Description of Historic Place
The Bank of British North America, constructed in 1903-04, is a three-storey steel frame, brick and sandstone structure with a one-storey 1914 addition located in Winnipeg's historic downtown Exchange District. The City of Winnipeg designation applies to the building on its footprint and the following interior elements: original fabric of the main floor, including entrance lobby, fanlights and staircase, and original plaster ceilings on the upper floors.
The Bank of British North America is one of the oldest monumental financial buildings on Bankers' Row, now an important part of the Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada and once the centre from which much of the capital for prairie development flowed. To outshine the bank's nearby competitors, architect A.T. Taylor of Montreal gave the building a grand Neo-Palladian sandstone front, complete with an Ionic colonnade and, for Winnipeg, a rare vermiculated base. Marble, fine woods and other rich materials and finishes were used to craft an equally exquisite interior and the whole was strongly supported by structural steel in an early local application of the construction type. The impressive, highly visible edifice, long occupied by the Royal Trust Co., then by lawyers Newman, MacLean and Associates, retains considerable exterior design integrity while continuing in contemporary commercial use.
Source: City of Winnipeg Committee on Planning and Community Services Minutes, September 2, 1997
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Bank of British North America site include:
- the location on the west side of Main Street between Portage and McDermot avenues, with visual and historical connections to other financial facilities nearby, including the banks of Commerce and Hamilton immediately opposite
- the building's placement on the site, abutting the public sidewalk
Key elements that define the bank's fine Neo-Palladian architecture include:
- the elongated three- and one-storey rectangular massing, with the main (east) facade of vermiculated and ashlar sandstone, the other elevations of solid brick and a flat roof, all around a structural steel frame
- the grand temple-like formality of the main facade, including a two-storey colonnade of smooth Ionic columns ascending to an elegantly appointed pediment, a balustraded parapet with urns, a corner entrance portico with smooth Doric columns and a pediment, etc.
- the windows, including, at the front, three large round-arched openings with fanlights and vermiculated voussoirs, architrave-framed apertures on the upper levels (tall and rectangular on the second storey; small and square on the third), etc.
- the judiciously applied classical ornament, including engaged Ionic pilasters, the modillioned cornice and pediments, an elaborate upper cartouche, egg-and-dart mouldings, triglyphs, etc.
- the corporate symbols, including the carved stone Bank of British North America crest in the second-floor balustrade and 'THE ROYAL TRUST COMPANY' inscribed in the upper entablature
- additional details such as the rough-cut stone base, recessed wooden main doors topped by a fanlight, a flagpole, etc.
Key elements that define the bank's interior layout and exquisite finishes and details include:
- the formal plan and entrance vestibule with a boxed ceiling and intricately patterned mosaic tile floor
- the lobby, including the grand marble-treaded return staircase with ornamental cast-iron and wood balustrades, the expressive mosaic tile floor, etc.
- the opulent banking hall with Corinthian columns atop marble plinths, a high and deep coffered ceiling with intricate plaster panels, a mezzanine accessed by a detailed curved staircase, marble flooring and panelling, etc.
- the details, including decorative plaster ceilings and oak, maple or marble trim throughout, vaults, decorative fireplaces, pedimented doorways of ornamented wood or plaster, pilasters, dentilled banding, etc.