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Bob Giles

Times Contributor
 
The Royal Bank has completed its move to the new shopping center location; this is the first time in more than 100 years a bank has not been located on at least one of the corners of Strathmore’s 2nd Ave and 2nd St. The ‘Royal’ followed the path of the Alberta Treasury Bank Branch.
The accompanying photo shows a somewhat different view of early downtown Strathmore until recently occupied as a newspaper office, and across 2nd Street from the previous downtown Royal Bank location.
The building on the right, a Canadian Bank of Commerce structure, is similar in design and appearance to that of the Union Bank building. Little can be determined as to when the Commerce building was erected, but it was after 1910 and well before 1920. And yes, it was constructed on the same location as that of the previous downtown Royal Bank. 
“Where We Crossed the Creek and Settled,” Rockyford’s history book, shows the above photo taken in Strathmore and featuring the Canadian Bank of Commerce on the corner in the foreground. Why the Rockyford history book? Because Rockyford is where the Commerce building has been located since being relocated from Strathmore.
Rockyford’s history book tells us The Canadian Bank of Commerce opened for business in Rockyford on May 18, 1914 with a staff of six. In 1916 the Bank closed its Strathmore branch and physically moved the present building from Strathmore to Rockyford’s Main Street.
To accomplish the move, the building was split in half and two 12-horse teams were employed to transport the two sections on rollers to Rockyford. Considering the lack of serviceable roads at this time, the magnitude of the project can be readily appreciated, the article concludes.
The Canadian Bank of Commerce was established in 1867 and merged with the Imperial Bank of Commerce, established in 1875, becoming the CIBC in 1961. The CIBC closed its Rockyford Branch on August 12, 2011. The building was recently sold and is presently being renovated for a commercial main level and residential upstairs, reverting to the original design when the manager or a senior staff member occupied the upstairs apartment.
Getting back to Strathmore, other than the addition of the living space above the vault in 1969, the old Union/Royal Bank building remained basically as it was when constructed and occupied in early March 1910. The Union Bank first arrived in Strathmore in the summer or early fall of 1908, when it rented space down Main Street (now Veterans’ Way) in the King Edward Hotel. This is on the site of the new Hussar Credit Union building.
In the early 1900s, rapid expansion and scarcity of local labour and materials in the Prairies made it difficult to build the type of solid and classic buildings both the Union and Canadian Bank of Commerce wanted for their branches. Prefabricated structures solved this problem.
The CIBC website indicates three different Commerce models were designed and each branch was pre-fabricated and pre-painted in Vancouver. I believe there was only one Union Bank design, which is the vacant heritage building and presently listed for sale. Both bank’s models were similar structures, although they featured different windows, pillars and minor exterior changes. 
The prefab bank kits were shipped to towns in two rail cars and were assembled in two days. Between 1905 and 1911 about 70 of these Commerce branches were built across the west. The former CIBC bank in Gleichen is another example, with that building now housing the community’s library.
The Union Bank of Canada enjoyed the distinction of being the first bank to provide an extensive branch system throughout the Prairie provinces and was frequently referred to as the “pioneer bank” of Western Canada. It was often the first and only bank in a locality. The bank began in Quebec City in 1865 as the Union Bank of Lower Canada, but changed its name in 1886. Its headquarters were moved to Winnipeg in 1912.
By the time of the Royal and Union banks merger, the Union Bank had developed a network of 320 Canadian branches of which 204 were located in the Prairies.
Back in Strathmore, the Union Bank’s basement (including re-enforced concrete vaults on both levels) was in place when the two boxcars arrived at the CPR station, located where the Seniors’ Centre and Library are now found, and the building was erected in two long days. The four, six and eight foot panels and beams were all pre-numbered with holes drilled to facilitate their placement when they were bolted together.
The old bank building served as the Union Bank until September 1, 1925, when it was absorbed by the Royal Bank. According to RBC, this amalgamation was the last of Royal Bank’s Canadian Bank mergers, a move that further enhanced the Bank’s business connections in the Prairie Provinces as mentioned above.
The Royal Bank continued operations in Union Bank building until 1969 when it moved across the street.
The Canadian Bank of Commerce building would have had an identical construction history as the Union Bank building, but I can hardly imagine how the structure was split in half and relocated to Rockyford.
According to a Nov./Dec. 2006 “Heritage Vancouver” Newsletter, the “B.C. Mills Timber and Trading Co.” in Vancouver not only manufactured prefab houses, but also prefab school, church, and bank kits. The prefab bank kit was actually their biggest seller, and the Bank of Commerce was one of their best customers. 
BC Mills prefab kits came with plain panels, panels with doors, and panels with windows. The designs were ingenious. Unlike other prefabs in that era, which had a reputation of being hard to heat, drafty, and insubstantial, BC Mills panels featured weather-tight joints and an innovative insulated design made with two layers of wood separated with tarpaper and an air space, so they were well equipped to withstand the cold of Prairie winters. 
Also, the BC Mills panels were assembled and pre-painted in a dry indoor space, in the Vancouver factory, before being shipped to the building site.
BC Mills shipped prefab kits all over western Canada and as far east as Winnipeg, but as innovative as the B.C. Mills prefab house design was, the company overestimated the homesteader market and failed to take into account the fact that most of the settlers were “dirt poor” and, as much as they would have liked to, most couldn’t afford to purchase prefab homes, the “Heritage Vancouver” article commented.