Skip to content

Main Street saw banks come and go, until Bank of Montreal arrived (9 photos)

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod takes a look at the history of banks in Newmarket, beginning with the first one, the Royal Canadian British Bank, in 1865

The history of banking in Newmarket is a particularly interesting story, indicative, I believe, of the trend of development that we saw nation-wide, growing into our present efficient national banking system.

Before 1865, all of the banking business of the village of Newmarket had to be carried out in Toronto. However, in August 1865, the Royal Canadian British Bank arrived in Newmarket and was to locate in the brick building on the northwest corner of Main and Water streets with John Cawthra as its manager. 

Soon after its opening, it was amalgamated with another small institution, the City Bank, and became known as the Consolidated Bank Ltd. Sadly, it failed, as well, and closed in 1879. It was replaced by the Federal Bank with Cawthra continuing as manager.  This bank was to eventually merge with the Ontario Bank in 1888.   

A second bank emerged in town, the Merchants’ Bank but it, too, was eventually absorbed by the Ontario Bank, along with the Provincial Real Estate and Loan Company.

The Ontario Bank had been incorporated in the Town of Bowmanville in 1857 with the Hon. John Simpson as its first president. The Newmarket branch of the bank was established in 1885 with J.E. Souch as manager.  

Its initial location has never been established, but the building that became its eventual home was built in 1886 and was at that time occupied by the Robert Simpson Company mail order office. It is described as having an attractive appearance of white brick and handsomely finished interior. Souch was succeeded as manager in 1895 by Mr. C.G. Ross.  Mr. Ross and the accountant, Edgar Bogart, were well known locally, having come from old Newmarket families.  

Prior to the arrival of the local Bank of Montreal, the community’s financial needs and guidance had been administered by several institutions that had eventually gone into liquidation. The opening of the Bank of Montreal in Newmarket ushered in a period of stability, contributing to the solid financial progress made by the town.  

This major change in the local banking scene occurred in 1906 when the Ontario Bank became a part of the Bank of Montreal and the office then became a branch of the first permanent bank to be established in Canada.  

The Bank of Montreal came into existence through the vision and determined action on the part of nine English and Scottish merchants in Montreal who realized that without solid financial backing, the Colonies could never reach nationhood. To prove their faith in the new country, they invested their own money and with the backing of 209 other citizens, founded the Bank of Montreal that would open for business Nov. 3, 1817.

The Bank of Montreal occupied the old Ontario Bank building until the location on the southeast corner of Main and Timothy streets was built in 1922. Ross continued to serve as manager for 17 years, retiring on pension in 1925. They were a stalwart in our community up until recent years. I can well remember many of the people who worked in the bank over the years, particularly Ms. Bothwell.  

On May 1, 1902, the number of Canadian banks was increased by the arrival of the Sovereign Bank, with its head office in Toronto and executive offices in Montreal. During the first year of its existence, a branch was established in Newmarket in the building that was Gable’s store (one of the Forest buildings just renovated), on the west side of Main Street between Botsford Street and Park Avenue, with W.W. Bruce as the first manager. 

Preparations were at once put into place to find a suitable place of its own, and soon a splendid building on the northwest corner of Botsford and Main streets, once the North American Hotel site, was completed in 1903. Apparently the interior of this building was beautifully finished in quartered oak and the requisite ornamental metal grill work.  

The Bank of Toronto opened in Newmarket in 1906 and was said to have been temporarily located in a small building on the east side of Main Street. Afterwards it was re-opened in the building vacated by the Sovereign Bank. The first manager was C.H. Taylor. 

The Bank of Toronto occupied this building until 1936, when it was moved across the street to the east side of Main about a block north of Timothy. In 1955, it amalgamated with the Dominion Bank, which opened a branch in Newmarket June 1948.   

In November 1915, the Imperial Bank had opened a branch in Newmarket in the building on the southwest corner of Main and Botsford, the Widdifield building.  

Under the Drury government, the Province of Ontario Savings Offices were established throughout the province. There was one in Newmarket in 1922 in the old Ontario Bank office that had been just vacated by the Bank of Montreal. 

The first to take charge in Newmarket was W.D. McCutcheon. For the last year before it closed in 1939, it operated in the building that was eventually occupied by Atkinson Drugs. The Savings Office had rented these second premises and had sublet the upper story to the Agricultural Department.

The Bank of Nova Scotia was opened in the Royal Hotel in 1954 with Mr. A. Gath as manager. It moved to its new building at the southwest end of Main on the west side in 1955. 

The Royal Bank also opened in Newmarket in 1954, in the building at the southwest corner of Main and Queen streets.  In 1955, it also moved to a new building on the west side of Main at the south end, just north of Boyd’s Insurance.  

The Department of Agriculture first established an office in Newmarket in 1911. Its office was located in several places: first over the store that was later Atkinson’s; for a time in the back of the Bank of Toronto Building; south of the Bank of Montreal and, in 1958, in a building on Botsford.

The 1960s and ‘70s saw the arrival of numerous Trust companies such as Victoria and Grey on Main and the Permanent at the Newmarket Plaza.

Today, many of the banks have more than one branch here in Newmarket. In the past, all the branches were in the downtown core but today they are spread out across the town for convenience. Where there is a plaza, there is a bank.

We still have some trust companies in town. Online banking has taken hold and our attachment to a bricks and mortar branch is becoming limited at best. No longer do we have our personal bank manager who caters to both our personal and business needs. Newmarket has followed the trend sweeping the rest of the world, the local bank, peopled by humans, is becoming a thing of the past.  

Sources: Newmarket Era; History of the Bank of Montreal; History of the Toronto Dominion Bank; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by John Luck

***************** brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at