Oak Bay BMO manager Susan Bobiak

BMO celebrates a century in Oak Bay

1968 mortgage for home costing $14,900

It was 1968 when Jacqui Shoffner and her late-husband purchased their first home in Oak Bay; a Victorian-style house on Byron Street.

The four-bedroom, one-bathroom home cost them $14,900 and like most new homeowners, they took a mortgage out to finance their purchase.

“The mortgage payment was $150 a month and that was a stretch,” Shoffner said. “There was no furnace. We just had an enormous wood stove.”

Shoffner, 82, took that mortgage out at the Bank of Montreal’s Oak Bay branch. Last Thursday (Dec. 12), she attended an afternoon celebration honouring the bank’s 100th year in the community.

Staff dressed in period costume, served popcorn, cake and hot apple cider as Mayor Nils Jensen, BMO regional vice-president Shelly Jensen and bank manager Susan Bobiak gave speeches and spoke about the bank’s early history.

In 1913, Merchants Bank of Canada opened a sub branch on the corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Hampshire Road in the two-storey, brick Bell Block building. In 1921, Bank of Montreal purchased Merchants Bank, making the Montreal-based bank the largest in Canada and one of the largest in the world at that time, according to a Dec. 17, 1921 New York Times article.

The branch moved half a block east to its current location in September 1953.

Audrey Cridge Finch, 89, worked at Bank of Montreal 71 years ago when it was still located in the Bell Block building.

She had just graduated from Oak Bay High school when she got a job, through a family connection, to work in the savings department. She worked on ledgers and operated the hand crank adding machine. She said there was only one teller at that time, who worked in what looked like a cage.

“There wasn’t any technology. Everything was written,” Finch said. “It was only men working in banks before I came in because there weren’t (many) around; this was during the war. They then realized having women working in the bank was not all that bad, and in fact, women worked better.”

Finch worked in banking for 12 years and then turned her attention to raising five children.

The Bank of Montreal was Canada’s first bank, founded in 1817. The bank also issued the country’s first currency, printing it until the Bank of Canada was created in 1934.

The Shoffners moved to another home in 1984, but their Byron Street home is still standing. Last year, Shoffner said she saw it listed for sale at $850,000.

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