Explore The Rich History Behind The Royal Bank Of Canada
If you’re coming down to Montreal, one of the most sumptuous buildings that you can explore in person is the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. Located at 360 Rue St Jacques, the building was the tallest not only in Canada, but in the entire British Empire of the time, when it was opened in 1928. Its 22 floors are overtaken by many skyscrapers around the world. In its day it would have been an astonishing sight as it rose over the city. For Montrealers especially, it makes a huge impression as the first building to stand taller than the Notre-Dame Basilica.
A PLACE TO RELAX
The Bank moved its head office from Halifax, where the Bank had been founded in 1864. It moved to Montreal in 1907, but its rapid expansion meant that its original building rapidly became too small for all the staff. In order to make room for a new and bigger building, the Bank between 1920-26 bought all the buildings in the block and demolished them, including the 10-storey Bank of Ottawa building, to make room for the new tower. Its huge arched entrances and bronze doorways, in its impressive neo-classical frontage, are still decorated with huge golden coins and elaborate relief work. But don’t be shy to hang around on the way in to have a good look. There are images of Mercury (Roman God of Commerce), mythical beasts, and coats of arms of the Canadian provinces.
A PLACE TO DO BUSINESS
The Bank’s architect, Sumner Godfrey Davenport, was allowed by the city authorities to build so high. This was acceptable if he provide a “cutback” design, to allow light and air to the streets below. By setting back the upper storeys from the building line at the third floor and again at the 18th floor, this gave the building a “stepped” effect. This Art Deco style was popular at the time. The two underground floors could are accessible only by elevator, and are designed to be impregnable bank vaults. Proud to incorporate local materials, the builders used Queenston stone from the Niagara Peninsula, Montreal limestone, and Quebec granite.
When the cornerstone was laid in 1927, a copper box “time capsule” was buried with it. The capsule contains coins, newspapers and other documents of the time. This acts as an indication of how significant this new “showcase” building was to Montréal and Canada’s commercial history.
A PLACE TO ADMIRE
The Bank used the building as its headquarters until 1962. when it moved to the Place-Ville Marie tower. That branch had moved out by 2012 and it seemed as if the building’s glory days were over. Not like Montrealers to leave such a fantastic space unused for very long, the building was rented out to shops and other businesses and in 2016 it’s heart was given a new lease on life by the Crew Collective – a freelancer network. Sensitive to the original purpose, fixtures, and fittings, the Crew Collective found clever ways to repurpose the designs. This includes the bank teller’s desks, counters, and booths, and the space is now a gorgeous café and co-working space.
So, you can now walk right inside this luxurious piece of Montreal’s history. You can enjoy something to eat and drink, and soak up the atmosphere of Montréal’s thriving and ever-evolving economy. What was once the centrepiece of traditional banking is now a space buzzing with technology startups and freelances – you can even place your order online in advance!
We hope this piece has given you some interesting insights on what to explore during your stay in Montreal!