Sunday, July 12, 2009

335 Donald Street - Former Masonic Temple

Project: Former Masonic Temple
335 Donald Street

Status: Vacant, for sale
16,000 sq ft

Dedicated: December 27, 1895
George Browne
Rourke and Cass


May 13, 1865, Nor'Wester (source)

The first Masonic Lodge in what would become Manitoba was called the Northern Light Lodge, established in 1864 and associated with the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. Early members included pioneers such as Thomas Bunn, Dr. C.J. Bird and Andrew Bannatyne. (Also, every Premier from 1872 to 1968 was a Mason !)

Until 1880s Winnipeg lodges met in commercial buildings. First, above McKenney's store at what would become Portage and Main, (it also doubled as the first city council chambers.) Then, in the building of pioneer grain firm Higgins and Young. By 1879 they were meeting in the Harris Block, the company would soon be known as Massey Harris.

February 7, 1895, Manitoba Free Press

As the city's population boomed, so did the Masons' ranks. From three lodges and 210 members in 1875, to 31 lodges and 1,350 members in 1885, and 58 lodges and 2,413 members in 1895. (Source.)

In January 1895 the lodges got together to discuss the construction of a central Masonic Temple. Many prominent sites were offered and the money was quickly raised. By May all was in place and the final plans for a structure at Donald Street at Ellice Avenue were submitted to the city.

Excavation began on July 12, 1895 and on August 15 Grand Master Charles Napier Bell laid the cornerstone. A Free Press reporter visited the site a week before the scheduled opening and described a busy scene of workmen rushing to complete the interior. Many of the building's exterior details would have to wait until spring. He wrote:

"During its construction its exterior gave the impression of great plainness of style; though its solid brick walls on stone foundation indicated that it was being built to last for decades, if not generations."
(Manitoba Free Press December 20, 1885)

ca. 1920s (source)

The building was dedicated on December 27, 1895 by Grand Master Charles Napier Bell. The evening began with a number of ceremonies beginning in the "blue room" and ended with a supper in the banquet hall.

The number of lodges and members continued to grow and by 1905 plans were underway to build an additional Temple in the city. By the late 1960s the Mason's had 40 lodges and 15,000 members, making the Donald Street Temple an impractical central space.

February 18, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1968 the decision was made to sell the building and construct a new temple at Corydon Avenue at Osborne. Work got underway in May 1969 and it opened by the end of the year.

The man who purchased the old building was Oscar Grubert, best known for Champs Chicken and Grubee's restaurants. Renovations began in 1970 to convert it into a night club called the Rec Room, complete with a full service dining room, bar, lounge and a plexi-glass dance floor.

April 2 1975, Winnipeg Free Press

It appears that the club never got off the ground, but another Grubert incarnation soon did. Mother Tucker's opened in April 1974 and was a fixture on Winnipeg's restaurant scene until 1999. (At its peak there were 24 Mother Tuckers in Canada. It continues on today as Tucker's Marketplace Restaurants.)

The following year, it had a six month run as Chris Walby's Hog City Bar and Grill, which Grubert was a part-owner of, though Walby was not. In 2002 Vancouver night club owner Chris Gittins bought the building and spent $200,000 to convert it into the Blue Agave Restaurant and Tequilaria which soon ran its course.

In 2004 the Pony Corral's Peter Ginakes and businessman Bob Harris bought the building and spent $500,000 renovating it. In April 2008 Dan Wolfrom announced that he had reached a lease-to-own agreement with Ginakes and began planning a further $2.5 million renovation. The building would include Wolfrom Engineering's offices plus a retail and residential component.

The renovations got underway but soon ground to a halt before any new construction began. The owners put the building up for sale in 2010. It remains vacant as of December 2015.

Another claim to fame for the building that dates back to its Mother Tucker's days is that it is haunted. In 1979 CBC's The National produced this story about the ghost ! Also part of the Haunted Winnipeg tour.

Manitoba Mason History:
100 years of Freemasonry in Manitoba MHS
Freemasonry in Manitoba, 1864-1925 W. Douglas

Building Resources:
335 Donald U of M Building Index
Brief History of 335 Donald Heritage Winnipeg

New Life For ex-Temple ? Wpg Sun (2008 - pdf)

Building Ready for Another Chapter CTV (2008)
Downtown Temple up for sale again Free Press (2010)


  1. Just went inside to check out its firesale. I asked the bloke about all the red hands of Ulster which he couldn't comprehend until I pointed out that there seemed to be a considerable number of Unionist and Orange Order items for sale, a legacy of the building's history.

  2. Just walked past it the other day & wondered if anyone was taking it on these days. Strange that no one is developing it after all these years. Didn't the last developer gut the place and then run outa cash?

  3. I believe the spelling of:"Grubert" is incorrect. The Gentleman's name was: "Oscar Gruber".Mr. Gruber was involved in many restaurants in the Winnipeg area in the 70's and 80's. Including his namesake restaurant "Grubees" located on Portage Ave.

  4. It's back on the block:

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