Growing up in Seal Cove in the ’90s/early 2000s, Morgan MacRae, like many kids, embraced a love of creativity and the arts, particularly drama, choir and musical theatre. Heavy metal reigned in Conception Bay South and as she got older, she had a number of friends who were in bands or were concert promoters, along with an older brother who was into guitar and who “would blast Pantera through my wall, and I hated it at the time,” she laughs, “but it was my gateway into that community.”
There were a number of venues available for music-loving youth back then, Morgan recalls, like the Riverdale in CBS, or the LSPU Hall and The Masonic in St. John’s, where people would host all ages shows (and later, bar shows). But over time, those numbers dwindled. Now, through their purchase of the historic Masonic on Cathedral Street, Morgan and her husband Duncan MacRae plan to make another space available for local artists to create, rehearse, perform and share their work with the community.
The plan got put in motion during a visit back home in the fall of 2021, while Morgan was chatting with friends about the state of the local music scene.
“They let me know that there really wasn’t much available anymore…to independent bands and especially young groups who are trying to find spaces. And just in general, artists are really struggling to find space to practice, to perform,” says Morgan, who currently lives with her family in Victoria, BC.
She and her husband were walking around downtown one day when Morgan began pointing out former performance venues, including The Masonic, where friends used to host shows in the basement. Duncan noticed the building was for sale and suggested they look into it. They chatted with Peter Halley and Kathie Hicks of Spirit of Newfoundland Productions, who owned the building at the time, “and it kind of got my wheels turning about that time back in my youth when we were saying, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we had a row house that people could jam in? Or we just had more space that people could record in?’” Morgan recalls.
“And from there it really kicked off and got a life of its own, this kind of returning-to-youth dream that I’m now getting to realize.”
The couple closed the sale in the spring of 2022 and are now busy dreaming up plans for the venue. The Built Heritage Experts Panel took a look at their architectural designs and drawings, Morgan says, and provided good feedback. And while the interior will require extensive renovations for usability and safety, she adds, the exterior will maintain its overall look.
“We fell in love with it because it’s a jewel of the city, because it is a true Victorian building. It’s got those beautiful bricks, the archways. We’re not looking to cover it in steel or anything.”
Potential plans for the lower level of the building include a green room, a recording studio and podcasting booths, a secondary kitchen and storage space, while the main level will likely maintain its current ballroom space, with a bar/restaurant area and an updated kitchen.
“So there will still be lots of space for things like weddings, conferences, different social events. We hope that we’ll be able to generate some more commercial revenue there to support the overall artistic endeavours that we hope to support in the building,” Morgan says. The “mysterious” third floor, she adds, will see the most changes, with a black box theatre space where different kinds of performances can be hosted. (There are also plans to put in an elevator for full accessibility.)
“We really wanted to focus on flexibility because visual artists have different needs than dancers, (who) have different needs than musicians. So we don’t want to box ourselves in too heavily with one type of arts.”
Consulting with local artists and arts groups is key to the planning process, Morgan says “and just asking them to have a conversation with us about not just The Masonic and what this building should be or could be for the future to help support the community, but the arts community in Newfoundland and Labrador in general right now.” To that end, she hopes to host an event in the fall with members of the arts community to gather more of their input.
“I think it’s a community that Newfoundland treasures, but hasn’t been asked a lot for their opinion,” she says. “Not to say that there’s not lots of groups who are trying. But we just hope to become part of that conversation as well. Especially with the overall renaissance that Newfoundland has kind of had in the last 5/10 years – tourism has gotten a real boost, food and beverages have gotten a real boost. When I talk to people about where I’m from, now everybody knows where Newfoundland is…and it’s incredible to see that happening,” she adds.
“We just want to see if we can help capture some of that excitement and put that focus towards arts. And I think lots of communities and lots of people are doing that…I think it’s a really interesting time to be part of this community in Newfoundland and Labrador right now.”
Want to reach out to The Masonic team with your suggestions and ideas? Drop them a line at email@example.com or visit themasonic.ca to stay in the loop. You can also visit them on Facebook and Instagram.