The Manitoba Legislative Building has a hidden code. If you look closely, you’ll find Egyptian sphinxes, the Ark of the Covenant, Greek monsters, cattle skulls, lion heads, and a mysterious black star. The question is: what does it all have to do with Winnipeg?
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*Listen with Described Video: https://youtu.be/s2ssJ1yQsTY
*CORRECTION: 13 press gallery seats are above Speaker's chair.
Recently, Dr. Frank Albo, an architectural historian, has dominated the study of the building’s architecture—he’s spear-headed the theory surrounding a Masonic code. He wrote a book called The Hermetic Code and leads authorized tours of the building. We were not able to find his book in print, nor did we take his tour, but some of his theories are referred to in the episode, found in the plethora of newspaper articles available (many from the Winnipeg Free Press). Some of his views are debated, which was one of the reasons we decided to look at the broader historical context surrounding the building’s construction. But it's all quite interesting regardless! Here’s his website: https://www.frankalbo.com
It goes without saying that events like the Red River Rebellion and the General Strike deserve episodes of their own—consider this episode as us dipping our toes into the incredibly rich history of Winnipeg and Manitoba as a whole.
We decided to use the architecture as a stepping stone to speak about the historical context surrounding its construction, so we bypassed quite a few other architectural details. Here are a few more:
- The triangular pediment that hangs over the North entrance represents the span of the country: on the east end of the pediment is a nautical wheel, symbolizing the Atlantic; on the west is Neptune's trident, symbolizing the Pacific. In the centre is a goddess representing Manitoba, the keystone province, with a lictor's staves across her knees.
- Normally you’ll only find mention of one Ark of the Covenant (officially the War Chest), but there’s actually two—on the East and West sides. They are chests guarded by a pair of figures: an Indigenous chief and Roman soldier, and a pair of Greek goddesses. No one knows what is inside them. In the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant held the 10 Commandments.
- The Lieutenant-Governor’s Reception Room is reserved for visiting royalty and is closed to the public. We were granted access to shoot this room as well as the Legislative Chamber (from behind a rope barrier) and these shots didn't make it into the video. The L-G Room is essentially the Queen’s office if she’s staying in Winnipeg. There’s a theory that it’s designed with the dimensions of the inner sanctum of King Solomon’s Temple, including a blue curtain that would have shrouded the ‘original’ Ark of the Covenant.
- If you stand in the centre of the star (in the Pool of the Black Star) and whisper, your voice echoes throughout the building by some pretty remarkable acoustics (unfortunately this didn’t translate well to a lav mic).
- Normally the Golden Boy figure is read as being Hermes, the son of Zeus, messenger to the gods. However, it’s more likely Mercury, god of trade and commerce. The wheat in his arm is the fruits of his labour, the torch is a call to the youth toward a prosperous future. He gained his nickname from a local newspaper writer.
- Four groups of statues surround the dome of the building: agriculture, industry, art, and science.
- Most of the building is constructed out of Tyndall stone, limestone native to Manitoba and full of fossils.
A great article detailing how the Panama Canal affected Winnipeg: https://bit.ly/32cCqW1
There are remnants of the political embezzlement scandal that rocked Winnipeg at the Kelly House apartment block, not far from the MLB. Look for some curious pillars, and read this wonderful article: https://bit.ly/32h0eYQ
Freemasonry isn’t a secretive subject. In the early 1900s it was everywhere, later, it turned into a sort-of boys club. There are a lot of famous freemasons—John A. MacDonald was one—but this episode isn’t so much about the boys club as the tenets that were followed by the movement in the arts.
The quotation in the episode comes from the government committee set-up to organize the contest and pick the winner. They took it from Victorian art critic John Ruskin.
A closing quote from FW Simon, the architect: "Here you have no mountains to which you can lift up your hearts. And so you have all the more need for architecture to lift them up. Men and women cannot be happy or good in surroundings that are commonplace, ugly or uninspiring."