The cornerstones of many significant buildings and monuments in Ontario have been laid in a formal Masonic ceremony.
Cornerstones and monuments figure prominently in the construction work of operative Masons, and in the symbolism of speculative Freemasonry. In the Charge to the Candidate in the First Degree, we recall the words, “It is customary at the erection of all stately edifices to lay the foundation stone at the N. E. corner of the building.” The Masonic authour Albert G. Mackey, in An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1921, gives us the traditional background, by presenting us with the following scholarly definitions, from a Masonic perspective.
Mackey’s comprehensive definition of a cornerstone, Volume I, page 178 to 179:
“The cornerstone is the stone which lies at the corner of two walls and forms the corner of an edifice. In Masonic buildings, it is now always placed in the north east; but this rule was not always formerly observed. As the foundation on which the entire structure is supposed to rest, it is considered by Operative Masons as the most important stone in the edifice. It is laid with impressive ceremonies; the assistance of Speculative Masons is often, and ought always to be, invited to give dignity to the occasion; and for this purpose Freemasonry has provided an especial ritual which is to govern the proper performance of that duty.
The symbolism of the cornerstone when duly laid with Masonic rites is full of significance, which refers to its form, to its situation, to its permanence, and to its consecration.
As to its form, it must be perfectly square on its surfaces, and in its solid contents a cube. Now the square is a symbol of morality, and the cube, of truth.
In its situation, it lies between the north, the place of darkness, and the east, the place of light; and hence this position symbolizes the Masonic progress from darkness to light, and from ignorance to knowledge.
The permanence and durability of the cornerstone, which lasts long after the building in whose foundation it was placed has fallen into decay, is intended to remind the Mason that, when this earthly house of his tabernacle shall have passed away, he has within him a sure foundation of eternal life, a cornerstone of immortality, an emanation of that Divine Spirit which pervades all nature, and which, therefore, must survive the tomb and rise, triumphant and eternal, above the decaying dust of death and the grave.
The stone, when deposited in its appropriate place, is carefully examined with the necessary implements of Operative Masonry – the square, the level, and the plumb, themselves all symbolic in meaning – and is thus declared to be well formed, true, and trusty. Thus the Mason is taught that his virtues are to be tested by temptation and trial, by suffering and adversity, before they
can be pronounced by the Master Builder of souls to be materials worthy of the spiritual building of eternal life, fitted, as living stones, for that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
And lastly, in the ceremony of depositing the cornerstone, the elements of Masonic consecration are produced, and the stone is solemnly set apart by pouring corn, wine and oil upon its surface, emblematic of the Nourishment, Refreshment, and Joy which are to be the rewards of a faithful performance of duty.”
Mackey’s definition of a monument, Volume II, page 490:
“The monument is simply the symbolic expression of the idea that veneration should always be paid to departed worth.”
It can easily be seen by consulting the following list, that cornerstone laying ceremonies and monument dedications have been part of the Masonic history of our Grand Jurisdiction from the era of the earliest pioneer settlers, before the formation of our Grand Lodge, up to to the modern day. Just as Masons are a key part of the communities in which they live, it will also be obvious that the ceremony is not restricted to just Masonic buildings, but includes schools, churches and other local institutions. The list of Masonic cornerstones and monuments concentrates on Ontario, but includes Quebec up to 1870, reflecting the history of Ontario and Quebec as part of the Grand Lodge of Canada. We encourage visitors to this digital museum to use the information in the discovery and deeper understanding of the Masonic history of their community.
This digital museum web site is by no means complete, but should be seen as a work in progress, presented here to encourage interest. It is the intention of the Committee to add missing cornerstone or monument ceremonies as they are uncovered, plus narrative histories and photographs of the ceremonies for additional background. Any assistance that Lodges or individual Brethren could render to the development and updating of the project will be greatly appreciated.
CORNERSTONES AND MONUMENTS – BY LOCATION
ADOLPHUSTOWN: June 16, 1884: Monument in memory of the United Empire Loyalists. Laid by Arthur McGinnis, District Deputy Grand Master.
AMHERSTBURG: 1804: Windmill along the Detroit River. Laid by Adoniram Lodge, Amherstburg.
AMHERSTBURG: May 11, 1892: Methodist Church. Laid by B. Paine, District Deputy Grand Master.
AMHERSTBURG: November 22, 1954: Masonic Temple. Laid by the members of Thistle Masonic Lodge.
ARDEN: May 11, 1951: Masonic Temple. Laid by N. C. Hart, Deputy Grand Master.
AUBURN: May 13, 1904: Knox Presbyterian Church. Laid by J. E. Harding, Grand Master.
AVONMORE: July 10, 1889: St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Laid by R. T. Walkem, Grand Master.
BALLAGHKOW, LEEDS COUNTY: June 29, 1892. St. Luke’s Anglican Church. Laid by S. B. Fell, District Deputy Grand Master.
BASTARD AND BURGESS SOUTH, UNITED TOWNSHIPS: June 24, 1880. Laid by James A. Henderson, Grand Master.
BONARLAW, HASTINGS COUNTY: Thursday, September 26, 1933. St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Laid by W. S. Herrington, Past Grand Master; see Annual Proceedings Grand Lodge.
BATH: July 22, 1925: St. John’s Church. Laid by William N. Ponton, Past Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: August 12, 1869: Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. Laid by Alexander Allen Stevenson, Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: May 31, 1875: St. George’s Church. Laid by S. S. Lazier, District Deputy Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: November 17, 1875: Methodist Episcopal Church. Laid by William H. Weller, Deputy Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: October 4, 1881: Christ Church. Laid by L. H. Henderson, District Deputy Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: June 22, 1911: Young Mens’ Christian Association. Laid by Daniel F. McWatt, Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: June 17, 1924: United Empire Loyalist Building. Laid by William N. Ponton, Grand Master.
BELLEVILLE: June 28, 1950: Masonic Temple. Laid by James Patterson Maher, Grand Master.
BERVIE, BRUCE COUNTY: June 24, 1903: New Presbyterian Church. Laid by William J. Ferguson, District Deputy Grand Master.
BETHANY, BRUCE COUNTY: May 24, 1876: St. Paul’s Church, architects were Messrs. Fowler and Mohur. Laid by James K. Kerr, Grand Master.
BLENHEIM: August 7, 1889: Trinity Anglican Church. Laid by John Ross Robertson, Deputy Grand Master.
BLYTH, HURON COUNTY: June 24, 1878: Trinity Anglican Church. Laid by James H. Benson, District Deputy Grand Master.
BRANTFORD: October 14, 1876: Grace Episcopal Church. Laid by William Mercer Wilson, Grand Master.
BRANTFORD: May 24, 1871: Provincial Asylum for the Blind. Architect was Brother Kivas Tully, who also executed the design for the Parry Sound Courthouse, Welland County Courthouse, Old Trinity College, many other Ontario buildings, and played a key role in the planning of the Ontario Provincial Legislature. Laid by Alexander Allan Stevenson, Grand Master
QUEENSTON HEIGHTS: October 13, 1859: Quoted from Most Worshipful Brother Raymond S. J. Daniels in his presentation to Heritage Lodge No. 730, on May 11, 2013: Monuments to all three (Tecumseh, General Brock, Laura Secord) have been erected – principal among which is the Brock Monument at Queenston Heights, the cornerstone of which was laid on 13 October 1853 and officially inaugurated on 13 October 1859, replacing the original monument erected in 1823 and destroyed by Fenian sympathizers in 1840. The mortal remains of Sir Isaac Brock and those of his aide-de-camp, Lt.-Col. John Macdonell, were placed in a vault at the base of the column.
It is of interest to note in passing that the chairman of the monument committee formed in 1840 was Sir Allan MacNab, Provincial Grand Master of the Third Provincial Grand Lodge and subsequently Grand Master of the Ancient Grand Lodge of Canada. When the new monument was completed and dedicated nineteen years later, MacNab, himself a veteran of the War of 1812, presided over the ceremony and delivered the principal address. One wonders what part, if any, the Masonic Order played in these ceremonies, either of the cornerstone-laying or its dedication. The broadsheet in the Archives of Ontario announcing the ‘Form of Procession to be observed at the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the Brock Monument’ in 1853 refers only to ‘National and Other Societies.’
CARLETON PLACE: OCTOBER 26, 1887: Masonic Temple. Laid by Right Worshipful Brother David Taylor, District Deputy Grand Master. The building burned in 1910.
(Photo of trowel used in ceremony of laying the cornerstone in 1877, St. John’s No. 63)
CARLETON PLACE: April 28, 1911: Masonic Temple. Laid by The Most Worshipful Brother Daniel F. MacWatt, Grand Master.
(Photo of preparations for ceremony of laying the cornerstone in 1911, St. John’s No. 63)