Description of Historic Place
The Bank of Montreal is a two-storey brick commercial building. Built in 1894 on the southwest corner of Barnard Avenue and 32nd Street as Vernon’s first standalone Bank of Montreal, the building was moved in 1909 to its present location one lot to the south. Faced with brick from the Vernon brickworks, the building is a restrained example of Queen Anne Revival commercial architecture. The cutaway corner entrance comprises a brick archway and this motif is repeated in the upper and lower windows.
Designed by the prominent architect Robert Mackay Fripp, the Bank of Montreal is valued as an early and important commercial building in Vernon and one of the earliest brick commercial buildings in the interior of British Columbia. This building, faced with local pressed brick, includes many fine architectural details, including the arched windows, decorative corbelling and a stringcourse above the second-storey windows, and a prominent cutaway entrance, which would have emphasized its original corner location. In 1909, contractor T.E. Crowell moved the building on log rollers to its present location, and the building was expanded. The decorative quoins around the entrance and windows are additions that are more recent. When the building was moved, it was divided into various businesses, the most notable of which was the Vernon News.
Robert Fripp was an English architect who worked in New Zealand, Vancouver and Los Angeles. He completed several important commissions in Vernon in the 1890s, including the Spinks/Ellison House and the Kalamalka Hotel. Fripp’s architecture is a rare reminder that Vernon was founded in the Victorian era. The Italianate architecture of this building was superseded within a decade by buildings in the Baroque, Georgian and Beaux Arts styles, featuring the temple bank motif. In 1910, a new Bank of Montreal was constructed on the site of the original building. It was a symmetrical structure on a cubic plan, with dressed stone trim.
The Bank of Montreal is significant as a symbol of the growing prosperity of Vernon in the 1890s, and its place as the financial centre of the Okanagan Valley. The Bank of Montreal was closely associated with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and its subsidiary land and transportation companies. The bank provided loans to the land development companies in the Okanagan Valley and to emerging commercial enterprises. The arrival of the Bank in November 1892 (temporarily renting space in the Schubert Block while the new structure was commissioned), along with the railway, marked the transition of the Okanagan from ranching to intensive agriculture, townsite settlement, and supporting infrastructure, such as irrigation systems, packing houses, and transportation. At the time of construction, the bank served all of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Grand Forks electoral districts, an area from the CPR main line to the U.S. border. Prominent architect Samuel McClure designed a large house for bank manager G. E. Henderson. Henderson, who initially lived in staff quarters above the new bank, moved to the Bank House in 1910, where he remained until his retirement in 1923. Henderson took an active part in the business and social organization of the city, including the hospital board, of which he was President for sixteen years. However, his main role was to encourage the growth of the region, as summarized in a 1932 history of the Bank of Montreal: 'Everywhere as conditions have become ripe, the bank has planted its branches for facilitating the agricultural development of the country, its manufacturing industries, and its general commerce.'
The Okanagan Land and Development Company laid out the Vernon town-site in 1890. It advertised Vernon as the railway capital of the Interior, stating in a brochure: 'There is a great chance to make money as Vernon, being the centre of the most extensive agricultural district in the province, will undoubtedly become a large and flourishing city.' The Bank of Montreal had, however, been initially attracted to the area by the mining activity in the south Okanagan and the development of Fairview. It was felt a bank near the railhead would be a logical location to serve mining interests. The construction of the bank and the Kalamalka Hotel cemented the position of 30th Avenue as the main street of Vernon.
Source: City of Vernon Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Bank of Montreal include its:
- prominent location facing 32nd Street
- scale and massing of the building, as expressed by its two-storey height, symmetrical form in the Italianate Commercial style, cutaway corner entrance, and arched entrance and windows
- decorative brickwork, including corbelling and a stringcourse in the upper storey
- expansive cornice and horizontal banding above the first and second storeys, emphasizing the horizontality of the massing
- compatible additions in 1909
- use of local Vernon pressed brick