Pragmatic visions

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

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Nine men signed the original Articles of Association establishing the Bank of Montreal. They represented not only Montreal’s elite but also young Canada’s most enterprising merchants and aspiring financiers. The project of a banking institution had been, in one way or another, a vision that extended back to the 1790s.

Of the nine who signed the Articles of Association, John Richardson was the obvious leader, deserving his title of “Father of Canadian Banking.” He came to America from Scotland in 1773 at age eighteen and worked for Phyn & Ellice at Schenectady, NY, before coming to Canada in 1787. He became a partner in both Forsyth, Richardson & Co., leading merchants, and the North West Co., rivals of the long-established Hudson’s Bay Company. He served two active terms representing Montreal in the legislature of Lower Canada and was appointed to the Executive Council and the Legislative Council.

Horatio Gates, born in Massachusetts in 1777, came to Canada in 1804, opened up the immense flour trade with the West, and was described as one of the most enterprising men of his time. No doubt he influenced a large number of his American friends and associates to purchase shares in this new financial institution. He served twice as president of the new Bank.

A key figure in the group was George Moffatt. After he arrived at age fourteen in Canada from England in 1801, he earned partnership in the noted firm of Gerard, Gillespie, Moffatt & Co., and eventually acquired controlling interest, becoming deeply involved in the fur trade. He served as an officer in the War of 1812, and in 1826, with his usual far-sightedness, Moffatt established a branch of his firm at York (now Toronto). He was also appointed Commissioner of the British American Land Company, developers in the Eastern Townships with headquarters in Sherbrooke. He served in both the Legislative Council and the Executive Council and represented Montreal in the Canadian Legislature. Moffatt was key in shaping the early character of the Bank in its first decade.

Robert Armour emigrated to Canada from Scotland around 1800. Owner of the premises occupied by the new Bank, he was also publisher of the Montreal Almanac and one of the proprietors of the Montreal Gazette. For a time he was cashier of the relatively short-lived Bank of Canada, taken over by Bank of Montreal in 1831.

George Garden was a prominent member of the leading merchants Auldjo, Maitland and Company. Active in St Gabriel’s Church, he was also a charter governor of the new Montreal General Hospital, opened in 1822 on Dorchester Street (now René Lévesque Boulevard) near Montreal’s business centre. This Scot filled the position of the vice-president of the Bank on two occasions.

Thomas A. Turner, of the wholesale firm Allison, Turner and Company, was the first vice-president of the Bank. He was born in Aberdeenshire in 1775. He played a role in the Bank’s first foreign exchange transaction, in early 1818, when some 130,000 Spanish silver dollars, in sixty-five kegs weighing one hundred pounds each, were carried by stagecoach along primitive roads through New England’s mountains to reach Boston. Americans in the New England states needed the Spanish silver for their trade with China and the East Indies.

Lieut. Col. James Leslie, another founder, was a merchant, retired army officer, and son of General James Wolfe’s assistant quarter-master-general at Quebec. Born at Kair, Kincardine, Scotland, in 1786, to minor nobility, he came to Montreal in 1808. He held a variety of legislative and executive positions in Canada for decades.

John Churchill Bush, a Montreal merchant born in the United States, also appears on the Bank’s Articles of Association, but he had little to do thereafter with the Bank’s activities.

Augustin Cuvillier played a key strategic role in the Bank’s founding. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly, a well-to-do importer, and the only native born Canadian amongst the distinguished group. One of the leading political and economic figures of his time, he provided vital legislative support for the Bank’s incorporation and charter. After the Union of the Canadas in 1841, Augustin Cuvillier became the first Speaker of the Assembly.

These nine early bankers were the founders of the Bank of Montreal.


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