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Bank of Montreal

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By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca

On June 23, 1817, John Richardson and eight merchants signed the Articles of Association to establish the Bank of Montreal in rented offices on Saint Paul Street in Montreal. The bank opened its doors on November 3, 1817, making it Canada’s oldest bank. It was also the creator of the first Canadian currency, which was issued until the creation of the Bank of Canada in 1935.

Bank of Montreal - 1925                             (McCord Museum Archives)
Bank of Montreal – 1925 (McCord Museum Archives)

In 1845 the bank decided to build a new headquarters building on property purchased from the Notre-Dame parish, facing Place d’Armes. Architect John Wells built the new head office, between 1845 and 1847, based on the design by David Rhind for the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The sculpted pediment of the building, created by Sir John Steel in 1867, contains the arms of the Bank, which incorporates those of the City of Montreal, flanked by two Indians and other characters and various objects representing commercial, agricultural, industrial, and mari- time activities. The pediment, set over a large portico leading to the main entrance, is supported by six Greco-Roman columns. With the early 20th century dome over the main structure, the building is reminiscent of the Parthenon, an ancient Roman temple.

In 1885-1886 major renovation work was done by the firm of Taylor, Gordon & Bluefield, which included the addition of two wings, one faced with Montreal grey limestone and the other with granite, built on either side of the original structure. Additional enlargements to the building and interior renovations were made in 1901–1905 by the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White. In 1923, to honour 231 bank employees who died during the First World War, a statue titled Patria (Victory), by sculptor James Earle Fraser, was unveiled in the center of the building. In 1925, the Bank of Montreal merged with the Montreal-based Molsons Bank, founded in 1853, whose 125 branches were mostly in rural Ontario and Quebec. The Molson family had been shareholders of the Bank of Montreal since 1823. John Molson, founder of Canada’s oldest brewery, was President of the Bank of Montreal in 1826, and family members had always served on the bank’s board. When Molson’s Bank recorded a decline in profits in the early 1920s, its President, Fred Molson, initiated negotiations with his cousin, Col. Herbert Molson, a director of the Bank of Montreal. All Molson’s employees were given either employment or life pensions.

Bank of Montreal - 2015                                 (Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)
Bank of Montreal – 2015 (Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)

Due to political instability in Quebec, BMO’s operational head office moved to Toronto in 1977, while its legal headquarters remains at the historic Montreal structure it has occupied since 1847.

Since its founding in 1817, the bank has played an active role in many projects that spurred the growth of Montreal, Quebec and Canada, including the construction of the Lachine Canal, of Canada’s first railway (the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad), the first telegraph service and of the Canadian Pacific transcontinental railway.

While the bank ceded its role of central bank in 1934 to the newly formed Bank of Canada, it has continued to provide a broad array of services to the federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada to this day. These services include: capital raising, advisory, research, trading and treasury and market risk management services.

Source: Ville de Montréal / Bank of Montreal /

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