Masons leave, masonry disintegrates, fence goes up.
Pedestrian street Masonic Terrace was blocked off a few weeks ago, making it the second historic laneway to be fenced off due to crumbling infrastructure in recent memory. The first, Scanlon’s Lane, was fenced off two years ago, and no work is planned to repair it until next year. Will it take Masonic Terrace a similar three years to be reopened?
by Sarah Smellie
Though the newly constructed fence blocking off the Masonic Terrace laneway looks aggressive, it’s actually demarcating a little piece of neutral territory—the city’s own version of a DMZ, if you will.
The continuing deterioration of the stone retaining wall, which holds up the land upon which the Masonic Hall stands, has rendered the laneway alongside it officially unsafe. So a few weeks ago, workers contracted by the city arrived at the site unannounced and barred off the passage with wire fencing, much to the surprise and chagrin of the surrounding residents and business owners.
Perhaps the most surprised of all were the folks down at Spirit of Newfoundland, who now own and operate the Masonic Hall.
The day after the fences went up, a few other city workers arrived at the Masonic Hall to ask Spirit of Newfoundland who put the fences up.
“There was a bit of confusion,” says Paul Bugge, Spirit’s General Manager.
Bugge maintains that Spirit of Newfoundland own the lawn, but that their property ends at the wall.
The folks at Public Works told me it was private property and that the city had nothing to do with it.
Barred off laneways in the downtown have had a rough go in the past. Scanlon’s Lane, out behind Bar None, connected Duckworth and Water Street up until its stairs were closed off two years ago when the city was renovating the old Newfoundland Museum building. It has since become totally grown over and impassable, and won’t be receiving any serious attention until next year, as part of the Multi-Year Capital Works Program—a 50/50 cost share infrastructure improvement program between the city and the provincial government.
The Masonic laneway plays an important role for a lot of people in that area, says Bugge.
“It affects everyone,” he says. “[Blocking it off] affects us, it affects the Haunted Hike, it affects the Casbah, and it affects all the residents here.”
Allowing the laneway to go the way of Scanlon’s would cause a lot of problems and create a steady stream of unhappy citizens. But if nobody knows who’s responsible for the laneway, is there much chance of anything being done about it?
Art Cheeseman, the city’s Director of Engineering, insists that the wall is within the city’s jurisdiction.
“I’ve been here for thirty-odd years and we’ve had responsibility for the wall the whole time,” he says.
Despite the initial confusion, Cheeseman says the city has the situation under control.
“We’re trying to get estimates on the repair of the wall and once we get those estimates, we’ll bring the issue forward to council.”
John Warren, a local historian who was the manager of the Masonic Hall from 1997 to 2007, offered his opinion:
The laneway itself, he says, is owned by the city.
“It is a very ancient footpath, definitely since 1832 or shortly after. There was a church at the bottom of the hill, the Church of St. Andrew, which was built after 1842. The laneway is shown in early photographs taken from the head of the steps beside the courthouse towards what was then the church.”
The wall, however, has traditionally been the property of whomever owns the Masonic Hall.
“The retaining wall along the laneway was built by the owner of the house that stood on almost the same spot on which the masonic hall stands,” says Warren. “It is older than the temple, but it is part of the temple property.”
He says when he was manager, the wall was the responsibility of the Hall and that its upkeep fell to the wayside because there weren’t any stone masons in the area who could fix it properly.
“It never was the city’s responsibility… they may have done a little bit of patching, but if they did, they did it in ignorance or in trying to assist.”