Growing with Canada

Our first year

In 1818, the Montreal Bank opened a substantial agency in Quebec City, followed by a presence in Upper Canada in York (now Toronto), Kingston, Queenston, Perth and Amherstburg. That laid the foundation for branch banking in Canada.

A sign of things to come

When Montreal Bank opened for business in 1817, it had secured $150,000 in capital. Seventy-five years later, it had become a giant among banks, with the largest capital of any bank in North America: $54,000,000. That amounts to 360 times growth. Meanwhile, Canada’s population had grown by only 10 times. View the infographic Growth in BMO Deposits 1817 – 2016.

Belleville Branch, Ontario, 1890.

The bank’s expansion temporarily slowed in 1824, when its offices in Upper Canada were closed following legislation outlawing branches of banks whose head offices were outside Upper Canada. The bank worked around the legislation in 1838 by purchasing Toronto-based Bank of the People. It wasn’t until 1842 that banks could freely establish branches in both halves of the newly united Province of Canada. As a result of that change, the bank opened offices in Cobourg, Belleville, Brockville and Ottawa, paralleling the growth of Canada’s transportation networks and the development of its natural resources, notably timber.

The largest financial institution in Canada

By 1859 Bank of Montreal was already the largest financial institution in Canada, and the third largest in North America. Total assets had grown to $12 million.

The corner of King and Prince William in Saint John, New Brunswick, circa 1862.

Look to the East

As the Dominion of Canada officially came into being on July 1, 1867, bank representatives were already on their way to open branches in Halifax and Saint John, in the new provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Commercial banking in Newfoundland had been carried on by two local institutions, both of which closed their doors on the same day in 1894. Four days later, at the invitation of the government of Newfoundland, Bank of Montreal sent a representative to St. John’s. Within a month, the bank opened its first branch there on Duckworth Street, and was able to provide substantial credits to the fishing industry. Bank of Montreal was quickly appointed banker for the Newfoundland government.

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.

The Charlottetown Bank of Montreal branch, 1909.

1907: Charlottetown branch

By 1907, Bank of Montreal had representation in every major Maritime centre – except one. That changed November 14, 1907, with the opening of a branch in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. This was a milestone in our history, marking the culmination of our goal to create a presence in every province, from coast to coast.

In 1930, Bank of Montreal was operating 672 branches, after consolidating the branch networks of amalgamated banks.

Post-War Boom

North America’s rapidly expanding post-war economy fuelled unprecedented increases in household income and wealth. Banks and financial institutions also experienced something of a consumer-finance revolution after 1945. People had more and more ability to spend, borrow, deposit, and invest. They also began to demand access to an expanding range of financial products and services.

BMO expanded its branch network across Canada, in part, by acquiring and merging with smaller regional banks.

Sometimes the motivation was to gain entry into a market. At other times, the reputation of the Canadian banking system might have been at stake, due to struggling or failing banks. In those cases, as the senior Canadian bank, Bank of Montreal often felt a responsibility to ensure the smooth operation and the good reputation of the system itself. Sometimes the move to acquire a bank was simply a competitive impulse, or to forestall the arrival of unwanted or undesirable players in the market.


BMO in the U.S.

The Brown Brothers building at 59 and 61 Wall Street in Manhattan

1818: First agency in the U.S.

The young Montreal Bank established its first agency in the United States in 1818. In 1859, the population of New York had swelled to 800,000. That year, a rail link between Montreal and New York was completed, and the bank established a permanent office in Manhattan’s bustling financial district. This was 41 years after the bank had established an agency there, and marked the first permanent office of any Canadian bank in the U.S.

The one-room office was located at 23 William Street. It was so cramped, the bank soon moved a few blocks to 32 Pine Street, a stone’s throw from Wall and Nassau, the crossroads of American finance.

Harris Headquarters

The headquarters of BMO Harris in Chicago is comprised of three buildings – each one architecturally significant in its own right – built in 1911, 1960 and 1975. This building complex on the corner of Monroe and LaSalle streets constitutes an important address in the Chicago Loop neighbourhood, the city’s financial district as well as the seat of city and county government.


1994: NYSE listing

In 1994, Bank of Montreal became the first Canadian bank listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock symbol: BMO.

BMO acquires Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co.

In 2003, BMO acquired New York-based investment banking firm Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co. (GKM) – a boutique equity research and investment banking firm serving the institutional marketplace. Pictured here: the new sign outside Harris Nesbitt Gerard’s trading floor in New York is unveiled by Eric Tripp, Manny Gerard and Bill Downe.

One hundred years after establishing a permanent agency in New York, the bank moved into No. 2 Wall St. The building acquisition was accompanied by a campaign to promote the bank’s expansion in New York.

To mark its 10th anniversary on the New York Stock Exchange, BMO’s senior leaders, including CEO Tony Comper, rang the opening bell in October 2004.

Our ties to Chicago go back a long way

In 1861, a group of Chicago grain merchants invited Bank of Montreal to set up a permanent agency in their city. The Chicago Tribune observed that it “will afford proper and much needed facilities to our large and rapidly increasing Canadian trade.”

In a city that already had 50 banks, Bank of Montreal soon emerged as the leading source of finance for Chicago’s export trade. A charter member of the Chicago Clearing House Association, it was described by a local newspaper as “one of the most reliable banking institutions in the U.S.”

As Canada’s leading brokerage firm, Nesbitt Thomson purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1968 – the first non-US firm to do so in over thirty years.

Witness to history

A ticker tape parade for astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, passes by the Bank of Montreal building at 2 Wall St. on March 1, 1962.

1864: California

Our first California agency office opened in San Francisco in 1864.

Marshall & Ilsley’s first branch, the Southside Bank, opened at 374 National Avenue in 1906. This branch allowed M&I to tap into the rapidly growing neighborhoods created by immigration to Milwaukee. One hundred years later, the branch is still a hub of activity in the neighborhood.

1994-2010: Expanding in the U.S.

Between 1994 and 2010, BMO continued to expand our U.S. presence – and the strength of our offering – through a series of acquisitions, growing to serve nearly 1.3 million customers in the U.S.

1873: Chicago

By 1873, Bank of Montreal was far and away the wealthiest banking institution in Chicago. When a fierce financial panic swept the city, it was one of three banks that continued to dispense currency. Its size and strength repeatedly provided stability in volatile circumstances, so much so that when legislators wanted to regulate foreign banking business, Clearing House president James Forgan argued on the Bank’s behalf, citing its “vital part in building up the industry of the city.” BMO stayed and successfully weathered more financial storms.

First U.S. ad

Bank of Montreal published its first advertisement in the Chicago Tribune on March 2, 1862, announcing the general services of its new Chicago location.

Harris took a major step in its aggressive Chicagoland expansion through a 1994 merger with Suburban Bancorp, doubling its community banks to 25 and increasing its locations from 42 to 72. In 1996, Harris Bank acquired all 54 branches of Household Bank in Chicago. Harris had 142 locations, making it one of the largest retail banking networks in the Chicago region.


Growing internationally

27 Lombard St., the location of the bank’s London Branch from 1870-1887, circa 1900.

The first Canadian bank to open an international branch

Bank of Montreal was the principal agent for servicing Canada’s rapidly expanding foreign trade. That led to a decision to open an agency in London, England in 1870. The office at 27 Lombard – a street that had been synonymous with finance since the 13th century – was a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange and the Mansion House.

A bank report set forth the three purposes of the new office: 1) provide for the transfer of the bank’s stock and payment of dividends in England; 2) develop and facilitate the foreign business of the bank, and the British and foreign trade of the Dominion; and 3) provide safe employment for “surplus funds” of the bank.

Get a bird’s eye view of where in the world BMO operates.

BMO has been building relationships in China almost as long as we’ve been in business.

Just three months after the bank’s opening, we undertook our first foreign exchange transaction in support of trade with China in 1818. A bank vice-president took the silver coins himself, via stagecoach, from Montreal to Boston.


In 1929, an emissary of the Bank of Montreal travelled to Shanghai to explore establishing operations there, but the onset of the Great Depression put the dream on hold.

1962: Japan

Bank of Montreal became the First Canadian bank to open an office in Japan, in 1962.

In 1963, Bank of Montreal established a full correspondent banking relationship with the Head Office of the Bank of China, seven years before diplomatic relations were formally established between our two countries.

Matthew Barrett and former Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau at the BMO board meeting in Beijing.

BMO was the first Canadian bank to receive a license for a full-service branch in Beijing, in 1996. That came a year after we established a branch in Guangzhou. There are now BMO branches in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Today, BMO has a presence in London, England; Dublin, Ireland; Lugano and Zurich, Switzerland; Munich, Germany; Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong SAR, Shanghai, Taipei, China; Singapore; Mumbai, India; Mexico City, Mexico; Bridgetown, Barbados; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Melbourne, Australia.

Around the world in pictures

View historical images of BMO’s international operations.

Ledger of Foreign Agents

Shortly after opening for business in 1817 Bank of Montreal began dispatching agents to set up operations in key financial centres in the U.S. and Europe. Establishing networks of finance and capital in the North Atlantic world was vital to our early success. Much of this is captured in the Foreign Agents Ledger, 14th July 1885 to 30th April 1901, Bank of Montreal Head Office, No. 10., which records transactions between Bank of Montreal and its agencies and foreign banks.

2010: BMO ChinaCo.

Bank of Montreal took a major step forward in its international operations in 2010 by becoming the first Canadian bank to incorporate in China, under the name BMO ChinaCo.

We like the way you think

In 1868, Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust (F&C) was established on the principle that investors of moderate means should have equal access to the stock market. The London-based firm became the world’s first investment trust. F&C’s conviction for working in the best interest of their clients was just one of the values that made them a good fit for the BMO family. In 2014, BMO acquired the firm as part of a strategy to expand BMO Global Asset Management in Europe. At the time, F&C had 658 employees and £82 billion of assets under management. It was the second-largest acquisition in BMO history.



A bank of our own

Less than two years after opening in rented rooms on St. Paul Street in 1817, the Montreal Bank moved to newly constructed quarters on St. Jacques Street. This sturdy stone building was the first in Canada to be designed specifically as a bank.

Commissioned in early 1818, the building was ready a little over a year later, to the delight of the staff of eight and the 13 directors who had eagerly anticipated the more spacious headquarters. This was to be the bank’s home for the next 30 years, until a larger domed building – still in use – was built next door.

The “Fathers of Confederation” on the stairs of the legislature in Charlottetown, September 1864.

1867 marked the year Canada came into existence, and Bank of Montreal turned 50. With Confederation, the new country and Canada’s first bank entered into a new relationship. Since 1864, Bank of Montreal had served as fiscal agent for the Province of Canada.  Now, the country’s first Minister of Finance, Alexander Galt, called on us to become the banker for the new federal government.

Wisconsin’s First Chartered Bank

Banking in Wisconsin was legalized by the state in 1852, and Marshall & Ilsley’s State Bank of Madison was granted the state’s first charter under the banking act on January 1, 1853. The partners sold their stake in the Madison bank in 1895.

On November 10, 1917, “The Standard,” a Montreal newspaper published a feature in its “Illustrated Section” to commemorate Bank of Montreal’s 100th anniversary.

1927: Vincent Meredith celebrates 60 years

In 1927, Sir Vincent Meredith, Chairman of the Board, celebrated 60 years with Bank of Montreal.


The Last Note

The Bank of Canada, established in 1934, gradually assumed the exclusive right to issue currency, which meant that Bank of Montreal bank notes were to be phased out. In 1942, 125 years after issuing its first bank note, Bank of Montreal issued its last, a $5 note.

$1 Billion

In 1939, Bank of Montreal’s total assets exceeded $1 billion for the first time. It took 122 years of operations to reach that milestone. But growth had become much faster; In just 10 more years, we would add a second billion in assets, reach $3 billion nine years after that, and $4 billion four years later.

715 employees, bank executives and board members share a special dinner at the Palmer House in Chicago to celebrate Harris’s 60th anniversary.

1942: Harris’s 60th anniversary

In 1942, 715 employees, bank executives and board members shared a special dinner at the Palmer House in Chicago to celebrate Harris’s 60th anniversary.

1946: 1 million customers

Bank of Montreal introduced the “My Bank” logo at the end of World War II. Throughout the war years, the number of bank customers had steadily increased. By 1946, the bank was indeed “My Bank” to 1 million Canadians, at a time when the country’s population stood at just over 12 million.

1957: Jackson’s Jubilee

In 1957, Harris employees performed in a musical, Jackson’s Jubilee, to mark the bank’s 75th anniversary. It told the story of Oliver B. Jackson, “a venerable employee” of the fictional Two Bit Trust Company in Chicago.

1967: BMO’s 150th

In Canada’s centennial year, 1967, we marked our own special anniversary – our 150th. The event was noted with the publication of a two-volume history of the bank, a year of celebrations, and the introduction of a new logo – the “M-bar.”

In this milestone year, the bank had assets exceeding $6 billion, over 17,000 employees, and 1,033 offices stretching across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Continental Europe, Mexico and Japan.

1983: First AGM outside of Montreal

In 1983, almost 100 years after Bank of Montreal established its first branch in Calgary, the bank held its annual general meeting there– the first time it had been held outside Montreal, and the first time any major bank had held its AGM in Western Canada.

Covers of Whom Fortune Favours volumes 1 & 2

The definitive history of one of North America's most enduring banks, Whom Fortune Favours: The Bank of Montreal and the Rise of North American Finance, Volume 1 & 2, by Laurence B. Mussio.

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

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.


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