GUYSBOROUGH -- It’s not every day that customers head to the bank just to get a look at the sartorial splendour of the staff. But last Wednesday, September 18 wasn’t an ordinary day at the Royal Bank of Canada branch on Main Street, Guysborough; it was the 137th anniversary of the branch in question and staff were dressed in period costume to celebrate the day.
A big celebration for a 137th birthday may seem a bit odd; it’s not a major milestone. But this birthday bash was commemorated due to the fact that this year is the 150th anniversary of the Royal Bank of Canada. And the Guysborough Historical Society (GHS) also wished to help the Guysborough RBC celebrate the anniversary of their first day in business so many years ago, in recognition of all the volunteer hours and funds that have been directed to the GHS by RBC staff members through the bank’s Days of Service program and grants.
On Wednesday afternoon, as the bank closed its doors for the day, GHS President Jamie Grant presented staff with a bottle of champagne and gave a short speech thanking the RBC staff for their efforts. “We’re indebted to you…We deeply appreciate the time--and the money.”
Throughout the day staff wore clothes that suited the 1882 year of foundation of the bank. The period costume was generously supplied by Sherbrooke Village; a fact that was much appreciated by Michael MacInnis, the RBC branch manager for Antigonish who spent the day in Guysborough celebrating this momentous birthday. He was grateful for the assistance from the Village in making this day a success.
Staff members had a few chuckles as well. Long-time RBC employee Lois MacDonald was heard to comment at end of day, that there “were a lot of cute comments.”
Kim Pelrine, RBC branch manager for Guysborough, said the staff had fun embracing the company’s history and “a lot of people came in because they heard we were dressed up.”
While the birthday celebration was held at the current RBC location on Main Street, that was not the original location or name of the bank when it opened 137 years ago. The original location was in the neighbouring building, currently the home of Rose’s Garden of Gifts and the Guysborough Journal; a bank vault is still part of this historic structure. And the name of the financial institution was the Merchants’ Bank of Halifax, a business which eventually taken over by the Royal Bank of Canada.
Grant has a wealth of historical information at his fingertips, including facts and anecdotes about the bank in Guysborough. The first statement about the banking industry in days of yore that came to mind was that the institution served as a training ground for young men who sought a future in business. Youth entered the bank as employees having completed Grade 8 or 9. And the business itself was not as we perceive banks today. It was an institution that dealt with established companies, providing operating capital for existing businesses; and didn’t deal with personal finances or private start-ups.
Henry Marshal Jost, a Guysborough native, was the first bank manager in the village. He was a notable son of the community who was almost the first home grown millionaire. But the stock market crash of 1929 that occurred shortly after his death led to a great diminishing of his estate, which was contested for several decades after his death.
Banks being a familiar target for thieves, it is not surprising that robberies occurred in the early days of banking in Nova Scotia. What may be the first reported armed bank robbery occurred in 1887 at the Merchants’ Bank in Antigonish. Teller Robert Sedgewick Currie fought off the robber, one Stanley Steele originally from Boylston, and was shot twice by the assailant, who was later arrested. According to Grant, Currie’s reward for this valiant service in the face of danger, was the manager’s position in the bank branch in Guysborough and a gold watch. Currie was the second manager of the Merchants’ Bank in Guysborough, following Jost in that position.
Grant also recounted the story of an unsuccessful burglary at the Guysborough bank after hours in 1913. The safe was dynamited and although a hinge, weighing close to 25 pounds, from the safe travelled across the street from the force of the blast, the inner safe time lock was not defeated by the would-be crook.
Fortunately, the days of such dangers, when tellers were issued pistols to be kept displayed behind the grates where they performed the days business, have long passed. A celebration of those days gone by with an eye to the future was enjoyed by the community and RBC staff members, who were likely thankful that the only portion of the past that was re-enacted for this 137th birthday was the costuming of the clerks.