The Canadian Bank of Commerce Building is located at 25 King St W (between Bay St and Yonge St on the south side) in the Financial District of Toronto.
The graceful “monument of finance” was built between 1929 to 1931. It was designed by Toronto-based architect John Pearson (of Darling & Pearson) and New York City’s leading bank architect firm York & Sawyer. The building was going to be worth an estimated $4 million. When completed, it was considered a skyscraper and was the tallest building in the British Empire at 142 m or 465 ft. The landmark was said to be the “greatest addition to Toronto’s increasing, Manhattan-like skyline.“
The Refined Exterior
With its Romanesque Revival style detailing, the elegant structure begins with a six-storey podium at the base. This supports a tower that rises in tiers, allowing for natural light in the city’s core. The 34-storey structure is made of steel and concrete, then encased with Indiana limestone on an Ontario granite base.
Encircling the 32nd floor is an observation deck which can be distinguished at the street level by the 16 head sculptures that cap the piers. These gigantic sculptures with flowing beards are each 7.3 m or 24 ft high and represent Courage, Observation, Foresight and Enterprise. They were said to symbolize the forever watchfulness of the financier, looking in every direction across Canada. On the top floor is a penthouse topped with a hipped roof.
The Spectacular Interior
The ground floor of the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building is E-shaped. The main entrance, from King St W, is the centre hall. In it is the elevator lobby with bronze elevator doors etched with maple leaf and wheat sheaf designs.
The centre hall leads to the Main Banking Hall, which runs the entire building width from east to west. It’s said to be modelled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, which was built around 216 AD. The floors are Italian travertine with marble inlay, while the walls are purple-hued limestone. Its vaulted ceiling stands 18 m or 60 ft high and combines larger octagonal with smaller square coffers in gold and blue colours.
Suspended from the Main Banking Hall ceiling are enormous bronze light fixtures with circular ceiling plaques that read Commerce, Industry, Integrity and Prudence. There’s also a World War I memorial on the south side of the hall.
The other two halls flank the east and west sides are for the Savings Bank and the Foreign Exchange Bank. Each of their ceilings has eight shadow domes atop Doric piers.
Interesting Facts about the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building
Plans to build the bank were delayed by 15 years due to the following factors: World War I, construction costs after the war and an uncertain labour environment.
During excavation, a 20 m or 65 ft deep trench was dug for the building’s substructure. About 10.6 m or 35 ft of which was rock.
The structure is made of 9,300 tons of steel with 190,000 cubic feet of stone, 6,633 sq yards of marble and tile and 1.5 million bricks.
There are 15 elevators and four basements.
The building opened on January 14, 1932.
Bank staff occupied the first nine floors along with the basement levels. The 10th to 31st floor was office space. Any space that was available to rent had all been leased a year before the building opened.
It was estimated that 3,000 people worked in the building.
There are 715 ounces of gold leaf in the central hall ceiling.
The skyscraper was the tallest in Canada until 1962 when the La Tour CIBC in Montreal was completed. It’s 184 m or 604 ft tall.
The Canadian Bank of Commerce Building was the tallest in Ontario until the mid-1960s when the Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower at the southwest corner of King St W and Bay St was finished. Also, until then, there were unobstructed views of the entire city from the observation deck of the structure.
The intersection of King St W and Bay St was once known as the “MINT” corner. It was an acronym for the banks that stood there: Montreal Bank, Imperial Bank, Nova Scotia Bank, and Toronto Bank.
The landmark received heritage status in 1973.
In 1818, the site was home to the First Methodist Church in Toronto, which the Metropolitan United Church at 56 Queen St is a descendant of.