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The Bank of Canada opened its doors in March 1935, operating from rented premises in the Victoria Building on Ottawa's Wellington Street.
Conditions in the Victoria Building quickly grew cramped and inefficient, and in January 1936, Governor Graham F. Towers proposed the design and construction of new premises to Prime Minister Mackenzie King. King agreed and, by May, the Bank had purchased a building site further west on Wellington Street, at a price of $83,500 (about $1.4 million in 2014 dollars).
The Bank hired S.G. Davenport of Montréal to act as consulting architect and adviser for the project. Davenport, in turn, recommended that the Toronto firm of Marani, Lawson & Morris be hired as principal architects.
|Victoria Building, 140 Wellington Street, first office of the Bank of Canada|
This firm submitted its first set of designs in May 1936. These were rejected, however, because "they showed a building set in, somewhat in the manner of the Bank of England . . . It is extremely difficult to obtain unity in such a building. The inset part either looks like a chimney, or the whole thing looks like a flower pot in its saucer. The architects more or less agree with us, and are now trying something else." ‒ Letter from Deputy Governor J.A.C. Osborne to H.C.B. Mynors, 4 July 1936.
In December 1936, the architects presented final elevation drawings to the committee. These showed a five-storey stone-clad building, neo-classical in style and featuring two large stone urns flanking the bronze centre doors. Seven tall windows were accentuated with bronze-and-marble spandrels. There was also a substantial underground area, designed to accommodate vaults and strong rooms, "all constructed in accordance with the most up-to-date methods." The plan provided sufficient space for a projected staff of 380 people.
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Deputy Governor Osborne apparently had reservations about one aspect of the new design. He wrote to the Bank of England's B.G. Catterns on 6 February 1937: "You may be somewhat mystified by what appears to be two very large bombs placed each end of the terrace. The façade might, I suppose, look a little weak without these [urns] to balance and pin the building to the ground, but we are not frightfully enthusiastic about them, yet cannot think of anything better...."
Ground was broken early in 1937. The principal contractor was the Piggott Construction Company of Hamilton, Ontario, and subcontractors were drawn from throughout Ottawa, southern Ontario and Quebec. Construction proceeded rapidly, without any undue delays or cost overruns and, by 10 August, the structure was sufficiently complete that Prime Minister King could join with Governor Towers in the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone. (Embedded in the cornerstone is a copper box containing mementoes from the project.) Staff began occupying the building in 1938.