Imagine starting a bank 200 years ago

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Postcard depicting St. James Street and the Bank of Montreal, 1830.

When nine Montreal merchants pooled their financial resources to create a bank in 1817, Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) were still British colonies. Montreal, the country’s centre of commerce, had a population of less than 20,000. This was half a century before the Confederation of Canada.

There were no trains. People travelled on foot, on horseback, or by horse and carriage. The journey by stagecoach or sleigh between Montreal and Quebec took three days, while travel between Montreal and Kingston required a week or more.

There was no telegraph or other means for communicating over distances. (The telephone wouldn’t be invented for another 60 years.) Montreal had no electricity, no street lighting and no police force.

Despite these obstacles – and many more – the Montreal Bank set up shop in Montreal, and within less than a year opened agencies (branches) in Quebec, Kingston and York (now Toronto). It was a remarkable accomplishment.


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