by Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Commercial interests and dealing with merchants of Upper and Lower Canada were extremely important in the move toward Confederation. As early as 1837, the Molsons, best known for their breweries and steamship line, were printing and circulating their own currency.
On 3 Dec. 1853, John Molson Jr. and William Molson, the sons of brewery magnate John Molson founded the Molson’s Bank under the law governing private banks passed three years before. Chartered in 1855, Molson’s Bank rapidly became one of Canada’s most important banks, and in 1866, the brothers contracted architects George and John James Browne to construct a building on the corner of St. James Street and rue Saint-Pierre as the headquarters of the Molson Bank. At the time, Montreal’s St. James Street was the financial center of Canada and already had several banks located in the area.
Faced with buff Ohio sandstone, a novelty in these days, and with many elements such as twin columns of red granite, segmental windows, and the use of iron cresting and tall chimneys, it would be the first building in Montreal to be built in the Second Empire style. Three faces of men, believed to be the heads of founder William and his two sons, are carved above the front door. The sculptured top central crown shows the arms of the Molson family flanked by a male and a female character with various attributes, including a hive – a symbol of collective labor dear to the Freemasons. George Browne, born in Belfast in 1811, and one of Canada’s most prominent and brilliant architects of the 19th century. signed his work on one of the basement rocks.
The construction of the four floor building, required the demolition of some other buildings. The counters and offices from the bank occupied the ground floor and the basement, while a separate entrance was built on rue Saint-Pierre for the upper floors. The first occupant of that part of the building was an editor, followed by various tenants. By 1883, the bank occupied the entire building. In the early 1900s the building was enlarged, the Saint-Pierre entrance disappeared, and a new main entrance on St. James street was constructed.
In 1925, the Bank of Montreal absorbed the Molson Bank and its 125 branches and became the owner of the building. It expanded the ground floor to rue Notre Dame. The bank closed the branch in 1981, and installed a BMO training center at this location. Since 2009 the Molson’s Bank building has been occupied by government offices and law firms. Elements of the original occupant are still visible in the former banking hall and executive offices, including Corinthian capitals, garlands consoles and cornices, marble fireplaces, and mahogany paneling with classical motifs and elaborate plaster work. Some of these items date from 1866, but most come from the work done in the early 1900s.
The Molson’s Bank Bldg is located at 278-288, rue Saint-Jacques
Source: McGill University / McCord Museum / City of Montreal / The Encyclopedia of Canada / BMO