VIEW-11557.0 | Royal Bank of Canada, Lunenburg, NS, copied 1911

Royal Bank of Canada, Lunenburg, NS, copied 1911
Anonyme - Anonymous
1911, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
16 x 21 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , commercial (1771) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

The British North America Act in 1867 placed banking squarely under Ottawa's jurisdiction. By the 1890s, however, most Canadian banks were still rooted in the regions. Only the Bank of Montreal, founded in 1817, straddled the nation. In 1896 there were 37 federally chartered banks with names like the Bank of British Columbia and the Summerside Bank. Many failed because their business was restricted to one region and was therefore vulnerable to the booms and busts of that region.

By 1919 the Canadian banking had become nationally integrated. There were now only 19 federally chartered banks, almost all of them exclusively headquartered in Montreal and Toronto. By 1920 three banks - the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Bank and the Bank of Commerce - controlled 52% of Canadian banking assets. Broadly based national banks were well positioned to diversify their business across the country. Critics argued that central Canada dominated the system. Typical of the shift to national banking was the Royal Bank of Canada, founded as the Merchants' Bank of Halifax in 1869 but since 1907 headquartered in Montreal as the Royal Bank of Canada.

  • What

    Across Canada, the local bank branch was the citizen's contact point with the national system.
    Bank branches were built to project a sense of stability and integrity to customers. Neo-classic features like pillars and stone construction sent such a message. Humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) quipped that they reminded him of religious temples.

  • Where

    Canadian banking was based on the Scottish branch banking system, a spider web of local branches tied to a central head office. Money could thus be moved with facility around the nation. In 1890 there were 426 branches in Canada; by 1920 there were 4,676 - a branch for every 1,900 Canadians.

  • When

    The Merchants' Bank of Halifax had opened in the fishing town of Lunenburg on Nova Scotia's south shore in 1871. By 1919 the newly-rebuilt Lunenburg branch was just one of the Royal Bank of Canada's 662 national and international branches

  • Who

    Banking offered young men entry into the new urban professional class. "Bank boys" - the tellers and clerks who manned the branches - were white-collar workers whose careers might carry them across the country and, as the Canadian banks established themselves abroad, to places as far away as Cuba. Bankers were considered "respectable" pillars of any community.