T.W. Paterson column: Bank of Commerce was greeted with enthusiasm, 107 years ago

T.W. Paterson column: Bank of Commerce was greeted with enthusiasm, 107 years ago

CIBC is a brick-faced structure, too, but it’s not as imposing as its neo-classical predecessor.

Today’s CIBC is a brick-faced structure, too, but it’s not as imposing as its neo-classical predecessor.

The Canadian Bank of Commerce has leased a part of the Jaynes Block from Messrs. Miller and Dickie and will open a branch in Duncan next week; we understand also that the Bank of Vancouver has decided to open a branch here and is looking for suitable premises.

“These additions to the banking facilities are forerunners of great increases in business that is undoubtedly about to overtake Duncan.”

Such was the optimistic notice in the Cowichan Leader of June 6, 1911.

The Duncan branch of the Commerce, E.W. Carr Hilton, manager, opened for business just five days after its mention in the Leader, in an office sandwiched between those of real estate and insurance agents Leather & Bevan, and realtor H.W. Dickie. This was in the W.P. Jaynes building at the eastern end of Station Street (later the site of the Vancouver Island Coach Lines building), opposite the train station.

A century later, there is no Bank of Vancouver (in any way, shape or form) but the Bank of Commerce, as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), is with us yet on Station Street.

Old photos show its 1914 building at this location to have been an imposing two-storey brick structure (nothing else would do) with white or cream trim. This structure opened for business April 14, 1914. Its completion, crowed the Leader, “provides the city of Duncan with one of the most ornate and best equipped banking institutions on Vancouver Island and its opening for use marks another milestone in the progress of this thriving city.”

Completed at a cost of $33,000, its architects were Darling & Peterson, Toronto, and the builders, The Dominion Realty Company, Ltd., Toronto, the firm charged with the construction of all new Bank of Commerce buildings throughout the country.

“The building is a great improvement to the whole of Station street, particularly at the corner of Craig, its style being Grecian with classic details adapted to modern requirements,” continued the Leader. “The outside dimensions are 40 feet facing on Station Street, 37 feet on Craig Street and 38 feet in height from basement to the top of [the] chimney. Erected on the roof and facing Station street is a flag pole 22 feet long. The exterior is of red brick and terra cotta mounted with iron cornice and entablature.”

Cement sidewalks on Station and Craig streets gave the bank “a finished off appearance” and, in the rear, the vault section of the building abutted into a small fenced-off courtyard.

Great thought had been given to the bank’s finished appearance with its granite steps leading to the portico and vestibule, its doors of oak fitted with bronze grills, the vestibule “artistically finished in oak and burlap with an oak pediment over the inner doors”.

The floor of the public section of the accounting room (37 by 27 feet with half of the space devoted to the public and half behind the counter) was covered with white Royal veined marble from Quebec quarries. “The ceiling is painted a deep cream color and is finished with a cornice of ample proportions and suitable design. A dado nearly four feet in height surrounds the walls of the room. This is finished in burlap, painted and glazed and railed with oak. The counters are of heavy raised panels, supported by pilasters moulded in a tasteful design. Behind the counters are ranged the desks for the clerks, teller’s cage, etc. …A large cluster of electric lights hang[s] from the centre of the roof and small light standards [project] at intervals from all points of the wall. Two projecting light standards are installed on the exterior.”

The manager’s office, behind a screen of oak filled with chipped British plate glass (for show not to deter customers!), was finished “for appearance and service with burlap painted in the colors prevailing in the accounting section and oak panelling up to the height of the frieze rail. A brick fireplace with oak mantel is situated in one corner.”

A staircase finished in golden oak rubbed to a smooth dull finish led to the top floor which served, as was commonplace in those days, as living quarters for bank employees. The Duncan Commerce had four bedrooms furnished “in the latest and most comfortable style” with common sitting room and bathroom facilities. (This arrangement of paid salary less accommodation was a bonus to the bank in that its clerks living on the premises doubled as unpaid security guards.)

The sitting room, in the northeastern corner, was finished with leather-cushioned chairs and lounges, and a brick fireplace. Numerous windows assured plenty of natural light and electric lights (still something of a novelty in Duncan) did the work after dark.

Hot water heating was provided by the furnace in the basement (it’s not stated whether it burned wood or coal) and bathroom facilities — euphemistically referred to as sanitary conveniences — were “modelled on the most approved hotel style and assure the acme of convenience and service”.

Inside and out, in the Leader’s view, the new Bank of Commerce showed “the stamp of first-class workmanship”. James Trainor & Son, Victoria, had charge of the painting, decorating as well as the hardwood finishing which was “executed in a manner thoroughly pleasing to the eye”.

The Island Building Company did the brick and concrete work up to the grade level and Miles Morley was in charge of the brick and terra cotta work.

Today’s Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is a brick-faced structure, too, but it’s not the same building. Nor is it quite as imposing as it lacks its predecessor’s neo-classical style of architecture meant to convey that ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ impression to customers.

The 1914 bank’s days were numbered when it was announced that CIBC had bought the adjoining Vidal Block in 1961. It took seven years for work to begin, however, when the bank temporarily set up shop in the former North Cowichan municipal building at Canada Avenue and Kenneth Street. Cash and securities made the move under police guard. Both the 54-year-old bank and Vidal Block were then replaced by a larger corner building designed in “modern bank architectural style” by Victoria architects Wade, Stockdill, Armour and Blewett.

This 1968 building continues to occupy this site today.

The Duncan branch did make history of sorts, it being reported in November 1957 that Miss V.T. Harris’s promotion to assistant accountant made her “the first B.C. woman to receive an appointment by the bank”.

We know, too, that English-born A.J. Marlow was Duncan’s second Commerce manager, from 1916 through 1925. This was his third posting with the bank. Unable to enlist during the First World War because of a heart condition, he was said to have “done the work of two men in Duncan in his effort to fill in where men had been drafted into military service”.

Likely it was this commitment to duty that carried Marlow up the ladder of success, to the point of supervising 25 banks from a Vancouver office until he was assigned to the Commerce’s branch in Port Au Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies. His retirement in the Old Country was short-circuited by the Second World War when he was asked to serve as controller of foreign exchange for the Bank of England.

Taken ill and granted medical leave, he and his wife lived for a time in South Africa and then-Rhodesia before returning to Duncan to build their retirement home on Quamichan Lake. They were living in Victoria at the time of his death in 1958.

Another Duncan Commerce staffer who went on to success was W.A. McAdam who became Agent-General of British Columbia in London.