On today’s date in 1817, nine Montreal merchants partnered to establish the Bank of Montreal (BMO), which was then called the Montreal Bank.
With £250,000 capital, Canada’s oldest chartered bank began issuing the country’s first domestic currency when it opened for business later that year on Nov. 3.
“Before Montreal Bank came on the scene in 1817 to issue Canada’s first banknotes, the colony had no currency of its own, and cash was chronically in short supply,” reads an article, “Canada’s first uniform currency,” on the BMO website.
“Most transactions in the domestic market were conducted under a system of barter. Merchants made do with a mish mash of currencies that included shillings and francs, British Army notes, American dollars, Hudson’s Bay tokens and even pesos.”
John Richardson, who was arguably Montreal’s leading businessperson at the time, signed the articles of association with eight other merchants to establish the BMO predecessor in a rented house in Montreal.
The bank would officially open its doors to the public on Nov. 3, 1817, making it Canada’s oldest bank; as such, its institution number is “001”.
In Canada, the bank currently operates as BMO Bank of Montreal and has more than 900 branches and seven million customers.
MONTREAL BANK’S FIRST NOTES
The first banknotes issued by the Montreal Bank – signed by cashier R. Griffin and bank president John Gray – feature the port of Montreal above an image of the goddess Britannia, who symbolized the British Isles.
“The banknote represented the Montreal Bank’s promise to pay the bearer, on demand, the face value of the note in gold and silver coins,” reads the BMO article.