Often called a secret society or painted as wealthy plotters and schemers, this weekend the Free Masons tried to dispel those theories by throwing open the doors to their Grand Lodge in Montreal.

While Shriners were outside attracting people into Masonic temple on Sherbrooke and St. Marc Sts, inside, the masons were busy playing host to tour groups.

Masons and members of concordant bodies like the Scottish Right, the Templars and the Shriners were answering any and all questions.

So first: What is Masonry?

"It's a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," said one member.

To expand: In monthly meetings, lodge members are taught to be good citizens, family members and to be faithful to their country.

The real work of the fraternities is charity, with perhaps the best known being the Shriner's Hospitals.

Symbols of Masonry are the tools of stone cutters used to teach morals, with God - or the great architect of the universe - at the centre. And any man can become a Mason so long as he believes in a higher power.

"No matter whether you call him God, or whether you call him Jehovah or whether you call him George, you can join Masonry," said Steve Roberts, who joined the Masons 25 years ago and then became a Shriner.

In pop culture, the Masons have been depicted as the keepers of a vast treasure, hidden through secret symbols. Books and movies have accused them of being behind the Jack the Ripper murders. Other works have suggested the Masons are the keepers of the lost wisdom of the ages through which someone could rule the world.

While Masonic written history dates back to the 1700s, the legend dates back to the building of Solomon's Temple in 960 BCE.

Roberts said he's used to questions about the Masons being a secret society. With letters five feet high, it's hard to keep the Grand Lodge on Sherbrooke a secret.

"We are known, not as a secret society here in a democratic country, but as a society with secrets," said Roberts.