The Bank of Montreal branch at the corner of Main Street and Broadway, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1879.

Expanding West. First stop, Winnipeg

When the first Canadian Pacific train reached Winnipeg in 1880 – at the time described as a “muddy, generally disreputable village” – a Bank of Montreal representative was on the platform to greet it. The bank’s office had been open in the city since 1877, in a building owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company at Main Street and Broadway. The population was just 4,000. The Hudson’s Bay Company was still trading at Fort Garry inside its stockades and bastions. This was an isolated frontier community, yet to experience a flood of land-hungry settlers.

Fifty years later, by 1927, Winnipeg had become the financial centre of Western Canada — and the third most important in Canada. That year, its clearings were equivalent to the combined clearings of the 10 next highest-ranking cities.

War and the workforce

World War I had a profound impact on Bank of Montreal’s workforce. By 1917, almost 50% of our staff – 810 men – had left their jobs to join the war effort. Women stepped in to take their place.

Prior to 1914, women stenographers were rare, even at head office, and women accountants were unheard of. By the war’s end, 42% of our employees were women. Hundreds of women had been hired not only as stenographers and secretaries but also in every clerical position below the rank of manager.

A similar shift occurred during the Second World War. Between 1939 and 1945, 1,269 men and 181 women – approximately one quarter of the bank’s staff – joined the armed services. At the war’s end, 40% of Bank of Montreal employees were women.

Load more

A visually rich tribute to Canada’s first bank, A Vision Greater than Themselves: The Making of the Bank of Montreal, 1817-2017 by Laurence B. Mussio tells the compelling story of the bank from its origins to present day.

Visit the McGill Queen’s University Press site
to order your copy.

BMO is a presenting sponsor of the Montréal en Histoires project, celebrating the 375th anniversary of Montreal and BMO’s bicentennial. The sponsorship includes a variety of technology-driven projects and a mobile app.

Visit the Montréal en Histoires site to learn more.


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