MORE THAN A CENTURY OF SERVICE: THE FRONTIER HERITAGE OF THE UNION AND ROYAL BANK
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Embedded in local frontier development and launched on a dusty street corner several generations ago, the banking business has served the community uninterrupted, though its original financial institution has evolved through a series of ownership changes.
The chronicles of Pincher Creek’s fledgling banking industry dates back to 1889, little more than a decade after this settlement was established by the North West Mounted Police. After selling his shares of the Schofeld & Hyde general store (est. 1883) to the Hudson’s Bay Company, merchant Henry Hyde (1860 – 1933), started offering private banking services to the business people, ranchers and settlers streaming into this western enclave, out of a converted log cabin stable at the corner of Main Street and East Avenue location,
Hyde eventually replaced the cabin with a wood-frame structure on the same location. On September 18, 1899, the Quebec City-based Union Bank of Canada stepped in to purchase the booming business and appointed Hyde to continue as its first Manager.
In 1906, Hyde’s building was replaced by a more permanent two-storey sandstone building rose from the pioneer origins of the bank. More on this building later in this article.
. Along with other discarded original Main Street buildings, the Hyde/Union Bank sat on the Lunn property on the north hill–repurposed as farm buildings. Those buildings were moved yet again–to Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village–transformed to replicate their original settings. The Union Bank serves the museum to display the ample laundry equipment collection.
The Quebec City-based Union Bank of Canada. Established in 1865 in Quebec, its head office moved west to Winnipeg in 1912 to reflect its growing activities in western Canada. By 1919, its national assets were assessed at 143 million dollars.
On September 1st, 1925 the Union Bank faced nationwide financial constraints amid the drought of the 1920s, and was absorbed by the Royal Bank of Canada, resulting in the Pincher Creek branch being again wrapped in new corporate colours. Originally known as the Merchants’ Bank of Halifax, which was chartered in 1869, the financial giant changed its name to the Royal Bank of Canada thirty-two years later in 1901. The growing Royal also over the Traders Bank of Canada in 1912 and the Northern Crown Bank in 1918.
Banking services reflected the pioneer times of Pincher Creek’s early history. By its late 1800s establishment the settlement of Pincher Creek already was a bustling commercial centre serving the local ranching industry and just the previous year, 1898, it became more accessible to the outside world with the near arrival of the Crowsnest Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Pincher Creek’s booming business district already boosted two department stores, two hotels, a drug store, hardware store, and a series of livery stables and blacksmith shops. The community’s population was nearing three hundred consumers and the rural areas regularly, if infrequently, utilized Pincher Creek as their primary place of business. Hyde quickly realized the commercial opportunity of establishing a private bank in the heart of these entrepreneurial activities.
Local services under the three sets of ownership promoted the community, its agricultural base, and the concept of thrift. February 1918 services offered by the Union Bank’s local branch encouraged customers to “bank by mail and save long distance drives”. Rural patrons could mail in cheques or cash and have these deposited directly to their accounts. Chequeing accounts were available, from which account holders could pay their bills or write cheques in their own favour if they wished cash withdrawals.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s the economic value of savings accounts was encouraged. The logic presented was that “the pioneer knew thrift as a stern necessity . . . His example is one to be followed today [in the 1930s]. Regular deposits in a Savings Account are the sure road to financial independence and security.” With either type of account, the bank offered customers Passbooks where all the transactions were diligently recorded. Advertising itself as “the pioneer bank of western Canada”, the Union Bank promoted agricultural development as the First World War came to a close. It was “prepared to make loans to good farmers on reasonable terms to purchase cattle for feeding or breeding purposes.” The bank asserted that it was “in the best interests of farmers to increase their herds.”
PIONEER MARKETING ENHANCED TRADE
Local marketing appeared to work in the branch’s favour over the years. The Union Bank launched a series of display advertisements in the Pincher Creek Echo in the 1910s, a tradition that was continued by its successor the Royal Bank as recent as 1934. A promotional photograph of its majestic old sandstone structure was published in the Thursday, February 22nd, 1912 edition of the Echo under the headline of “Our Substantial Business Blocks”, an attempt to encourage not only bank patronage but to bring home to locals that Pincher Creek had a thriving business core.
Such efforts certainly had the desired trade impact. Business was brisk enough to keep the local branch in operation, even during the tough times of the 1930s. Patrons who banked at the Union Bank during those early days included the South Alberta Hay Growers Limited during the early 1920s and the old Municipal District of Castle River, representing rural ratepayers west of town, from 1921 to 1928. Under the Royal Bank a couple of the former community groups banking there were the Excelsior Mutual Telephone Company and the West Wind local of the Women of Unifarm. During the 1968 opening of the branch’s newest facility, a long-term client of the bank, Fishburn District native Walter Marcellus, was publicly recognized for his continuous business. His first account was opened in 1901.
MAJESTIC SANDSTONE LANDMARK
For over sixty years the Union and Royal Bank stood in a sandstone structure strategically placed at the southwest corner of Main Street and East Avenue. With the three-storey Lebel Store at the opposite Main Street corner, these two non-wooden buildings acted as impressive entrepreneurial anchors so critical during those boosterism days in a Prairie Canadian frontier settlement. Local business leaders believed that such buildings created a sense of permanence and prosperity for their communities.
The bank’s sandstone building was the second of three facilities to house its Pincher Creek business operations. All three were located on the same property, ideally suited near the centre of the village and just across the street from Henry Hyde’s original general store. For his independent bank Hyde chose a former livery stable of log construction. Built in 1885 by the Connelly family and subsequently used by Charles Beebe, it had a commercial connection with the Alberta Hotel just down the street. This was the building in use when acquired by the Union Bank.
Although this rustic structure served its purpose well, the nature and volume of the banking transactions meant that its days were numbered. Bank officials asserted that a more substantial entity was required in a community literally bursting at the seams during those pre-First World War years. Construction started in December 1906 and completed in March 1907 utilized stone quarried at Harrad’s Quarry, located along the Pincher Creek at a point a mile upstream from its confluence with the Oldman River. The quarry was only partially visible behind the Pincher Creek C.P.R. trestle constructed during the high winds of the winter of 1897-98. The stones once cut were transported by rail to Pincher City and then labouriously freighted overland the two miles into Pincher Creek itself.
A massive stone structure whose Main Street frontage measured twenty-five feet and its East Avenue depth spanned forty-two, was painstakingly constructed. An arched doorway and two arched windows faced out from the front while a side arched door and four arched windows were featured on the east wall. Upstairs, an array of four vertical windows looked down from the north complimented by five on the east counterpart. Stone cornices prominently flanked the building’s roofline. The business’s name, “Union Bank of Canada”, was proudly exhibited just below those architectural features. This visually stunning building was constructed under the supervision of local stonemason George Lainchbury Dore (1876 – 1971), who was responsible for the Lebel Store and the brick Town Hall built, at the eve of the First World War.
Two sandstone additions were added to the building over the next four decades, the first to the rear or south side when the Royal Bank took over in 1925, and the second on the west side in 1948. The expansions were required for the increased patronage which the bank enjoyed over the years. On the main floor was housed the bank’s business operations, including a manager’s office, grated teller space and a massive vault. Pioneer furnishings included a light green banker’s desk and metal stenciling machine manufactured in Montreal, both of which are on exhibit at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. Upstairs accommodations for the manager and staff featured four private rooms and bathroom.
The stately stone building served the Union and Royal Bank well over the years but a move to provide a modern building with a state-of-the-art vault, security and night deposit system was launched in December 1967. To the new one-storey brown brick 3000 square foot building, costing 150,000 dollars to build and furnish, was added a lower level where the new vault was housed. Lethbridge contractor Kenwood Construction Limited handled the bank’s building. It was officially opened with a well-attended public ceremony on Saturday, June 22nd, 1968. In recognition of Walter Marcellus’ long time business with the local branch, he presided over the official ribbon cutting. Aware of the history represented in the old structure, the Bank kindly allowed for a temporary museum exhibit to be mounted there when its financial operations were moved to short term accommodations down the street and before actual demolition began. It is said that process “took two weeks, five days of which were needed to tear down the old vault.”
MANAGERS AND STAFF
Numerous pioneers were connected with the management and staffing of the bank’s Pincher Creek branch since its 1899 inauguration. The Managers during its Union Bank days were Henry Hyde, who continued till September 1907, and G. J. Hunter, who served 1907 to 1910. Winfred E. Embury was the Manager for the three year period 1910 – 1913. His first year’s salary in that position was pegged at 1800 dollars. Embury was born in March, 1878 in Ontario. His wife Edna B., who also came from Ontario, was more than eight years his junior, her birth taking place in December 1886. The couple had one daughter Dorothy W., born here in Alberta in February 1908. With them also resided Winfred’s mother Fannie R. Embury, who was born in pre-Confederation Ontario in August 1847.
Embury was followed by A. F. S. Tatum 1913 – 1916; S. E. Rae September 1916 – April 1917; J. F. Miller 1917 to 1920; T. W. Cuncannon April – October 1920; and Mr. R. H. Parsons, whose appointment took effect that autumn.
With the Royal Bank takeover in September 1925, Parsons continued on as the Pincher Creek Manager until January 1926, ensuring for a smooth transition. His successors were W. R. McKay 1926 – 1930; A. E. Ryan, who had a fifteen year tenure from 1930 to 1945; F. Dunlop 1945 – 1954 and A. E. Emes 1954 to 1967. L. H. McDonald, who hailed from Foremost, Alberta, took over in November 1967 and oversaw the move into the new building. He served until December 1971. His successors were Leon Martin from January 1972 to December 1983; Ed Akerstrom January 1984 to December 1988; Bill Stitt December 1988 to January 1995; Francis Kinderwater January 1995 to October 2000; Lori (Lorraine) Robertson October 2000 to June 2008; James Foran July 2008 to December 2010; and Anna Plowright since January 2011.
Other staff included accountants and tellers. E. Macey Pink worked at the Bank in 1904 – 05. Later, he moved to Pembroke, Ontario where he became the community’s Manager of the Canadian Warren-Pink Limited. He passed away during the later summer of 1933.
An early accountant was Arthur B. King who served in that position from 1909 to 1911. Born in Ontario in May 1887, he was of English ancestry and associated with the Presbyterian Church. His full-time employment in 1910 earned him 800 dollars in salary. In November, 1911 he was promoted to Manager of the Gassy Lake Branch of the Union Bank, and was succeeded in his Pincher Creek position by H. S. Waugh, who had previously served in the Bank’s Okotoks branch. Over half a century later King was a crowd-pleaser when he showed up at the official opening of the Royal Bank’s brick building, speaking of the many techniques of pioneer banking and recalling many of those local residents who patronized the branch during his tenure. King lived in retirement in Victoria, B.C.
One of King’s Pincher Creek colleagues was Harry W. Fuller, born in England in May 1885. He immigrated to Canada in 1900 and worshiped with the Church of England. Serving as the bank’s Ledger Keeper, his full-time employment awarded him an annual salary of 600 dollars. Joining these two bank employees was Ryan Lamont, born in September 1890, also in England. Immigrating to Canada one year later than Fuller, he worked as the branch’s Junior. Salary earnings for Lamont in 1910 totaled 525 dollars.
A subsequent accountant was Mr. J. G. Stone, who was with the Pincher Creek Royal Bank for the eleven years from 1925 till his resignation in July 1936. His departure was due his appointment as Agent of the British North American Oil Co. in Macleod. Stone had a wife and a son Harry, and the departure of the family was keenly regretted in Pincher Creek as they were well liked here.
Though the majestic stone Union Bank building is gone, today, the Royal Bank still operates at the same location, where Henry Hyde started in 1889.