Manitoba

Former Masonic Temple ready for a new beginning after years of renovations

After 15 years and extensive, expensive renovations, restaurateur Peter Ginakes says he is ready for new tenants to breath life into the iconic and reportedly haunted former Masonic Temple in downtown Winnipeg.  

Built in 1895, iconic building has sat empty for over a decade

Winnipeg's old Masonic Temple has been gutted and rebuilt inside, but the outside has been restored. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

The old Masonic Temple in downtown Winnipeg has sat empty for more than a decade, without even sightings of the ghosts rumoured to have haunted its rooms.

But after 15 years and extensive, expensive renovations, restaurateur Peter Ginakes says he is ready for new tenants to breath life into the iconic Donald Street building. 

"You never could build a building like this today. I think [it's] one of the most beautiful buildings downtown." 

Ginakes bought the building, which was the home of the Mother Tucker's restaurant for about 25 years, with his now deceased business partner, Bob Harris, around 2004. The property is owned by a numbered company that lists Ginakes as its director.

Winnipeg restauranteur Peter Ginakes bought the former Masonic Temple about 15 years ago with his business partner, Bob Harris. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Ginakes estimates that he and his business partners have spent about $4 million restoring the building. 

That paid for extensive work on the building's exterior to preserve its historic character, and a complete gutting and rebuilding of the interior due to water damage caused by burst pipes. 

From the outside, the building looks identical to the one shown in century-old black-and-white photographs, while the three floors inside are completely new. That includes an elevator to make the building accessible. 

"We did all the brickwork. We did all the stonework. We did all the roof work, all brand new windows," he said. 

The third floor was once used for theatre productions. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Ginakes thinks the building could hold two, maybe even three different entities. 

"The property lends itself to multiple things, and it's a gorgeous structure, as you can see," he said. 

"You will never find another building structure like that, and the way we reinforced it, it'll be good for another 100 years."

Built in 1895 to house the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, it was the only Masonic Temple in Canada at the time. (Winnipeg Library)

The building was given heritage status by city council in March, something Ginakes opposed when it went before the city's heritage committee.

"Given the chronic economic difficulty the building has endured over the past 20 years, any additional red tape will serve as a hindrance and not a help," consultant Syd Storey wrote in a letter to the city on behalf of Ginakes' numbered company.

Ginakes now says he doesn't think it will have much impact on the development of the property, since the renovations are complete anyway. 

Ghostly history 

The grand brick and stone structure was built in 1895 by the Masons and was the home of Masonic activities in Winnipeg for 74 years. 

With renovations on the building complete, Ginakes says he's ready to find tenants to move into the building. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

In 1969, the Grand Lodge of Manitoba moved to its new home at 420 Corydon Ave., on the south side of Confusion Corner.

After that, the downtown building was home to a number of restaurant ventures, most famously the Mother Tucker's restaurant owned by legendary restaurateur Oscar Grubert. The restaurant opened in 1975 and was there for 24 years. 

The restaurant became known for tales of ghostly apparitions from its staff.

In a CBC piece that ran in 1979, a restaurant manager recounted hearing footsteps in the floor above, even though he had just checked to make sure there was no one there.

The third floor had a stage venue and members of the theatre community who used it knew well that they should never sit in — or even move — what was called "the ghost chair."

CBC went inside Mother Tucker's restaurant for a 1979 story about rumours it was haunted. (CBC Archives)

Chris Rutkowski interviewed several employees of the restaurant in the 1990s as part of his research for his book, Unnatural History: True Manitoba Mysteries.

Though he says he never experienced anything first-hand while spending time in the building, he's heard many strange tales. 

That includes one of an old man dressed in white descending the stairs. Staff also told Rutkowski about coming in to work in the morning to find someone — or something — had thrown all of the napkins on the floor. 

"There were stories of hauntings and ghosts from a lot of the managers and a lot of the staff who were just completely freaked out," he said.

Staff at Mother Tuckers said they heard footsteps from the upper floors, even though there was no one there. (CBC Archives)

For all the time he's spent in the building, Ginakes said he's never seen or heard anything ghostly, though he says there definitely have been inquiries. 

"I have the ghost. I have it in a jar, and that's what I tell people," he said. 

"I have not experienced anything like that but, you know, I've had a lot of strange calls, that's for sure, from people that wanted to do seances and all kinds of crazy things."

Ginakes is more focused on the future than rumours of building's spooky past. Now that work on the building is mostly complete, aside from some landscaping, he's hoping to attract tenants or possibly a buyer. 

The second floor of the massive building boasts very high ceilings. (Sarah Petz/CBC )

"It could be offices, it could be retail or it could be hospitality," he said. 

But he said he's picky about what goes in the building. He wants something that matches its spectacular character. 

"You know, we took a lot of pride," he said. "We spent a lot of money."

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