The Bank of British North America is a three-and-a-half storey, Italianate stone building located at 276 Duckworth Street, St. John’s, NL. Built to house the first commercial bank in Newfoundland, this building is an impressive structure in the downtown core. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
The Bank of British North America was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1991 because of its historic and aesthetic value.
Constructed in 1848, the BBNA building was purpose-built to house a branch of the Bank of British North America, the first commercial bank to operate in Newfoundland. This bank operated from 1837 to 1857, during which time Newfoundland’s commercial banking industry was defined by its continuing economic ties to Britain. Following the close of the Bank of British North America, Newfoundland banking entered its second phase, from 1857 to 1894, during which time the Commercial Bank of Newfoundland purchased and operated out of this building. Bank boards in this period were often composed of the very same merchants to whom the bank lent money. Unregulated lending to these merchants drained the banks’ cash reserves and led the Commercial Bank to borrow from British banks. When British banks called in their loans after a bad financial year in Newfoundland, the resulting 1894 Bank Crash saw the collapse of both the Commercial and Union Banks. The BBNA Building spent the next two years under management of the Bank of Montreal. The building then came under the ownership of the government-affiliated Newfoundland Savings Bank for over 60 years. In 1962, this bank merged with the Bank of Montreal, who sustained a branch in the building until 1985. The BBNA building was then donated to the City of St. John’s. It currently houses the Anna Templeton Centre, a non-profit arts and crafts education centre, and is the home of the College of the North Atlantic’s Textile Studies Program. The BBNA building, used for its original purpose until the late 20th century, remains an important part of the economic history of early Newfoundland.
The Bank of British North America was designed by architect David Stirling. It was one of Stirling’s first attempts at the Italianate design, which he later replicated in the second Bank of British North America that he built in Halifax. Stirling, working with William Hay (builder of St. John’s’ Anglican Cathedral), would later be known for some of the most impressive Italianate structures in Halifax during the mid to late 19th century. The bank is a good example of Stirling’s early Italianate design in St. John’s’ downtown core. Typical of the Italianate style, the ground level of the BBNA building is the most prominent, with its string course cornice and elaborate keystone detailing. The second and third storey decoration is modest in comparison. The first and second storeys have long, rectangular windows, while the third floor has smaller square windows, a visual signal of the importance of the commercial floors of the building. The upper floors of the building were expanded around 1885 to create a large apartment for the bank manager and his family. The building’s original hipped roof was changed at this time to a Southcott-style mansard, possibly under the architectural direction of Southcott himself. Although the new roof, with its pedimented dormers, changed the proportions of the building and moved the visual emphasis to the upper level, the Italianate character remains largely intact.
This Bank of British North America Building is significant not only as a representative of the Italianate style in St. John’s, but as one of the few mid-Victorian commercial buildings in the downtown core to survive the Great Fire of 1892. Although the exterior of the building withstood the flames, the interior was largely destroyed. The stained glass window on the east wall, featuring the BBNA initials is one of the only surviving pre-1892 features. The rest of the interior was rebuilt (likely by architect William Howe Greene) and features impressive woodworking, plasterwork and stained glass windows. The elaborate interior decoration of the building speaks to its importance as an banking institution in St. John’s.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – Bank of British North America – FPT 1623”
Character Defining Elements
All elements that define the building’s Italianate design including:
-general massing of three-and-a-half storey building;
-wooden mansard roof, featuring pedimented dormer windows;
-slate roof shingles;
-pale stone facade over brick construction;
-symmetrical face with horizontal organization;
-exterior detailing typical of the Italianate design;
-elaborate decoration on first storey windows followed by moderate decoration on the second storey window and no decoration on the third storey windows, typical of the Italianate design;
-arcaded first storey windows and doors, featuring decorative lion’s head keystones;
-rectangular 2/2 second storey windows with pilastered trimming, featuring stone raincaps with decorative bracketings;
-rectangular 1/1 third storey windows, featuring narrow stone sills with decorative bracketing;
-stringcourse cornice separating the first and second storeys;
-size, style and symmetrical location of wooden windows;
-stained glass windows on side of building, particularly circular window with BBNA initials;
-size, style and location of doors;
-rectangular transom over main door, and;
-proximity to other stone Victorian buildings, in a historic business district of St. John’s.
All those interior features that relate to the building’s history as a prominent banking establishment including:
-cantilevered stone spiral staircase;
-ornamental plaster work;
-interior woodworking located in former manager’s office, and;
-stained glass window with “BBNA” inscription.
Location and History
City of St. John's
278 Duckworth Street
1848 - 1848