Address: 389 Main Street (Map)
Size: 6 storey, 62,806 sq ft
Architect: Darling and Pearson (with by C.H. Wheeler)
There have been two Bank of Commerce headquarters at 389 Main Street. The original was a building called the Bannatyne Block that the bank leased beginning in 1893 before purchasing it outright in 1899.
The rapid growth of the west meant that the headquarters was soon outgrown. Bank Chairman Sir Edmund Walker said that the bank had 'utterly miscalculated the grown of Winnipeg.'
The Commerce wanted to remain in the same location so they purchased as much adjoining land as they could and brought in the architect firm of Darling and Pearson of Toronto with local assistance from Charles Wheeler. The bank moved to temporary headquarters and the old old hall was demolished except for the facade which was removed and shipped to Regina for their main branch there.
On Saturday October 26, 1912 the new Bank of Commerce headquarters opened with a gala luncheon held in the main hall. Sir Edmund presided over 300 guests, VIPs from the world of banking and finance in Western Canada and the northern States
At the opening Walker remarked "I do not think that anyone can doubt that in the development of this western country that Winnipeg is destined to become not only a great city in Canada but a great city on the North American continent."
The imposing structure does contain a six storey office building but the majority of the space is dedicated to the banking hall which is 48 feet long, 44 feet wide, and 26 feet high. The floors, walls, columns and ceiling are of marble with an artificial stained glass skylight and 14 foot tall stained glass windows.
ca.1978 (source)In time the Commerce absorbed the Bank of Hamilton building next door and operated on the site until 1969 when it moved to the newly opened Richardson Building. The Commerce then applied to have the two buildings demolished and that touched off a fierce debate.
These were the days before any formal urban heritage preservation movement in Winnipeg but the fate of Bankers Row put the Manitoba Historical Society and the bank on opposite ends. A city committee put the buildings on the historical register and the bank threatened to sue. On November 6, 1979, after a long and sometimes angry debate, the city voted to keep the buildings on the historical register thus preventing their demolition.
The building sat vacant and in 1991 MarWest purchased it and invested over $500,000 to replace the failing roof and repair damage done to the stained glass dome and plaster work.
Around 2000 Bill Loewen negotiated a deal that saw Marwest turn the building over to a non-profit group that would operate it as a venue called the Millennium Centre. The Loewen Foundation invested $800,000 in the building. Matching amounts from the provincial and federal government fell through when the province pulled out of the deal. As a result the building is only partially renovated but the main floor and hall has been restored to its former glory for use as a a music and event venue.
On June 26, 2002 a media conference was held to reopen 389 Main Street after spending more than 30 years in the dark.
Loewen, founder of Comcheq, is a member of the Order of Canada and in 2008 inducted into the Winnipeg Citizens' Hall of Fame for his philanthropic work.
The Hamilton Bank Building houses city offices.
Music at the Millennium Free Concerts
389 Main Street Winnipeg Building Index
389 Main Street Winnipeg Historic Building Committee (pdf)