Monday, 8 May 2017

Rivers, Manitoba B.C. Mills prefab Bank of Commerce building for sale

© 2017, Christian Cassidy
Rivers, Manitoba in 2015 and 1912

Last month, I wrote about the CIBC closing its branch in Elkhorn, Manitoba, leaving the future of ts original Bank of Commerce B. C. Mills "kit" bank building in doubt. This month, the similar building located on Main Street in Rivers, Manitoba has been put up for sale, though it hasn't been a bank in many decades.

June 22 1905, Winnipeg Tribune

The Rivers building was erected in on Main Street at Second Avenue in 1910 by the Bank of Commerce. It is one of the original B.C. Mills, Timber and Trading Co. "kit buildings" that the bank commissioned for prairie towns between 1906 and 1910.

Prefabricated kit buildings were all the rage in the early part of the last century. As railway development pushed its way west, new villages were instantly created in its path or existing settlements had to quickly pick up and relocate to be near the tracks. 

For sparsely populated rural Manitoba it would have taken months to build from scratch all of the buildings needed to create a functioning village. That's where companies like Eaton's and B. C. Mills stepped in by offering prefabricated kits for a variety of structures, including barns, houses, schools, banks, and churches.

CIBC, then known as the Bank of Commerce, hired prominent Toronto architects Darling and Pearson to design three basic bank branch models for their exclusive use. The firm had designed many of the bank's landmark, big-city buildings across Canada, including their western headquarters in Winnipeg

These building were far more modest. One was for 1.5-storey cottage-style building with a porch. The other, far more widely used, were variations of a 2,800, two-storey building.  The plans were kept on file at B.C. Mills and the kits dispatched as needed on two rail cars. 

It is believed that about 70 of these kits were erected across the West between 1906 and 1912. (Histories of the BC Mills company suggest that they stopped building these prefab building s around 1910, though the Elkhorn branch was erected in 1912, so they may have kept some in inventory for the bank.)

Renovation photos ca. 2007

On the main floor, with its 12-foot tall ceilings, was the banking hall and manager's office plus a vault area at the rear. The upstairs was the apartment for the branch manager and his family. Each level had a fireplace.

The top photo above shows the removal of some of the unsympathetic renovations that had taken place over the years, including the installation of a dropped ceiling, the filling in of some windows and painting the fireplace.

Top: Elkhorn CIBC opened 1913. Source: Steel and Glass Roots
Bottom: Rivers CIBC opened 1908.
Source: Nov. 9, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune

From looking at period photos, it appears that Rivers and Elkhorn were different models. Note the Elkhorn bank's portico above the door and the ionic columns that extend the entire height of the building.

Top: November 20, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: Second Avenue, Rivers ca. 1911, rear of bank on right (Peel's)

The community of Rivers was founded in 1907 with the arrival of the Grand Pacific Trunk Railway (GTP), though it wasn't incorporated as a town until 1913. It’s named for the GTP's president, Sir Charles Rivers–Wilson.

A 1909 promotional guide published by the railway describes the rapid growth of the community, from a few dozen people to: "...population 650 when six months old, now 1,000. Has two lumber yards, thirty business buildings, two elevators, two halls, two churches, school, bank, hotel livery stables, newspaper."

November 6, 1919, Rivers Banner

That bank was the Bank of Commerce, which established a Rivers branch in summer 1908 in the newly-built  Korman Block on Second Avenue under manager R. Morris Saunders. It was the bank's only new branch in Manitoba that year.

This building was constructed on Main Street in July 1910.

Piecing together early bank managers from Bank of Commerce Annual reports it appears that working in these prairie town branches was been a stepping stone. Most only stayed for a couple of years at a time before moving on. 

Saunders had been the first bank manager for the Commerce in Elkhorn, Manitoba (1903-04), then went to Dawson City before being reassigned to open the Rivers branch. While there, he became part of the community, sitting on the Church of England building committee and as clerk of the school board as both bodies undertook the construction of new buildings.

In 1911, Saunders left for Nanton, Alberta where he managed a branch until 1915 and then onto Fort William, Ontario.

August 15, 1927, Winnipeg Tribune

The bank had a fairly quiet existence aside from one possible robbery attempt in August 1927.

A man named Jim Durno, one of a number of aliases, arrived in town by train and slipped into the building's basement that evening. The town's constable, M. W. Coldicott, lived next to the bank and noticed the man acting suspiciously.

The constable called bank manager R. M. Tucker to see if he was expecting a tradesman or a caretaker to visit. He wasn't.

Tucker called the bank and the ringing is said to have startled Druno, causing him to flee. Waiting outside was Coldicott who discovered that the man had a loaded pistol in his possession, though no safe-cracking tools. 

Durno, or whatever his real name was, was arrested and sentenced to prison.

Arlidge signature from his military file

Thousands of Bank of Commerce employees enlisted to fight in World War I and 285 of them never returned home. Rivers' Melvern Arlidge was one of the fortunate ones. 

Arlidge was born in 1894 in Meaford, Ontario and joined the bank in 1911. By 1916, he was working at the Rivers, Manitoba branch. He gave his occupation as "accountant" on his attestation papers when he enlisted with the 190th Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles) on June 5, 1916.

While in England, Arlidge had an attack of appendicitis in 1917 and the scar did not heal properly after the surgery which requiring a repeat hospital stay. He complained that the scar constantly hurt. That, combined with his poor vision, had him declared unfit for duty in the field.

Arlidge was transferred to an instructors role and eventually became a lieutenant with the Canadian Records Office. He was discharged at Halifax on May 21, 1920 and back at the bank, though not in Rivers, in early July.

Arlidge died in Ontario in 1959.

December 6, 1930, Brandon Sun

One clerk who did die young was Allan Edward Robertson on December 3, 1930 at the age of 22.

He was the son of  Alexander and Annie Robertson of Justice, Manitoba and working as a clerk at the Rivers branch of the Bank of Commerce.

A notice in the Brandon Sun, also picked up by the Winnipeg Tribune, said he was nicknamed "Happy"and was well liked by colleagues. He died at Winnipeg General Hospital but no further details of his death were given.

A notice in the Sun about his funeral at Sparling Cemetery the following week: “was attended by one of the largest gatherings ever witnessed in the Justice district.”

December 19, 1935, Rivers Gazette

On December 14, 1935, account holders received a shock. It was a letter from the Bank of Commerce stating that the Rivers branch would close on December 31st.

The Commerce was the community's only bank and its citizens and business community were already reeling from years of the Depression and yet another crop failure in 1935.

That same evening, an emergency meeting of the town council was held and a delegation of politicians and Board of Trade members made arrangements to head to the bank's western headquarters on Main Street in Winnipeg the following week. Their visit changed nothing.

The Boissevain Recorder urged protest from all rural communities, noting in an editorial: "If the Bank of Commerce is allowed to close at Rivers, it won't be long before till the same thing takes place in other communities."

It was up to businesses to pick up the slack, acting as cheque cashers until the Royal Bank of Canada set up a small branch, in a different location, in 1948.

Town of Rivers, Ca 1967 (Daly House Museum)

It appears that the bank then became property of the municipality.

A brief item in a 1938 Rivers Gazette noted that the building: "is being fixed up and we understand that will be used as an office by the Rural Municipality of Daly."  The man who oversaw the renovations was William T. Dyer, who also moved in upstairs.

Dyer was one of the busiest men in the town. He was the secretary-treasurer of the R. M. of Daly, the clerk for the town of Rivers and the secretary of the school district.

When renovations were completed, the main level contained a council chamber and a doctor's office.

The R.M. appears to have stayed at that location until the early 1950s. In 1952 "for rent" ads appear in the local paper for $70 per year, That's when J. A. McKenzie purchased it for $6,500. They renovated it became one of his McKenzie United stores, though likely a satellite store not his main branch located elsewhere on Second Avenue.

November 21, 1963, Rivers Gazette

In November 1963, the main floor became home to Charm Beauty Salon with a residence upstairs. In 1968, Mary Ann (Sinclair) Brown was manager and by 1971 it was co-owned by "Pat and Ruby" who moved the salon to Neepawa.


In early 1976 was home to Thorne Business Service and that appears to be the end of its life as a commercial building. It was converted into an apartment block.

Later in 1976 it was purchased from Mr. Irving by Russell and Alma Morton. In 1998, was purchased by George Kroeker, who gave it a face lift.

In 2007, Kelly Morton-Spurway, a granddaughter of the Mortons purchased the building from C. and A. Hunter and the family converted it into a single family home. (You can see before and after renovation photos here.)

On September 15, 2009 it was designated a municipal heritage site by the town of Rivers.

The home is currently for sale as the owners have relocated.

Other Buildings:
 It is unclear how many of the 70 or so of these buildings thought to be constructed are still standing. Aside from Rivers, other examples can be found in Strathmore AB, Watson SK, Nokomis SK, Grandview AB, Moosomin SK, Elbow, SK, Innisfree AB. Elkhorn MB is one of the rare few that still house a CIBC branch, though that is closing in August, 2017.

Bank Managers of the Bank of Commerce, Rivers:
1908 – 1910 R. M. Saunders; 1911 – 1912 B. L. Brown; 1913 – 1914 F. W. West; 1915 M. R. Complin; 1916 E. W. Morgan; 1917 – 1919 R. M. Tucker.

My Flickr album of this house.

Aside from numerous newspaper articles from across the province,  I also relied on The Story of Rivers - Prepared to Commemorate 50 years of Town Incorporation by G. F. Barker, which can be found at the Manitobia.ca book section.

No comments: