Published in the Montreal Gazette on August 3, 2013

One of the oldest non – ecclesiastic structures on St. Catherine Street West is the former West End Branch building of the Bank of Montreal nestled on the southwest corner of St. Catherine and Mansfield Streets. Designed by the Scottish architect Sir Andrew Thomas Taylor the dated edifice was one of the first in this city to be constructed of brown sandstone that was, at the time, usually imported from Britain.

(below, The West End Branch, circa. 1895)

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 Above photo courtesy of BMO Corporate Archives

Taylor lived twenty years of his life in Montreal and was architect to the Bank of Montreal, although he also found time to design many of the more interesting pavilions on the campus of McGill University. By the time he returned to Great Britain in 1904, the gifted mastermind left behind an array of stunning structures scattered throughout the town as well as many other parts of urban Canada.

The St. Catherine Street West financial outlet officially opened its doors on June 10, 1889, occupying the main floor of the edifice while renting out the upper storeys to other concerns. (St. Catherine Street, page 97). By establishing it, the Bank of Montreal became the first bank in all of Canada to have two branches in one city. It served Montrealers for nearly a century before being relinquished by the historic institution in May of 1982.

(below, The West End Branch in 1901)

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Above photo courtesy of BMO Corporate Archives

At the time of its construction, what development there was on St. Catherine Street was virtually entirely residential with the exception of a fair number of churches, several of which survive until this day.

Shortly after World War Two, the by then iconic   building celebrated its 60th anniversary. All thirty bank employees sported carnations to mark the memorable occasion. To be sure, nostalgia was the order of the day, and much of it was directed towards George Nicholson who, as a 16-year-old, worked for his father’s construction company on the erection of that same edifice. Indeed, Nicholson spoke excitedly in 1949 of the day the sandstone arrived from Scotland, along with many immigrants from that same land trained in the field of masonry and who worked on putting up the building.

(below, interior of bank in 1931)

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Above photo courtesy of BMO Corporate Archives

In June of 1955, with the rapid expansion of Montreal beyond the historic city centre, the Bank of Montreal, in order to reduce confusion, decided to re-name the outlet the ‘Mansfield and St. Catherine Streets Branch’. However, the original, revealing engraving ‘West End Branch’ is still there today – some 124 years later.

Around the same time as the name change, a Letter to the Editor in the Montreal Gazette dated June 17, 1955 reminded Montrealers that the beautiful bank building was, until 1899, also home to the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (today, the Engineering Institute of Canada).

A door on Mansfield Street at the back of the edifice led to their offices on the upper floors. On one of door’s lintels was, for the longest time, inscribed with the words ‘The Canadian Society of Civil Engineers’ until they were finally chiselled away during a renovation in the early 1950’s.

Montrealers of a certain age will long recall the newsstand that stood for many decades in the little niche directly in front of the relatively petit, ornate edifice.

(below, St. Catherine Street, looking west, in 1974)

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Above photo courtesy of BMO Corporate Archives

Particularly in its early days, the branch was the financial home to many successful and wealthy Montrealers, including Henry Birks whose jewellery and silver store was only a few blocks further east of that same Bank of Montreal branch itself.

Today, the historic building houses a branch of the communications giant, Telus Mobility.

(below, newsstand, in the 1950’s)

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 Above photo courtesy of Mr. G. van der Weyden

 

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