The Corporate Archives curates physical and digital exhibits from our collections to tell BMO’s story over the years. Our aim is to provide a better understanding of the defining moments in our history.

The development of Canada

One of the key reasons for the nine founders coming together to establish the Bank of Montreal was the need to create one of North America’s first banks to encourage the growth of what would become Canada. Since its earliest days, Bank of Montreal has advocated and backed important projects that led to the expansion and development of North America. Whether it was through the funding of public works or putting in place the foundations of Canada’s financial system, BMO has banked on progress. We know that our progress as an organization powers our ability to support the progress of our customers, communities, and country. This exhibit explores BMO’s contributions to Canada.

1817 – A first

On November 3, 1817, Bank of Montreal opened its doors as the first bank in Lower Canada.

Image: BMO’s first advertisement announcing opening, 1817.

Setting the foundation of Canada’s banking system

The bank’s Articles of Association, agreed to by its founders, are its Magna Carta. There were 25 articles in all, setting out the rules, regulations, and conditions of the banking business, the capital stock of the bank, the number of directors, director eligibility, and other conditions “for the good management of the affairs of the said Association or Company.” The signatories to these original Articles of Association could scarcely have imagined how their actions in 1817 would influence the entire course of the Canadian financial system as other institutions modeled themselves on this approach.

Image: Articles of Association, 1817.

Canada’s first uniform currency

The first banknote issued by the Montreal Bank, signed by cashier Robert Griffin and bank president John Gray, features the port of Montreal. Before Montreal Bank came on the scene in 1817 to issue Canada’s first banknotes, the colony had no currency of its own, and cash was chronically in short supply. Most transactions in the domestic market were conducted under a system of barter. Merchants made do with a diverse mix of currencies that included shillings, francs, British Army notes, American dollars, Hudson’s Bay tokens, and pesos.

Image: Bank of Montreal, Montreal, $20 note, October 10, 1817.

1818 – Stepping stones for a branch network

Within several months of opening, 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. This laid the foundation for branch banking in Canada. The bank also opened its first agency in New York, an early recognition of the strong financial ties between the two neighbours.

Image: Drawing of Quebec Main Office, 1820.

1825 – Lachine Canal – BMO’s and Canada’s first mega project

The Bank of Montreal provided key financing for the building of the long-awaited Lachine Canal project, demonstrating the importance of public and private partnership in bringing about large projects of this kind.

The canal was originally built 13.6 kilometres long, 8.5 metres wide at the bottom, and 14.6 m at the surface. It had seven locks of cut stone, each 30 m long, 6 m wide, and with a 1.5-m depth of water. The Lachine Canal was opened in August 1824 and received its first vessels in 1825.

Image: Lachine Canal entry in Bytown (Ottawa) Ledger Book, 1825.

1831 – Canada’s first railway

It was only 25 kilometres long, but the country’s first railway became part of an important route between Montreal and New York – and a natural project for Bank of Montreal to support.

Image: “Canada’s First Railway”, painting, Alex Taylor, 1966.

1831-1890 Growth of BMO – Growing with Canada

BMO expanded its branch network across Canada, in part, by acquiring and merging with smaller regional banks. Sometimes, the motivation was to enter a new market, promote greater competition by providing innovative products and services to customers.

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.

Image: Photograph of Molson’s Bank Bedford Branch, Quebec, c. 1922.

Bank of Montreal’s first bank acquisition was the Montreal-based Bank of Canada (a private bank) in 1831.

Image: Bank of Canada, Montreal, $1 note, January 1, 1822.

The purchase of the Bank of the People in 1838 enabled the bank to expand into what is now southern Ontario.

Image: Bank of the People, Toronto, $8 note, 1840.

1848 – Shares

Shares in Bank of Montreal were among the first to be issued in Canada and played an important role in the nation’s emerging economy. Along with other bank and financial stocks, they helped to create an early securities market in Canada and a more sophisticated financial system of trade and exchange. The development of the Montreal and Toronto Stock Exchanges was the result.

Image: Certificate of stock, 1848.

1864 – Appointed fiscal agent of Canada

On January 1, 1864, the finances of the Government of the Province of Canada would be transferred to the Bank of Montreal. The bank’s capital and resources were critical to the operations of the colonial government in the run-up to Confederation in 1867. The Bank acted as financial agent of the Dominion in London, England, 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 many 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.

Image: Snippet of BMO’s Annual Report announcing the transfer of accounts, 1864.

1867 – 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 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.

Image: “The Bank of British North America, St. John’s Newfoundland – Erected 1849,” lithograph, W. Spreat, c. 1897.

1877 – Expanding west. First stop, Winnipeg

When the first Canadian Pacific train reached Winnipeg in 1880 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. Just 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

Image: Photograph of Winnipeg Main Branch, c. 1923.

1883 – Opening the West – Saskatchewan

The Regina branch opened in 1883. Housed in a two-storey frame building on the northwest corner of Victoria Avenue and Lorne Street, the branch became locally known as “The Little Bank of the Moose Mountain Trail.”

Image: Photograph of the second location of the Regina Branch, 1897.

1886 – Opening the West – Alberta

In 1886, the bank opened a branch in Calgary in a rented frame store on Eighth Avenue.

Image: Letter describing the state of the just-opened Calgary Branch, October 26, 1886.

1887 – Opening the West – British Columbia

The first branch west of the Rockies (Vancouver, 1887) completed our coast-to-coast network.

Image: Photograph of Vancouver Branch, 1900.

1960s – Churchill Falls

Bank of Montreal took the lead in financing massive hydroelectric projects, such as Churchill Falls in the late 1960s and La Grande at James Bay in the late 1970s. At the time, these projects involved the largest credit facilities ever offered to any company, public or private, in the world.

Image: Photograph from the groundbreaking of Churchill Falls, 1967.

2016 – See how far we’ve 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 million. That amounts to 360 times growth. Meanwhile, Canada’s population had grown by only 10 times.

Image: Infographic Growth in BMO Deposits, 1827 – 2016.