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The Lost Series: Edmonton’s Lost Banks


Imperial Bank of Canada, 1893.
City of Edmonton Archives, EA-180-2.

 

Jasper Avenue has a long tradition as Edmonton’s centre of commerce and financial enterprise. At one point in the early 1900s, the thoroughfare was home to more than a dozen financial institutions handling transactions in the booming frontier town.

In 1914, Edmonton had 26 banks, and most of them were on Jasper Avenue. They included Imperial Bank, Bank of Toronto, Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Merchants Bank, Molsons Bank, Bank of Ottawa, Bank of Montreal, Quebec Bank, Banque Jacques-Cartier, Standard Bank and Royal Bank of Canada. There were trust companies, too, like Canada Permanent and National.

The buildings the banks called home were typically tall and imposing, with stone columns inspired by Greek and Roman temples. The architecture was intended to convey a sense of solidity and stability – a safe place to park your savings and your trust.

But it turned out they weren’t so permanent after all. By the mid-20th century, Canadian banks were demolishing and abandoning many of their early-century classically-styled buildings. In their pursuit of new styles, most of the ones in Edmonton fell to the wrecker’s ball, too. Here’s a look back at a few of Jasper Avenue’s most historically significant examples:

Imperial Bank of Canada, 1891, 1893 and 1907

Edmonton’s first chartered bank, and the first branch between Calgary and the Arctic, was the Imperial Bank of Canada. It officially commenced Edmonton operations on September 4, 1891, just days after three of its officers rode the second train into Strathcona on the Edmonton & Calgary Railway. Edmonton branch manager G.R.F. Kirkpatrick got the venture going on the second floor of a building on the west side of 102nd Street, just north of 100th Avenue, in a building that also contained a saloon.

Kirkpatrick relocated the branch in 1893 to the corner of Jasper Avenue and McDougall Avenue (now 100th Street), where the bank rented a corner section of the building. An all-new building was constructed on the site in 1907, a grand Classical Revival sandstone structure which cost $90,000. Its entrance portico was supported by giant columns three storeys tall, elevated on one-storey-high plinths.

The scale of the structure, with those columns, its stone staircase and wrought iron entrance doors, dwarfed pedestrians and established a very powerful presence on Jasper Avenue. The main hall was tiled with white marble mosaic, with a border of coloured marble. A special room was designed for women customers who wished to deposit their real estate gains without the knowledge of their husbands.

The building survived until the boom days of the late 1940s, when the Imperial Bank apparently decided a modern structure was in order. And so down it came in the fall of 1950 to make way for the six-storey Imperial Bank, opened in 1954, and which became the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Merchants Bank, 1907

Built in 1907, the grand columned building on the northwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 100 A Street was originally home to the Merchants Bank, which had started Edmonton operations in 1898. until it amalgamated with the Bank of Montreal. For a time, the top floor was used by staff of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

Merchants Bank amalgamated with the Bank of Montreal and the building at 10050 Jasper Avenue was bought by the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1923. It served as that bank’s main branch for the next 33 years, and was demolished in 1956.

Bank of Montreal, 1903, 1916 and 1963

The Bank of Montreal started Edmonton operations on September 8, 1903 with an office on Jasper Avenue and 100 A Street. When the bank amalgamated with the Bank of British North America (BBNA) in 1918, operations were shifted to the BBNA building, which had opened in 1916 on the southeast corner of Jasper Avenue and 101st Street. The former Bank of Montreal building was taken over by the Bank of Toronto.

In the early 1920s, business was so good at the new Bank of Montreal location that an addition was constructed to the south in 1925. Both buildings were demolished in 1962 to make way for a new modernist-styled headquarters, designed by George Lord of the renowned Edmonton architects Rule, Wynn and Rule.

The building, at 10089 Jasper Avenue, was clad with custom green-glazed brick and vertical pillars of pink and black Morton gneiss from Minnesota, one of the oldest rocks on the planet. The swirling striations in the stone were oriented to flow upward along the building’s face. That 1963 building, which came to be known as BMO63, is slated for demolition now as well after a citizen-led protest was unable to save it.

Royal Bank, 1906 , and Bank of Toronto, 1903

Two years after the Bank of Montreal built its new Jasper Avenue branch, the Royal Bank of Canada opened one of their own right across 101st Street. The $3.5-million building was officially opened in February 1965. The original branch at 10023 Jasper Avenue, which started operating in 1906, was knocked down in 1966.

The clippings files at the City of Edmonton Archives are spiced with stories of the formidable challenges faced by crews tasked with taking down the “built to last” early 20th century bank buildings. As demolition work proceeded in 1949 on the 46-year-old Bank of Toronto building, the Edmonton Journal reported that the vault of the bank at 10038 Jasper Avenue was proving tough to crack.

“The fireproof vault, with its massive steel door and 20-inch walls of brick, steel and masonry construction, stood as a formidable obstacle for any safe-cracker with ideas,” said a June 13, 1949 story. “Even with powerful jack-hammers, the demolition crews found the vault walls to be anything but an easy pushover.”

One by one, the vintage bank buildings fell to the march of time, along with many of the institutions themselves, as they folded or merged with other financial bodies. Others not already mentioned include:

$    Bank of Ottawa, 10015 Jasper Avenue
$    Dominion Bank, 10003 Jasper Avenue
$    Molsons Bank, 10076 Jasper Avenue.
$    Standard Bank, 9939 Jasper Avenue and 10201 Jasper Avenue
$    Banque d’hochelaga, 10263 Jasper Avenue.
$    Banque Jacques-Cartier, south side of Jasper east of 100th Street.

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