Canada’s Banker

Excerpt from A Vision Greater Than Themselves: The Making of The Bank of Montreal, 1817-2017 by Laurence B. Mussio

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Parliament buildings under construction, Ottawa, Ontario, 1865. Photograph by William Notman.

Image courtesy of: McCord Museum, Montreal.

By an Order-in-Council, dated 19 November 1863, the account of the Government of the Province of Canada was transferred to the Bank of Montreal on 1 January 1864. From that date, the Bank acted as the financial agent of the United Province of Canada.

In the past, the Bank of Montreal had acted as a financial agent of the United Province, but the 1863 appointment was in some respects different. The Bank by the 1860s had managed to emerge as the dominant player in Canadian banking, especially after the difficulties and eventual demise of its archrival, the Bank of Upper Canada. This was a critical decade for Canada, with political and economic momentum growing to join the British North American colonies into one political and administrative unit. The Bank’s capital and resources were critical to the operations of the colonial government in the run-up to Confederation in 1867, and thereafter. The Bank’s leaders, moreover, were deeply involved in the financing of the projects of the new Dominion, not to mention attempts to develop a new banking system for the country. Relations between Bank of Montreal executives and key members of the newly minted Canadian Cabinet, especially Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, were especially close.

The Bank also acted as the key Canadian bank in the financing of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1880–85), a project closely allied not only to the Bank but also some of its brightest individual lights – Lord Mount Stephen and Lord Strathcona.

The Bank’s capabilities and capital and its establishment in the two great capital markets of the North Atlantic world – London and New York – also led the Bank to later represent the Dominion of Canada’s financial affairs in those capital markets. The Bank acted as financial agent of the Dominion in London well into the 1930s, until the newly established Bank of Canada took over those responsibilities. It was financial agent not only to the Government of Canada but also to myriad provinces, cities, and towns across the vast transcontinental expanse that required financing and representation for their needs in the capital markets of the North Atlantic world. At home, as the senior bank, it acted as the ‘coordinator-in-chief’ of the Canadian banking system as that system grew and matured across the country.

In many ways, then, the Bank of Montreal was ‘Canada’s Banker’ for a vital period in the country’s development, providing capital, resources, expertise, financial talent, and personnel for the great Canadian project. Times change; new players like the Bank of Canada emerge; new challenges and opportunities present themselves. At every stage of Canada’s development, past and present, the Bank has answered the call to serve the country, its communities, enterprises, and individuals with probity and distinction.


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