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Visiting 49 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario: ornate, 19th century, former Bank of British North America Building

Updated on February 25, 2013
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Former Bank of British North America building, Toronto
Former Bank of British North America building, Toronto | Source
The Bank of British North America, designed by John Howard and constructed in 1845-6, in 1867
The Bank of British North America, designed by John Howard and constructed in 1845-6, in 1867 | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

The solvency of history

This fine building, one of the most prominent ones on Yonge Street in Downtown Toronto, has an interesting history, both as a structure and in association with the original institution which it housed: the Bank of British North America.

The former Bank of British North America building is situated at 49 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario.

On this site a building from this bank stood from 1845. I have supplied (right) a photo dating from Confederation year 1867. This structure was designed by John George Howard (1803-1890), who was also prolific in the buildings which owe their inception to him (1).

The existing edifice, replacing the one by John George Howard in 1875, was designed by Henry Langley (1836-1907)(2). Here we see that the Regency lines of the previous design have been replaced by a more eclectic, Beaux-Arts-type style. Noted features include mainly Syrian window arching, frequent round pediments and mansard roofing. A pillared entrance at the intersection of Young and Wellington Street East has been replaced by an elaborate entrance wholly on Yonge Street.

The Bank of British North America — a merchant bank — at one stage owned branches in various of the the colonies which were to form Canada. As an institution it was absorbed by the Bank of Montreal in 1918: there is a sense in which the Bank reached its apogee in the mid- to late-19th century, but after World War One, with the financial pressures caused by that War, its independent existence made less business sense than joining forces with another institution.

Today, various businesses, including a restaurant, occupy the property of the former Bank.

February, 25, 2013


(1) Other works by John George Howard, a civil engineer and Toronto's official surveyor, include Colborne Lodge (where he and his wife resided) and and Victoria Row, Toronto; he was notably responsible for surveying Toronto's harbour; he was also a noted artist.

(2) Architect Langley taught at the University of Toronto and was particularly known as the designer of many church buildings in Toronto, including the United Metropolitan United Church, the spire of St. Michael's Cathedral and Jarvis Street Baptist Church.

Also worth seeing

In Toronto itself, visitor attractions include: Old City Hall, Union Station, the CN Tower, Fort York, Campbell House, the Ontario Legislative Assembly Building at Queen's Park,Osgoode Hall, and many others.

How to get there: Air Canada flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. However, much of Downtown Toronto is suitable to get to know by foot. Be advised that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, it is preferable to refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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