It's in the bank - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Many are familiar with the Bank of Montreal, Toronto Dominion Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia, but who has heard of the Bank of Hamilton or other local banks with names like Standard, Consolidated, Exchange, Metropolitan and Sovereign?
The earliest mention of banking in this part of the province comes from William Tiger Dunlop in his Statistical Sketches of Upper Canada for the Benefit of Emigrants. This booklet was penned in 1832 to ease the transition from the old country to backwoods life. He advised travelers against carrying sums of money for the journey to Canada but, rather, to deposit their funds with T. Wilson and Company in London, England, agent for the Bank of Upper Canada.
The Bank of Upper Canada was a controversial entity, as it was run mainly by members of the government. Reformers such as William Lyon Mackenzie questioned the monopoly the bank held, as well as whether the bank had sufficient funds to cover all the bank notes it issued. The monopoly ended in 1841 and, by 1866, the Bank of Upper Canada closed, causing shareholders to lose their investments.
Canada’s first bank was the Bank of Montreal, which was established in 1817. By 1891, there were 39 chartered banks in Canada. Chartered denotes that these institutions were sanctioned by the provinces of Ontario before 1867 and then by the federal government after Confederation.
The Bank of Hamilton opened its doors in Blyth in 1899, 27 years after it came into existence. Another bank in Blyth was the Metropolitan, which later amalgamated with the Bank of Nova Scotia. At the turn of the 20th century, Brussels was serviced by the Standard (later the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), the Metropolitan and Sovereign Banks.
In 1895, the Brussels Post made note of the Brussels Post Office Savings Bank, which took deposits of $1 to $1,000 and allowed interest of 5.25 per cent.
Walton hosted the Sovereign Bank from 1906 until 1918.
Other area banks were the Sterling Bank in Dungannon and in Clinton. Clinton also had a Molson’s Bank. In Auburn, the Sterling Bank operated as a subsidiary of the same bank in Goderich for a while. In 1925, the Standard and Sterling Banks merged. By 1928, the Bank of Commerce took over and, in 1961, the Bank of Commerce merged with the Imperial Bank of Canada to become the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). This bank in Auburn had living quarters on the upper floor and, in 1980, this fact was the undoing of a trio of masked thieves who mistakenly tried to enter the apartment thinking they were accessing the back door of the bank. The CIBC closed its doors in Auburn in 1985.
Early banks issued their own “bank notes” with a promise that metallic money and likely gold was held by the bank to guarantee the worth of these bank notes. In those unregulated times, that premise was not always the case.
Trouble often occurred in area banks. The Consolidated Bank suspended its activities in 1879 when local merchants became so careful that they looked upon all bank notes with suspicion. The Huron Expositor reported in 1879 that “the bills of the Exchange Bank have already been refused – before long possibly only gold will pass as currency”.
In addition to the chartered banks located in the area, there were also several private banks such as those run by Lucas, Tanner and Company (est. 1888) in Blyth, J.M. Roberts in Dungannon, McTaggert Bros. and J.P. Tindall in Clinton, Thos. Holmes and Sons and Robert McIndoo in Wingham and Gilles and Smith in Brussels. In 1893, the latter bank promised “general banking, business transactions, farmers’ notes, discounted drafts bought and sold on all points in Canada, the U.S.A. and Great Britain”.
Also, the private bank of James McMurchie operated in Blyth. In 1908, this business was the target of thieves who used explosive charges to break into the safe. In subsequent months a vault was added to the business. Deposits in private banks were not secured. In January of 1895, the Clinton News-Record reported “owing to a wild rumour, a run was made on the Lucas, Tanner and Company bank by depositors….we understand that sufficient securities are in possession of the bank to meet all liabilities”
Apparently this wasn’t the case, as in April of the same year, the same paper further reported that “the expert who has been examining the books of the defunct bank of Lucas, Tanner and Co. has returned to Toronto”.
A run on a bank means that depositors, in fear of losing their money, rush to the bank to get their money out before all assets are gone.
Perhaps some remnants of long-forgotten area banks remain in the hands of local residents. If so, an investigation of the values of bank notes may be in order. A recent survey of paper currency offerings on eBay included a Bank of Hamilton uncirculated $100 bill valued at $2,500 and a 1919 Standard Bank of Canada $5 bill valued at over $1,200.
Despite all the local financial activity throughout the years, in 2021 the only communities still retaining banks are Wingham, Clinton, Seaforth and Brussels.
Information gleaned from Morris Township, Past to Present by Jeanne Kirkby and the files of the Blyth Repository of History.