"In Praise of Older Buildings"
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Last Banker Standing
Last summer, on an urban break from a week of camping at Rideau River PP, we cycled the 30-some kilometers of the Ottawa River Pathway from Britannia Beach into downtown, and walked our bikes directly to an outdoor patio on Sparks Street for lunch and libation. It felt so peculiar ride-walking my bike across the street from the Parliament Buildings that I vowed to return the next day, park my car, and continue with the close-up look at the Welly buildings, for which the bike ride had whetted my appetite.
I'll keep my back turned on the governmental Gothic, and admire with you some of the fine buildings along the south side of the street. This stretch of Wellington Street was once known as Banker's Row.
This great/after photo on the Ottawa Past and Present site tells the story of Banker's Row. At the peak of its importance, this stretch housed seven banks: the Bank of Ottawa, the Quebec Bank, the Union Bank, the Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Banque Nationale and the Bank of Montreal. Only one stands, although there is a newer (1932/4) Bank of Montreal still extant.
Today the sole survivor of the original Banker's Row (from a time when tenements and parapet wall stone commercial buildings also still stood along Wellington) is the Union Bank Building (1887/8.) Typical of its time, it included a residence for the manager and his family. The building came close to demolition by the Americans in 1962, when their Embassy wanted the space. They got to use the building for storage, instead. It's now owned by the Federal government, as are many of the former commercial buildings in the blocks adjacent to Parliament Hill.
Here's the Historic Places listing for the Union Bank Building. It's built of yellow sandstone from New Brunswick and boasts Romanesque Revival rounded arches, and some nice sculpture here and there. On the upper two storeys the facade is distinguished by "robust sculptural decoration"... and a "turreted roofline with central pediment."
To give you a sense of scale, and an insight in to what constitued an impressive bank in 1872, here's a Streetview look at how the early building measures up today. Miraculous that it still stands, plucky little thing.