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Building style, robbery attempt part of BMO heritage in Norwich

Gail Lewis, Heritage Committee chair and Marie Avey, committee member, with the heritage plaque that was mounted at Bank of Montreal in Norwich on Friday, April 7. The local branch marked 131 years in the village and the parent company 200 years in Canada.

Gail Lewis, Heritage Committee chair and Marie Avey, committee member, with the heritage plaque that was mounted at Bank of Montreal in Norwich on Friday, April 7. The local branch marked 131 years in the village and the parent company 200 years in Canada.

Editor's note: The following is from the fall 2016 edition of the Norwich and District Historical Society's publication, Cider Press and Archival Treasures, which included an historic account of the history of the Bank of Montreal in Norwich. The branch celebrated 131 years on Friday, April 7.

From time to time the Municipal Heritage Committee of the Township of Norwich recognizes a building which has architectural and/or historic merit. The Bank of Montreal which has stood at 30 Main St. West in Norwich for a full 100 years, with little change, qualifies on both counts and is being so honoured.

The Heritage Committee recently placed a township plaque on an interior wall and expressed appreciation for the way in which the building has been maintained.

The Norwich Gazette of September 14, 1916 had much praise for the new building designed by architect Phillip John Turner, calling it “one of the finest banking halls in Ontario”. At the time it was a Molson’s Bank which became the Bank of Montreal in 1925.

The Gazette reported that the design of the front facade was based “on the Colonial Style of this continent”. Indiana limestone was used for the pilasters and the facing bricks were described as “American Beaver Clay Iron spot shade 93. This brick is buff in colour, of a very hard vitrified texture and has been laid with a fine light joint.”

Inside, the paper told of a large banking room, with manager’s office, a vault reinforced with steel and a private entrance leading to the manager’s residence on the upper floor.

The interior was said to have been planned with “an abundance of light” so that workers at the public counter would have light falling from the back and sides of the banking hall and no direct light in their eyes.

Modern conveniences such as a large, soft water tank, an electric automatic pump and pressure tank were installed in the basement.

On the upper floor, the manager’s residence contained a dining room with wood panelling, an outside gallery, a large living room with open fireplace, a study, four bedrooms, pantry and linen cupboard.

Hardwood floors were installed throughout the building and the woodwork in the residence was of chestnut while the banking room was finished in red oak with white oak fixtures.

Work was done by the general Contractor, McKinney Lumber Co. Ltd. of Woodstock with Mr. E.S. Coppins of Woodstock doing the hot water heating, the plumbing and electrical wiring.

Mr. Reginald Elliot was the manager having already been in that role in Norwich for 19 years. The Gazette gave him credit for “Building up a wide acquaintance and extensive business for Molson’s in this area.”

One hundred years later, the Bank of Montreal building’s stately edifice still graces the Main Street of Norwich in its central location. Throughout the years it had offered great service to the citizens of the community of Norwich and played a particularly strong role in supporting the ever-changing agricultural industry.

Bank bandits foiled in attempt to rob Bank of Montreal

The following is an article from the Norwich Gazette published on Thursday, June 24, 1947 telling the story of the bank robbery attempt at Bank of Montreal, Norwich.

Norwich experienced its first bank holdup on Wednesday morning, but owing to the presence of mind and prompt action on the part of the manager, William Colchester, the bandits were foiled of their attempts to get any cash. Nattily attired as women, the one in pink and the other wearing turquoise, one with a large picture hat and the other with a turban covering a great mass of blond hair arranged in an upsweep, the would-be robbers arrived shortly after the hour for opening.

When they entered the following were already doing business inside: Mrs. W.W.W. Morgan, Mrs. Wilton Carrow, Miss Betty Bayne, Miss Eva Snell, Miss Ruth Jacklin, (accompanied by her wee niece), Wm. Cartwright, W.F. Hodges, of Woodstock, and Wray Cunningham, who was consulting with the manager.

Kenneth Farrell and Mrs. M. McMillen were on cash, and the other members of the staff: E.L. Cassellman, Misses Marion Pascoe, Gladys Cole and Lois Hanmer, were in their accustomed places.

Sneaking inside, the bandits exhibited their guns, and snapped “This is a stickup, drop to the floor and don’t move.” One attempted to herd the customers into a corner while the other tried to hurdle the counter. In his doing this he was hampered by his skirts and could not make a clean leap.

From his office Mr. Colchester heard the commotion and glancing out saw the hand clasped on the counter. He grabbed his revolver and shot through the glass and shots were exchanged by the bandits, but evidently they decided their attempt had failed so beat a hasty retreat. Shots were fired outside also.

The bank is protected by a burglar alarm system and this was sounding in Longworth’s Store. Percy and Maurice Longworth started for their front door, but Maurice decided to return to the phone to summon assistance. Mr. Longworth Sr., landed on his step just as the unwelcome visitors were passing the store on the way to their auto parked on Washington St. One of them stuck a gun to Mr. Longworth’s stomach, and he says “It is not a very pleasant noise to have one of those things clanking on your trouser zipper.”

Percy backed into the store again and was able to get to the back door and take the number of the car before their getaway. He believes the car was a 1942 Dodge. Dozens of citizens saw the car driven by the robbers making a mad dash down Main Street and turning north at the United Church. In a short time the village was buzzing with excitement and all day long the bank was besieged with reporters and photographers.

Evidently the men arrived a bit early and put in time visiting some places of business. They enquired of Mrs. Jack Vitias as to where they could procure a driver’s license and where licenses were issued.

This is the first experience in a holdup for any member of the bank staff, some of whom have had many years banking experience. As quickly as they knew what was up Misses Cole, Pascoe and Hanmer, retreated to the basement and remained there until the excitement had cleared.

Note: In a later article in the Norwich Gazette it was noted that a special ceremony was held in Toronto on Wed., July 16, 1947 at which Bank of Montreal Assistant General Manager W.T.A. MacFayden presented William Colchester with an engraved gold watch and chain and a “substantial cheque” in recognition of his action to prevent the holdup. In the same issue there is an unsubstantiated report that another gang of robbers was also planning to rob the Norwich bank that day but turned back on hearing that the first group had been unsuccessful.