By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
The Merchants’ Bank, founded by Hugh and Andrew Allan, owners of the Montreal Ocean and Steamship Company, received its charter in 1861 and opened for business in 1864 in a building on St. Jacques Street, owned by the Commercial Bank of Canada. The Merchants’ Bank was a new venture for the Allan brothers. Hugh Allan had served as director of the Bank of Montreal from 1847-1857. Since its creation the bank had been used by the Allan family to finance their personal investments and remained a Quebec company until it took over the troubled Commercial Bank of Canada based in Kingston, Ontario in 1867. The name changed to the Merchants Bank of Canada and 17 Ontario branches came under the bank’s control. The head office needing more space, re-located at 315 Notre Dame in Place d’Armes. At the same time, the bank leased part of its building to various financial institutions, including the Bank of Toronto, the Royal Canadian Bank, the Trust and Loan Company of Upper Canada and Scottish Amicable Insurance Co.
Around 1869, Merchants’ Bank decided to build new and larger headquarters at the corner of Rue St. Pierre and Rue St. Jacques. The contract was awarded to the architects firm of Hopkins and Wily, and a four-story building with mansard roof, was built from 1870 to 1873. In the late 1870s, the Merchants’ Bank was the second bank of importance behind the Bank of Montreal. Montreal was the country’s premier commercial port and developing at breakneck speed.
In 1899, under the leadership of architect Edward Maxwell, four additional floors were added to the original building, and office space was leased by the bank to various companies, including the Pinkerton detective agency. The top floor was added in 1900.
In 1929, at the start of the Great Depression, the Merchants’ Bank, still flourishing in spite of the financial crisis, merged with the Bank of Montreal and the building on Rue Saint-Jacques was sold to Nesbitt-Thompson, an investment firm, who already was a tenant since the early 1920s. For decades, they occupied almost half of the building, and rented the rest to various companies. From 1970, they gradually occupied the entire building. In 1994, Nesbitt-Thompson became BMO Nesbitt-Burns, and sold the building in 1995 and moved on McGill College.
Having been vacant since 1995, the property was bought by Canadian film producet/distributor Lucien Rémillard and his wife Karen, who renovated the building and turned it into a luxury boutique hotel. In the spring of 2002, Hôtel Le St-James, appointed with antique furniture and works of art, Venetian dressers, Russian armoires from the 18th century, Ming vases, a palanquin once owned by a maharaja from Jaipur, and more, officially opened their doors.
The building is located at 355 Rue Saint-Jacques in Old Montreal
Source: City of Montreal / Hôtel Le St-James / Canada Currency