs’ friends, the event now spans 75 cities in 15 different countries!

The walks are not meant to be for the tourist perspective. Instead, they involve touring one’s own neighbourhood to better connect with it. It’s a great for people who enjoy getting to know their city, people who want to participate in conversations about the future of the neighbourhoods and those who want to foster the community feel.

Walks usually last about 1.5 hours. Here is an overview of different walks around the city:

Annex ROM Walk
When: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:00pm

The ROM walk will take you through the beautiful tree-lined Annex. It is Toronto’s first planned middle, professional class suburb. It is full of interesting architecture; the Annex buildings include different residential architecture designed by prominent Toronto architects. Some of the buildings on the tour will include: the Medical Arts Building, First Church of Christ Scientist and York Club.

Starting Point: One Bedford Rd
End Point: Walmer Rd in Gwendolyn MacEwan Park (1 block from Spadina)
Condos you might see along the way: 1 Bedford, Exhibit Residences, Museum House

Billboards, Bobbers and the Big Red Canoe (Public Art at Concord CityPlace)
When: Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 10:30am.

CityPlace offers the largest concentration of new public art in Canada. Check it out for yourself with this Jane’s walk. Work by artists such as Douglas Coupland, Matt Mullican, Pierre Poussin and Jose Parla are featured.

Starting Point: Bus Parking area south of the Rogers Centre at Bremner Blvd. and Van Der Waters
End Point: Canoe Landing Park- south side of Fort York Boulevard, west of Spadina
Condos you might see along the way: Apex, The Gallery, Harbourview Estates, Luna, Matrix, Montage, Neo, Optima, Panorama, Parade…

Fort York and 200 Years of Development
When: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 1:00pm.

This tour will take visitors through the history of Fort York, the Garrison Common and the Battle of York during the infamous War of 1812. The tour will highlight the changes that have impacted the former town of York since the Battle of York.

Following the walk, visitors will be given free admission to Fort York. It will be led by René Malagón, who has worked at the Historic Fort York for many years.

Starting Point: Fort York National Historic Site
End Point: Inside Fort York
Condos you might see along the way: Tip Top, Waterpark City, Malibu, LTD, Library District Condos

King and Spadina: One of The Two Kings
When: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:00pm.

In 1996, new zoning changes brought what was once area filled with vacant warehouses and factory building and are now thriving condominium projects. These changes were in part established by Jane Jacobs (for which these walks are named).

This walk will include a discussion of Jacob’s idea in her “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and the need for historic buildings.

Starting Point: 401 Richmond St. W., at the Roastery Cafe on ground floor (east of Spadina Ave)
End Point: n/a.
Condos you might see along the way: Victory, Lofts 399, Charlie, Glas, M5V, The Morgan

Liberty Village – Change Is Good?
When: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:00pm.

Take a stroll in Liberty Village, led by Jaymz Bee (who has lived in the area for a decade). He will take you through the pros and cons of all the current changes going around, while also including some funny anecdotes.

Starting Point: 8 Pardee Avenue / Outside the Roastery Café.
End Point: The Academy of Spherical Arts on Snooker Street
Condos you might see along the way: Battery Park, Bliss, Liberty on the Park, Liberty Towers, Vibe, Toy Factory…

The Future Streetscape of Queen West
When: Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 2:00pm.

Queen Street West is one of Toronto’s most cherished neighbourhoods. This Jane’s walk allows you to talk to the BIA and designers developing the Streetscape Master Plan. The guides for this tour will include Chris Hardwiche, an urban designer and planning, Fung Lee, a landscape architect and Laura Schaefer, coordinator of the Queen Street West BIA.

The tour will explore Queen West by walking the street and sharing stories.

Starting Point: Campbell House Museum just beside Osgood Subway Station
End Point: Bathurst Street.
Condos you might see along the way: 9T6, Tableau, Studio

Toronto’s “Old Town:” Labour History Walking Tour
When: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 10:00 am.

This walk will explore the oldest section of Toronto, or “Old Town”. Learn about its vibrant and turbulent past, including how people lived in the 1830s and onward, as well as the impact labour workers had in the area starting in the 1830s. You’ll even learn about the large protests in 1870s in support of workers when unions were illegal.

Starting Point: St. Lawrence Hall at the corner of King and Jarvis
End Point: William Lyon MacKenzie House (82 Bond Street)
Condos you might see along the way: Glasshouse, King’s Court, Mozo, The Modern

Wellington Place: A Remarkable Neighbourhood Re-Emerges Over The Traces Of Two Centuries
When: Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 2:00pm.

Square. The town of York and Fort York were established in the late 18th century. In the 1830s, large plots of land were dedicated to attracting the wealthy upper class, in what was dubbed “Wellington Place”. This government-led development shaped the economic future of the region. This Jane’s walk will take you through the origins and evolution of Wellington Place, between Victoria Memorial Square and Clarence Square.

Starting Point: Victoria Memorial Square
End Point: Clarence Square (east side of Spadina at Wellington Street West)
Condos you might see along the way: 20 Stewart, 400 Wellington, 500 Wellington, Reve

Posted May 2, 2012.