The date was September 9th, 2013, I was working for an Advertising Agency at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, on my lunch hour I decided to head over to the Masonic Temple to see if there was maybe a chance to explore it.
I arrived to find a side door ajar and some catering staff running in and out with food, I quickly acted like I was supposed to be there and I made a rather sneaky entry into this very iconic building in Toronto, Ontario – The Masonic Temple, formerly The Concert Hall. More on this explore experience later!
Construction of the building started in 1916 to house the Masonic Temple and the first meeting took place on New Year’s Day in 1918.
At its peak, the Masonic Temple was home to 38 different Masonic bodies: 27 Craft Lodges, six Chapters (York Rite), two Preceptories (Knights Templar), two Scottish Rite Bodies and Adoniram Council.
In 1965 the building was converted into “Club 888”, a concert venue that saw the likes of Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, Blood Sweat & Tears and more.
From 1965 through 1969 it operated under the name “The Rock Pile”, featuring gigs from acts such as Iron Butterfly, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, The Who, Frank Zappa an Led Zeppelin.
The venue peaked in popularity between the 1980’s and 1990’s as “The Concert Hall”, the premiere small concert venue to get up close and personal with acts such as Iggy Pop, The Ramones, The Cure, Duran Duran, New Order, Depeche Mode, and so so many more.
Many people can say that they got to see some of the earliest shows from mega acts of today such as Metallica (1985), Anthrax (1984), REM (1984), RUN DMC (1985), Slayer (1985)
In 1991 Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins were the opening acts for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. As Rap, Hip Hop and Grunge peaked in popularity you would have seen acts such as Cypress Hill, Ice T and Body Count, Sound Garden, Alice in Chains and an endless list of now classic acts.
The final show at “The Concert Hall” was on July 27th 1998 by a New York Trip Hop act known as Cibo Matto.
In 1999 Canadian broadcaster CTV purchased the building and used it for several shows such as Open Mike with Mike Billard, Bravo! At the Concert Hall, MTV Live and Canadian Idol.
Some other notable moments include Bono and The Edge from U2 being interviewed by Elvis Costello for his show “Spectacles”, the duo performed “Stuck in a Moment” and other U2 songs.
Perhaps one of the highlights and most well known events would be in September 1997 when The Rolling Stones rented the hall to rehearse for their Bridges to Babylon Tour, spending several weeks in the Masonic Temple. The band had purchased a snooker table to play in between rehearsals and that table can still be found there today.
This now brings us to how I managed to get inside!
In 2013, IT Company Info-Tech Research Group purchased the building as their corporate headquarters and on the day that I stopped by, they just happened to be having a party with staff to introduce them to their new digs!
I enter the building with confidence and quickly made my way up to the top floor, mostly empty from when CTV vacated the building, I thoroughly enjoyed roaming the rooms and halls of this historic old building in the heart of Toronto. The ambient noise of people, executives on a microphone followed by applause crept through the walls into the various rooms.
The highlight was the “red room” with interesting chairs all around the room, looking as if the masons would sit and observe strange ceremonies, this is the room where I found the large snooker table purchased by The Rolling Stones.
I would not get a chance to see the legendary concert hall since that was the room where the event was taking place, but as I made my way down in hopes of finding the basement, I crossed paths with two eagle eyed Info-Tech executives who asked if they can help me. I thought fast and said “nope, I was just leaving” and high tailed it for the door!
Some weeks later I would post this story online and one of the Chief Executives at Info-Tech sent me an email telling me he loved the story and the pictures, he invited me back some time to get a real tour – sadly I never got around to scheduling that, but if the invite still stands I would love to come by and take him up on the offer!
These days, Info-Tech still rent out the concert hall and their facilities as “888 Yonge” In 2015 Jimmy Page held a listening party for the reissue of three Led Zeppelin albums, Platinum Blonde held a show there and Info-Tech will often hold Holiday parties there with live entertainment.
When I first learned that a very, as I called it “Uncool IT company” bought the building I figured that the days of rock music and concerts at the Masonic Temple were over, but the good people of Info-Tech have proved me very wrong and I have been pleasantly surprised by how they have used the space and opened it up for private parties, corporate events and more!