by: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
The British Empire building was originally known as the Exchange Bank of Canada. It was built in 1874 by architect John William Hopkins on property acquired through Alexander Walker Ogilvie, a board member of the bank.
The narrow oblique face dominates the composition of the building which is comprised of four levels of elevation decreasing by addition from one floor to another. The first two levels are directly inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Despite the dominant Renaissance style, the building reflects an eclecticism from London where the Gothic gained importance in commercial architecture, which in 1873 was well-suited to the head-quarters of a financial institution.
The bank hall and offices were located on the ground floor of the new building, and took up about a third of the building. The remainder of the building was leased out to various firms including the brokerage company of Louis-Joseph Forget and Co., a firm taking care of the financial restructuring of companies, and maybe best known for his involvement in the change-over from horse cars to electric tramways in Montreal.
In the 1970s the former local bank building, long held by brokers, was transformed into a boutique.The commercial spaces on the ground floor still include the original Victorian woodwork. The large windows on the ground floor are also original, and after having undergone major renovations in the early 1990s, the building still maintains its original function as an office building.
The British Empire Building is located at 200-210 Notre-Dame West, corner of Saint-François-Xavier in Old Montreal.