Bank of Montreal’s local centennial

This month marks a milestone in our community’s financial history. It was 100 years ago, in December 1912, that the Bank of Montreal opened a branch in Red Deer.

The Bank of Montreal is Canada’s oldest bank. It first opened its doors for business in Montreal on Nov. 3, 1817. It expanded its operations across Western Canada in the latter part of the 19th century to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities in this emerging Canadian frontier. However, it did not initially move into Central Alberta.

That changed during the great settlement boom of 1910-1912. Tens of thousands of new settlers began pouring into Alberta to secure homesteads, to build new homes and/or to establish new businesses. A tremendous boost to the Red Deer economy also came with the construction of not one, but two railroads, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western into West Central Alberta and the Brazeau coalfields.

Red Deer had already attracted four banks – Merchants, Commerce, Imperial and Northern Crown (later the Royal Bank). The Bank of Montreal began investigating whether there would be room for a fifth chartered bank in the burgeoning community.

The first rumours of the new bank coming to Red Deer began to circulate at the end of 1910. In the fall of 1912, those rumours came into fruition when the Bank of Montreal leased a small space in the large brick Smith and Gaetz Block on the northwest corner of Ross St. and Gaetz Ave.

When the branch opened at the beginning of December, it had a staff of three: manager W.J Hyde, A.F. Livingstone and H.B. George. The hiring of George was particularly welcome, since he grown up in Red Deer, the son of Dr. Henry and Barbara George.

In August 1913, the Merchants Bank, which was Red Deer’s oldest bank, moved into a beautiful two-storey tan sandstone building, which it had constructed on the east side of Gaetz Ave., just north of Mann (49th) St. The Bank of Montreal decided to move into the old Merchants Bank location, a short distance to the south in the Michener Block.

The great boom broke with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The post-war period was marked by one of the worst economic depressions in Western Canadian history. The Merchants Bank was one of the businesses to be overwhelmed by the severe financial problems. It was absorbed by the stronger Bank of Montreal in December 1921.

Because the Merchants Bank premises were much larger and more attractive, the Bank of Montreal moved into that building in the summer of 1922 when the two branches were amalgamated.

The Bank of Montreal continued to grow over the succeeding decades. In 1960, it opened the first bank branch in North Red Deer in the Alberta Motor Association building on 59 St. and Gaetz Ave. While that branch closed in 1969, there is now a northside branch located on 67 St.

In March 1964, the Bank of Montreal opened a branch in the Eastview Shopping Centre. It later opened yet another branch in the Bower subdivision.

By the late 1970s, with Red Deer once again experiencing an outstanding boom, the Bank of Montreal decided to replace the old downtown branch with a large new one that covered both the original site and the adjacent Gaetz Cornett property.

The new main branch officially opened in June 1980. As a remembrance of the old building that it replaced, two original sandstone corbels were installed on either side of the main door. A commemorative plaque, using another piece of sandstone, was erected in front of the new building.