The Bank's Headquarters
Located at 234 Wellington Street, across from Parliament Hill, this site has been the Bank’s home since 1938. Highly specialized duties essential to the functioning of the Canadian economy are performed at the Bank’s head office, including $15 billion in payments processed daily by the Bank within the large-value payment system, and the management of more than $600 billion in federal government debt and $68 billion in foreign reserves. Staff based at the head office also perform leading-edge economic and financial analysis to guide the conduct of monetary policy and promote financial stability. A resilient work facility is therefore critical for the Bank to continue to fulfill its mandate to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada.
In 2012, the Board of Directors approved a plan to renew the Bank’s head office complex in Ottawa. Construction will begin in 2014 and is expected to be finished in 2016. The Head office Renewal Program is the Bank’s largest infrastructure project since the two glass office towers were built in the 1970s. It follows an ambitious timeline, and the Bank is committed to meeting it with effective governance, sound financial management, and in a way that preserves the architectural heritage and integrity of the original buildings.
The early years: 1935-38
The Bank of Canada opened its doors in March 1935, operating from rented premises in the Victoria Building on Ottawa's Wellington Street.
Conditions in the Victoria Building quickly grew cramped and inefficient, and in January 1936 Governor Graham F. Towers proposed the design and construction of new premises to Prime Minister Mackenzie King. King agreed, and by May the Bank had purchased a building site further west on Wellington Street, at a price of $83,500 (about $1.2 million in 2004 dollars.)
The Bank hired S.G. Davenport of Montréal to act as consulting architect and adviser for the project. Davenport, in turn, recommended that the Toronto firm of Marani, Lawson and Morris be hired as principal architects.
This firm submitted its first set of designs in May of 1936. These were rejected, however, because "they showed a building set in, somewhat in the manner of the Bank of England . . . It is extremely difficult to obtain unity in such a building. The inset part either looks like a chimney, or the whole thing looks like a flower pot in its saucer. The architects more or less agree with us, and are now trying something else." - Letter from Deputy Governor J.A.C. Osborne to H.C.B. Mynors, 4 July 1936.
A more successful set of designs was submitted later that summer. One of these was approved by the Bank's newly established Building Committee (composed of Governor Towers, his two Deputy Governors, and the Bank's Secretary), and the firm was instructed to proceed with working drawings. The Building Committee meanwhile met periodically to decide on materials, furnishings, and other details of the new headquarters.
In December of 1936, the architects presented final elevation drawings to the committee. These showed a five-storey stone-clad building, neo-classical in style and featuring two large stone urns flanking the bronze centre doors. Seven tall windows were accentuated with bronze-and-marble spandrels. There was also a substantial underground area, designed to accommodate vaults and strong rooms, "all constructed in accordance with the most up-to-date methods." The plan provided sufficient space for a projected staff of 380 people.
Deputy Governor Osborne apparently had reservations about one aspect of the new design. He wrote to the Bank of England's B.G. Catterns on 6 February 1937: "You may be somewhat mystified by what appears to be two very large bombs placed each end of the terrace. The façade might, I suppose, look a little weak without these [urns] to balance and pin the building to the ground, but we are not frightfully enthusiastic about them, yet cannot think of anything better..."
Ground was broken early in 1937. The principal contractor was the Piggott Construction Company of Hamilton, Ontario, and subcontractors were drawn from throughout Ottawa, southern Ontario, and Quebec. Construction proceeded rapidly, without any undue delays or cost overruns, and by 10 August the structure was sufficiently complete that Prime Minister King could join with Governor Towers in the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone. (Embedded in the cornerstone is a copper box containing the signatures of senior Bank officers and other mementoes of the project.) Staff began moving in 1938.
The Bank rapidly outgrew its new building. By 1946, staff were housed in temporary premises scattered around downtown Ottawa, and the Bank's executive commissioned Marani and Morris to develop proposals for renovations. These were never implemented. The Bank again turned to Marani and Morris in the 1950s for proposals on substantial additions to the building, but these too were eventually discarded.
In 1963, the Bank announced a competition in which a short list of Canadian architects would be invited to submit proposals for additions to the building. This appears to have spurred the Marani firm (now Marani, Morris and Allan) to revisit its earlier proposals, leading to a new design that the Bank's board found "imaginative and satisfactory." The competition was cancelled, and in January 1964, the Bank announced its intention to begin construction.
(It is interesting to note that throughout the planning phase, serious consideration was given to the possibility of demolishing the original building and rebuilding on the site. Professor Eric Arthur, a prominent architect of the day, opposed such a step, advising in a 1963 memorandum that the existing building be retained and surrounded "with a new structure which would be sympathetic in terms of material and main horizontal lines . . . the old Bank will be able to keep its identity [while being] more expressive of the twentieth century.")
The Bank's plans were soon postponed, however. Ottawa in the 1960s was in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, and it became evident to the Bank's executive that the scale of their planned expansion would place undue pressure on the already overburdened construction industry. Late in 1965, Governor Louis Rasminsky announced that the Bank had decided to "defer for the time being the start of construction of our badly needed new head office."
By the time the Bank was finally ready to build in the late 1960s, it was decided to commission a new design. The Marani firm — now Marani Rounthwaite & Dick - and Arthur Erickson were hired as associate architects, and in 1969 their new design was presented to the Bank. It preserved the original granite building, partially enclosing it in a vast glass courtyard flanked by two glass towers.
Construction began in 1972 and continued throughout the decade. The building was completed in 1979, and staff were fully installed by 1980. The Bank of Canada headquarters remains one of Ottawa's most distinctive and architecturally noteworthy buildings.
In 2012, the Board of Directors approved a plan to renew the Bank’s head office complex in Ottawa. This is the Bank’s largest infrastructure project since the two glass office towers were built in the 1970s. It follows an ambitious timeline, and the Bank is committed to meeting it with effective governance, sound financial management, and in a way that preserves the architectural heritage and integrity of the original buildings.