Union bank

The Cowley Branch of the Union Bank of Canada

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Many passionate pioneers, most often promoters of their own colony, saw the growth of that colony reflected in the development of its business.

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Most early settlers were truly thrilled to have trading outlets set up on the frontier in their pioneer villages and towns scattered across the Canadian prairies.

Such was the case with the commercial workings of the Cowley branch of the Union Bank of Canada, established early in the village’s history.

Historical context

Nationally, the Union Bank of Canada’s history dates back to 1865, two years before Confederation, when it was established with a head office in Quebec City. Nearly half a century later, the bank’s headquarters moved to Winnipeg to reflect the growth it experienced in Western Canada, due in part to the immigration and agricultural boom that this area of ​​the country has known since 1896.

Although the district’s ranching history dates back to the early 1880s, Cowley’s development as a settlement actually began with the arrival of construction of the Crowsnest branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1897- 1898.

With the siding strategically placed there, Cowley has become a marketing and distribution center for the local ranching and agricultural industry with such enthusiasm that, according to reports from the North Mounted Police- West, it took some of the commercial growth from its neighbor, Pincher Creek.

Origins and activity of the Cowley branch

The Cowley branch of the Union Bank of Canada was established as the colony’s first banking institution in 1906, the same year the community was established as a village.

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Initially, it was housed in a small wooden building in the commercial district of Cowley. Within five years, it was transferred to a much larger structure.

A generation and a half later, locals recalled that the bank’s successor had a building consisting of a two-story frame structure. The bank occupied the ground floor and faced north. Three large windows adorned the west wall. Upstairs was a well-maintained apartment that the bank rented. Ms. Landry was one of the most respected tenants.

Union Bank’s local expansions reflected both the additional banking services it offered as well as the growth in local business volume.

Immigrants, many of whom were farmers, farmers and businessmen, flocked to various settlements in southwestern Alberta.

The Cowley branch made efforts to gain the banking trade from local ranchers and farmers.

As early as 1908, ranchers from North Cowley kept accounts there. The loans were handled diplomatically by bank officials who both wanted the money repaid, but also wanted to financially help the local agricultural industry, the backbone of the economy.

A decade later, in 1918, the bank placed an advertisement in The Pincher Creek Echo stating that “The Union Bank of Canada is prepared to make loans to good farmers on reasonable terms, to purchase cattle for food or breeding. It is in the interest of farmers to increase their herds.

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Pioneering personalities associated with the local bank

Through research into the history of stockbreeding undertaken by Mrs. Emma Lynch-Staunton some 65 years ago, together with local newspaper accounts of the time, Mr. Canby Urson Reese has been identified as the first manager of Cowley’s Union Bank.

On Wednesday, October 16, 1907, he married Audrey Parlett in a small ceremony held in Winnipeg. The happy couple returned to Cowley by train, after which bank staff presented their manager with a leather chair.

Canby and Audrey Parlett have taken up residence at the residence of MCB Miller in Cowley. In mid-August 1908, they were blessed with the birth of their first son.

In May 1912 Reece was replaced as manager by FH Fraser, a highly regarded man who for the previous two years had been an accountant at the Macleod branch of the Union Bank. There he was an active member of the Macleod hockey team and his teammates threw him a farewell party upon his departure from that NWMP town.

During August of that year, Fraser was granted his annual vacation and GR Van Dusen took up his duties on a temporary basis.

In 1918, a Mr. RE Morrow held the position of bank manager.

One of the people associated with the early history of the bank that we know more about was that of Walter Mitham.

Thanks to his grandson, Peter Mitham, who sifted through his grandparents’ correspondence for more than a decade detailing the early years surrounding the senior family member’s long banking career.

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Arriving in Canada shortly before the First World War, Walter Mitham, then 22 years old, accepted a job as an auditor at the Union Bank.

He was transferred to the Pincher Creek branch in 1914, then to the nearby Cowley branch about three years later.

According to his grandson’s research, Mitham had a listening ear for local ranchers and farmers who often lacked readily available cash.

As an auditor, he knew the bank had to be a profitable business, but he realized that the bank would need the business of the farming community to be successful.

Walter Mitham remained at the Cowley branch of the Union Bank of Canada until his marriage in 1922.

His wife was none other than Irene Hyde, the daughter of Henry and Emma M. (Chrisholm) Hyde of Pincher Creek.

Local history buffs will recall that Mitham’s new father-in-law had long been the manager of the Pincher Creek branch of Union Bank. He started in this position in 1898, but had offered independent banking services as early as 1889.

Interested in community affairs, Hyde served as mayor of Pincher Creek from 1917 to 1920. Mitham’s own career as an auditor continued at the bank’s and its successor’s head office, located in Montreal.

These early chronicles of the Cowley branch of the Union Bank bear witness to interesting pioneering times.

Farley Wuth is the curator of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.

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