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Chinese Free Masons Building


Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Chinese Free Masons Building is a two-storey brick and wood frame structure. The front elevation features a storefront with recessed entryway and large display windows on the main floor and a deeply recessed balcony flanked by arches on the second floor. The building is situated on one-half of one city lot on Second Avenue South in Lethbridge’s historic Chinese neighbourhood.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Chinese Free Masons Building lies in its role as a social and cultural centre for Lethbridge's Chinese community. Built in 1924, through Canada-wide donations, the building served as a meeting place for the Lethbridge branch of the Chinese Free Masons, founded in 1922. It is additionally significant as an excellent example of architecture with recognizably Chinese influences.

The Chinese community has a long history in southern Alberta, dating primarily to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s. (Indeed, this site was previously occupied by a wooden frame dwelling used by Chinese immigrants between 1913 and 1918). The Chinese Free Masons were a secret society brought to North America by Chinese immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century. The organization first took root in California and spread steadily across the continent, arriving in British Columbia in 1862 and Alberta by the early 1900s. The organization originally had a strong political mandate, dedicating itself to overthrowing the Qing Dynasty in China. After the successful 1911 Chinese Revolution, the Free Masons became more concerned with issues typical of voluntary fraternal organizations, such as welfare assistance and education. The second floor of the building was used for secret meetings of the Masons as well for a Chinese language school for the children of members. The Dart Coon Club, an inner lodge of privileged members established to defend the society against potential enemies during a period of fierce rivalry between Chinese political societies, met secretly in the basement during its early years. Two cubicles in the basement reflect the building’s historic function of temporarily housing new immigrants. In addition, the building was the site of several national Masonic conventions, including one in 1924 shortly after construction was completed.

Together with the Bow on Tong and Wing Wah Chong Buildings located on the same street, the Chinese Free Masons Building represents a direct historical link with the development of Lethbridge's Chinatown, when city bylaws required that Chinese-owned buildings be situated in a segregated area. The ornate facade of the Chinese Free Masons Building contrasted greatly with the austerity of the frontier facade of the Chinese National Building (demolished in 2010), a physical manifestation of the political and ideological differences between the two most important societies in the city's Chinese community during the early to mid twentieth century. The construction of the building in 1924 – less than one year after the federal government banned further Chinese immigration to Canada – was a powerful statement of permanence for the Chinese community.

The Chinese Freemasons Building in Lethbridge is also provincially significant as an excellent example of architecture with recognizably Chinese influences. The vast majority of Chinese immigrants to Canada prior to the passage of the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act came from south China, in the region of Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong province. They brought with them the memory of a distinctive style of architecture that emerged in Canton in the 19th century and became popular in the region. A hybrid of traditional regional Chinese and European architectural features, these buildings were known as Qilou, or Tong Lau. A blend of commercial and residential functions, Qilou typically were two to four stories in height, much longer than wide, with storefronts at street level and living quarters above. The ground floor street frontage was often arranged as an arcade, providing shelter from the elements and space for the display of merchandise. This arcade could also be enclosed. Upper floors had outdoor living space on balconies, which could be enclosed, or recessed. Originally the homes of prosperous merchants, the building type evolved over time to provide accommodation in “tenement cabins”, as the rooms on the upper floors were known. Small and often windowless, these rooms might house large numbers of people in cramped, unhygienic conditions. Though small in size, the Chinese Freemasons Building in Lethbridge nevertheless exhibits stylistic features in its façade that are a clear expression of the distinctive Qilou or Tong Lau architecture of Canton.

Source: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: DES 1270)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Chinese Free Masons Building include:

- Mass and form;
- brick masonry exterior; and
- fenestration and extant original windows.

Front facade
- Pediment with prominent piers over an arched, deeply recessed second floor balcony flanked by two smaller arched openings;
- expansive multipane balcony window with door to admit light into the Masonic Hall;
- red stucco panels recessed into the brick masonry with gold painted emblems and English and Cantonese signage;
- flagpoles and sconce lights;
- main floor storefront with central recessed entrance, large display windows, signband with Cantonese lettering, and mid-cornice; and
- small side door to the second floor with transom window, applied gold lettering, and arched red stucco spandrel with contrasting gold-painted Masonic symbol.

- Pressed metal main floor ceiling;
- fir flooring on the main and second floors;
- original extant painted plaster walls and ceilings;
- interior millwork including baseboards and door and door and window casings;
- Masonic podium on second floor; and
- extant cubicles in the basement.


Street Address: 310 - 2 Avenue South
Community: Lethbridge
Boundaries: Lot 5, Block 19, Plan 4353S
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
13 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
4353 S

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.696395 -112.842842 Secondary Source NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
5506506 367103 Digital Maps NAD 83


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1987/08/28

Historical Information

Built: 1924 to 1924
Period of Significance:
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Community Organizations
Peopling the Land : Migration and Immigration
Historic Function(s): Community : Civic Space
Community : Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
Current Function(s):

The Chinese Free Masons Building forms an integral part of Chinatown history in Lethbridge. Also known as the Chi Kong Tong, the Freemasons were formed in 1922 and in 1924 they raised funds through Canada-wide donations and constructed the building. The second floor was used for both the secret meetings of the Masons as well for special schoolroom for children of members. The Dart Coon Club, a special inner lodge for privileged members, met secretly in the basement in the early years. The lodge and its members formed one of the two most important societies in Lethbridge Chinatown, the other being the Chinese National League located across the street. Together they formed the political and ideological polarities that characterized the Chinese community between 1905 and 1925. The Chinese Free Masons Building is the most unique structures remaining in Lethbridge Chinatown.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0486
Designation File: DES 1270
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 27183
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1270)
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