Wiarton's Banks

As with many Canadian villages, Wiarton's first bank was a private operation (i.e. unchartered bank).  Established in 1880, the G.W. Ames and Co. offered banking and insurance services from a frame building at the corner of Berford and Frank Streets.

Figure W10A:  Union Bank Building (about 1900, c. 2003, c. 2008)

Demand for the reliability of a chartered bank brought a branch of the Union Bank of Canada to Wiarton in 1892.  The Union Bank marked its presence with the construction of a large four storey, red brick, Italianate building at the corner of Berford and William Streets.  The Union Bank continued operations here until it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Canada.  The Royal Bank continued to use the building until 1942.  In 1946 the building was converted to office and apartment use, including a barrister.  Today, it serves solely as an apartment building.

Figure W10A shows three images of the Union Bank building, one from around 1900, the second from the same perspective in 2003, the third highlighting a new paint job in 2008.  Although the building still looks much the same as when it was new, close inspection shows some differences.  Most notably, the front door has been moved from the south side to the north side of the front façade.  I believe this was done just after the Royal Bank left the premises.  Also, as with many old buildings, the original windows and doors, including the fanlights, have been filled in or replaced with smaller rectangular frames, giving the façade an odd appearance.  These changes have also left the small second storey balcony no longer accessible.  As an aside, the background of the top image in Figure W10A shows the steeple of St. Paul's Lutheran church.  This church burned down in 1918, apparently due to arson.

In 1902 Wiarton gained a third financial institution when the Bank of Commerce (which merged with the Imperial Bank in 1961 to form today's CIBC) decided to establish a branch in the town.

Figure W10B:  Bank of Commerce/Royal Bank Building (around 1902;  2004)

The Bank of Commerce first set up a temporary office in the Town Hall in August of 1902 while it constructed an imposing new structure just north of the Wiarton Echo office. Interestingly, this new building was an exact duplicate of a branch at the corner of Bathurst and King Streets in Toronto (which, I think, has since been demolished).  The bank took possession of its new building in May of 1903. Incidentally, it was apparently quite an ordeal to move the bank's large safe from their temporary location at Town Hall to their new abode, but the job was done and business picked up where it had left off. In fact, the presence of a second chartered bank in Wiarton finally caused the town's pioneer financial institution, G.W. Ames & Co. to close its doors in mid-June after 23 years of operation. (Mr. Ames, however, continued to serve Wiarton's financial needs after the closure of his bank. He first offered private money for loan, and later acted as an insurance agent and an issuer of bonds and debentures until his retirement in March of 1923.)

The Bank of Commerce, on the other hand, flourished at its new location. It took extraordinary wartime conservation regulations to force its closure in 1942. Two years later, in July of 1944 the Royal Bank moved from the former Union Bank site and into the former Bank of Commerce building.  The Royal Bank still occupies this building today, having survived a wave of small-town branch closures throughout the 1990s.  Unlike the former Union Bank building, the Royal Bank has kept the Bank of Commerce building in excellent shape.  Indeed, it's formidable columned façade still strikes the eye more than 100 years after it was built.

In 1976, a Toronto-Dominion Bank branch also opened on Berford St.  It is still open for business today, giving Wiartonians a second option for their banking needs.

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Postcards From the Bay was launched April 14, 2000

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Copyright 2000 - Christopher R. Graham