Union Bank – West Hastings and Seymour – se corner

The Union Bank of Canada was built at the corner of West Hastings and Seymour, next to the Innes Thompson Building, in 1920. The Union Bank was started in Quebec, but moved to Winnipeg and became the prairie bank, following the railway westwards as towns sprang up. Crossing into British Columbia took a little longer, and the first appearance of the bank here wasn’t until 1907 when they occupied the premises of a wine and spirits store at the corner of Seymour and Hastings.

The bank made some alterations in 1910, and commissioned a new building at 97 Cordova Street in the same year, but it wasn’t until 1919 that they made their grand move, commissioning Somervell and Putnam to design their last commission in the city, a seriously retro temple bank (in an era when far simpler buildings were starting to come into fashion). (We featured an earlier Somervell and Putnam temple bank at Pender and Granville).

Not long after their new branch was built the Union Bank, finding itself over-extended, was forced to merge with the Royal Bank (in 1925). The Royal Bank already had a significant Vancouver presence, so they passed the Seymour building on to the Bank of Toronto, who in turn merged in 1955 with the Dominion Bank, but maintained a presence in the building until 1984. Our image dates to 1939, when the Bank of Toronto was operating here.

Plans for the demolition of the building had actually been approved until protest from the Community Arts Council (before there was a Heritage Vancouver) saved it, and a revised redevelopment project (that saw the Innes-Thompson block demolished) preserve the building. The architects claimed it was impossible to save the Innes-Thompson facade as well. The Union Bank sat empty for several years, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the new use for the building was completed, with Architectura designing the award-winning Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue for Simon Fraser University. The building next door, the Delta Suites hotel by Aitken Wreglesworth, carefully picks up the scale and rhythm of the bank facade in the lower floors.

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