Moving money

1818: First foreign exchange transaction

Montreal Bank’s first foreign exchange transaction dates back to 1818, when some 130,000 Spanish silver dollars, in 65 kegs weighing 100 pounds each, were carried by stagecoach along primitive roads through New England’s mountains to reach Boston.

1920s: Armoured cars

Armoured cars began to be deployed in number by the 1920s and followed strict rules regarding construction. One such car – customized for the bank by Smith Brothers of Toronto – was described as “made entirely of Special Armoured Steel, walls to be 3/16 gauge, roof and floor to be 12 gauge… Frame-work of body to be constructed of angle iron and all parts well fitted and securely riveted. The body to have such portholes for shooting purpose and in position as requested by customer.”

 

Protecting sensitive information

From bank to “hall of Parliament”

What was once the safety deposit vault at the Bank of Montreal branch at Sparks and O’Connor streets in Ottawa is now a very secure meeting space for Members of Parliament. While the space has been renovated, and is now equipped with huge projectors, speakers and acoustic panels, the door to the vault was preserved as a reminder of the building’s past. It’s just one feature of a much larger renovation of the Sir John A. Macdonald building, dubbed the “third hall of Parliament.”

 

Fighting crime

Montreal police force, inaugurated in 1843.

Have bank, need policing

Four days after the Montreal Bank opened for business, its directors petitioned the governor of the city to place a sentinel at the bank for security. Montreal had no police force, but was garrisoned by British troops. The following year, the city made a provision “for the erection of street lamps, and also for night watches, consisting of twenty-four in number, their duties being to trim and attend the lamps, and also to act as police guardians.”

The rules surrounding the care, maintenance and use of revolvers were clearly and carefully laid down by the bank: always “fully loaded and readily accessible… properly oiled and otherwise kept in order… and out of sight of the general public.”

Reward posters

The circulation of wanted and reward posters was one of the most effective means of bringing criminals to justice in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Canada. Notices would be posted throughout the community where the forgeries, counterfeiting or robberies took place. Some posters were distributed by the police, while others were issued by Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency across their agencies. The Canadian Bankers Association played an important role by offering rewards leading to the capture of bank robbers. Between 1924 and 1950, it paid out a total of $253,203.

Bank of Montreal’s first robbery occurred in July 1819 – a shipment of $5 bank notes.

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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