Tag Archives: Bank Of Upper Canada

Toronto’s Early Banks

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Lots of history

Yonge Street has become the main street of Toronto but the city didn’t start there. The original town of York started in a small ten block section east of there. The town of York was bounded by George, Berkley, Adelaide and Front Streets and the oldest bank building in the city is to be found there.

The Bank of Upper Canada opened in 1821 in a local store and they began work on their new building in 1825. It opened in 1827 and because it was owned and operated by The Family Compact it came under constant attack from reformers. It was a target of the failed Rebellion of Dec. 1837. The building housed the bank until it failed in 1866 after which it had several uses before being abandoned by the late 1970’s. It was restored in 1982 and now serves as office spaces. The bank issued bank notes between 1822 and 1861 and ones in poor condition can sell for $750 in today’s market. More about the building can be found in our story Toronto’s First Post Office.

The Bank of Toronto was founded in 1855 by a group of grain dealers and flour mill operators including Gooderham and Worts. Throughout most of the 19th century the bank had farmers as their primary customers. By the 1880’s and 90’s they had started to extend loans to manufacturing, utilities and natural resource companies. Between 1856 and 1937 the bank issued several series of bank notes that continue to be collected today. In 1856 the bank opened their first branch at 78 Church Street. It was located in the building which is now numbered 80 Church Street and has the three small dormers on the top floor in the picture below.

The archive photo below was taken from the York University Library collection and is dated July 7, 1956. At this time the building was still numbered as 78 Church Street and the bank had recently merged with the Dominion Bank in 1955 to form the Toronto Dominion Bank (TD).

The Bank of British North America was founded by Royal Charter in London in 1836. It opened its first branch in Toronto in 1845 on the corner of Yonge Street and Wellington Street. Thirty years later it opened a new building at 49 Yonge Street and issued its own bank notes from 1852 until 1911. It merged with the Bank of Montreal in 1918.

The Bank of Montreal was founded in 1817 and was the first chartered bank in Canada. It served as the central bank for the country until the founding of the Bank of Canada in 1935. Legislation in 1824 prevented the bank from serving the town of York but it got its break in 1840 when it took over The Bank of The People. This was a reformer bank started in 1835 to provide loans to farmers that the Bank of Upper Canada wouldn’t serve. The Family Compact didn’t like the direct competition of reformers and plotted to have the bank taken over by the Bank of Montreal. In 1885 they opened a branch at Yonge and Front Streets and this building is one of the few in this area that survived the great fire of 1904. The building was designated in 1976 for its heritage value as one of the finest examples of 19th century bank buildings in Canada. It is now home to The Hockey Hall of Fame.

A little farther north on Yonge Street the Bank of Montreal opened another branch in 1887. Somewhat less ornate than the one built at Front Street two years earlier it survives today as an A & W restaurant.

Traders Bank of Canada was formed in Toronto in 1885 and survived until it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Canada in 1912. It was popular in rural Ontario but built a 15 story skyscraper on the corner of Yonge and King Streets in 1905. It was the tallest building in the British Empire upon completion, a title it would only hold until 1911. It was the first skyscraper in Toronto and one of the few remaining from the early 20th century. It is currently undergoing some restorations.

The Canadian Bank of Commerce was founded in 1867 by a group of Toronto businessmen. It grew rapidly and by 1907 had 172 locations across Canada. In 1961 they merged with The Imperial Bank of Canada to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or CIBC. In 1905 they built this impressive 4 story building at 199 Yonge Street which has been preserved as part of the Massey Tower condos.

The Bank of Toronto erected a building at 205 Yonge Street in 1905 to a design by Toronto architect E. J. Lennox. He is famous for designing Old City hall and Casa Loma. This small building looks more imposing than its four stories because of the dome on top.

The Dominion Bank was founded in Toronto in 1869. In 1914 they constructed The Dominion Bank Building at the corner of King and Yonge Streets to replace the head office that had been located there since 1879. The building is 12 stories tall and was one of the earliest skyscrapers in the city. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style with Renaissance Revival detailing.

On June 19, 1929 the Canadian Bank of Commerce started construction on their new 34 story building. When it was completed in 1931 it was the tallest building in the British Empire, a status that it held for the next 30 years while it served as head office for the bank. The site was originally home to a small wood chapel for York’s first Wesleyan Methodist Church starting in 1818. In 1887 the Canadian Bank of Commerce demolished a theatre on the site and built a 7 story head office which stood until 1927 when it too was razed for the current building.

The Dominion Bank built a new branch in 1930 at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard Streets. The building was designed in a simplified classical style is the work of prominent Toronto architect John M. Lyle and has fine detailing on the front and sides. Images of native plants and animals along with Canadian history adorn the building.

Following the Second World War designs had been simplified when the Bank of Nova Scotia built this branch in 1949. The Modern Classicism is enhanced with the rounded corner and smooth cladding.

In 1975 the Bank of Montreal completed their 298 metre tall building called First Bank Building in honour of the banks status as Canada’s first bank. It is the tallest building in Canada and only two metres short of being classified as our only Supertall Building. Two Supertalls are under construction and four more are in the planning phases. When they are completed it will be the first time in over 100 years that a bank building hasn’t been the tallest on Toronto’s skyline.

The banks have always held some of the most prominent buildings in the city, either in architectural design or for their height. It is only in the next couple of years that new condos will surpass the bank buildings in height but who knows how long that will last before a grander bank tower is constructed.

Associated blogs: The Rebellion of 1837, Toronto’s First Post Office, The Distillery District.

Google Maps Link : Yonge and Dundas

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Toronto’s First Post Office

Saturday March 7, 2015

Toronto turned 181 yesterday.  On Thursday March 6, 1834 the town of York ceased to exist and was incorporated as the City of Toronto.  At that time there were about 9,000 people in the city.  That day the fourth post office of the town of York became the first post office of Toronto. The building has quite a history so I decided to go and check it out.  It was minus 5 and sunny promising to get above freezing later in the day.  I parked on Adelaide almost across the street.

The Bank of Upper Canada was chartered in 1821 and was instrumental in the development of York as the financial heart of the colony.  In 1827 they opened their second home in a new building on the corner of George and Duke (Adelaide) streets in the centre of the town.  The front portico was added around 1844 by John Howard, who owned Colborne Lodge.  An expansion was added to the rear of the bank in 1851.  The building in the picture below has a mansard roof dating to 1876.

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In 1833  the bank sold Postmaster James Scott Howard 60 feet on the east end of Town Lot #6. Here he built a new post office and closed the one around the corner on George street.  The cover photo shows a painting by Owen Staples called “Fourth York Post Office 1833-39”  At this time the postal service was part of the British Royal Mail and being postmaster was by appointment.  Having been born in Ireland in 1798 Howard had come to York in 1820.  He became postmaster in 1828.  Howard resided in the top of the building which originally had a flat roof.  The picture below shows the restored building today.

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Among James Scott Howard’s papers was a receipt from a contractor detailing the size and number of post boxes.  This allowed for a more accurate restoration inside the building.

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While I was there I bought a “penny ink well”.  These were made in the thousands and used for writing along with a pen made of a flight feather of a large bird, also known as a quill. Quills were kept sharp with a pen (pocket) knife.

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Howard would have stood behind a counter similar to the one below until the Rebellion of 1837 caused him to lose his position.  William Lyon Mackenzie and the rebels had set out to march down Yonge Street, attack the Bank of Upper Canada next door, and steal the gold stored there. Howard was falsely accused of aiding the rebels and his job was taken away and given to Charles Albert Berczy.  Charles was the son of pioneer Wiliam Berczy who founded the settlement of German Mills in 1794

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In 1839 Berczy moved the post office to Front street and Howard sold the building to a hardware merchant who lived there until 1870.  In 1871 it was sold to the Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching school, who had bought the former Bank of Canada building in 1870.  They immediately built the De La Salle Institute building between the two.   Five years later they modified the windows with arches and realigned the floors to match the new building next door.

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It served as an educational facility until 1926 when the United Farmer’s Co-operative bought the three buildings.  They proceeded to brick those arched windows up and install floors that intersected them, turning the old post office building into a cold storage plant for eggs and dairy.  They operated a food processing plant and kept their offices in the other two parts of the old school. After being abandoned in 1971 it was struck by a fire on June 30, 1978.  By this time the early history of Toronto’s First Post Office was forgotten and the building slated for demolition.

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The painting in the cover photo led to the decision to restore the building to it’s 1833 configuration and open it as an historic post office.  Today it functions as a post office and free museum.  It is the only existing British Royal Mail Building in Canada.  By the time Canada Post was created in 1851 and the Three Pence Beaver stamp issued, the post office had moved from this location. The restored block with the post office on the right, school in the middle and Bank of Upper Canada building on the left.

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Looking at the west end of the Bank of Upper Canada you can see three distinct phases of construction.  The original bank building of 1827 stands at the front.  In the middle, with the flat roof, is the 1851 addition to the bank.  The rear portion with the mansard roof was added by the Farmer’s Co-operative in 1926.

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Directly across the street from the old post office stands the 1874 building of Christie, Brown and Co., Canada’s largest manufacturer of biscuits.  The original 3 story building was enlarged over the years finally being used in the mid 1950’s for a greeting card and paper company.  In 1971 George Brown College bought the building.  They kept the exterior walls and built a new educational facility inside.  Today, the tradition of education started a hundred years earlier by the Christian Brothers in the old post office carries on in the historical building across the street.

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Google Maps Link: Toronto’s First Post Office

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