Skip to main content

Edmonton's Union Bank Inn building, constructed in the early 1900s, was transformed into a hotel in 1997. Its most recent renovation in 2017 included converting a ballroom into more guestrooms, bringing the number of rooms to 40.

Union Bank Inn

In earlier days, the most opulent building in many towns was likely to be a bank. Today, many of those beautiful edifices are still standing, but rather than places for your money, they’re open for you to stay.

Around the world, and in a few places in Canada, too, old banks have been converted into luxury, boutique and business hotels. While the bank properties undergoing these renos can vary in age and size, the most striking ones tend to be the imposing old temples of money located in central locations or main streets in larger cities.

Hotels that were formerly banks in this country tend to be fewer and far between compared with conversions in the United States and overseas, but there are a few noteworthy ones. There’s the historic Hôtel Place D’Armes in Old Montreal, for example, a pioneer in the boutique hotel business that opened in 2000 in a set of three 19th-century neoclassical buildings that includes the former Bank du Peuple.

Story continues below advertisement

Instead of seeking a mortgage, visitors to the Montreal hotel can now book into one of 116 guest rooms or 48 suites. Rather than depositing a cheque, they can deposit themselves in a luxury spa or at the hotel’s Japanese tavern, which offers 25 types of sake.

The Place D’Armes was developed by Groupe Antonopoulos, a family-owned hospitality firm that has 1,200 employees and owns and operates an additional four boutique hotels, all in Old Montreal. Bank buildings in other Canadian cities have also been turned into hotels, though it’s not as common a practice in Canada as it is in the United States and overseas.

“There are some obvious reasons why it’s not as prevalent in Canada,” says David Larone, a senior managing director at real estate service CBRE Ltd. who specializes in valuation and advisory services.

One reason is that the downtown cores of Canadian cities have tended to be in better shape than in U.S. cities, which suffered urban blight in the late 20th century and began to be restored later.

“If you look at Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver, for example, we haven’t had the level of deterioration in our downtown cores as they had in many U.S. cities. So a lot of those [old bank] buildings just aren’t available here because they’re still in use,” Mr. Larone says.

“Also in the U.S., because of the larger population and density in cities, there are more buildings on a scale that can be converted into a hotel than we have here,” he adds.

One King West Hotel, opened in 2006, was built atop an historic Dominion Bank building in downtown Toronto. Remnants of the bank remain.

Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

There are exceptions, of course. Toronto’s One King West Hotel and Residence, for example, encompasses the historic Dominion Bank Building, constructed in 1914.

Story continues below advertisement

The hotel, completed in 2006, stands alone as a hotel that’s an ex-bank, within the sea of steel and glass towers in Toronto’s financial district. One King West is part of a tower complex itself, a building called The Sliver that was built atop the historic bank.

In addition to having a larger supply of big, old beautiful banks in the United States, the urban development incentives tend to be more attractive there, Mr. Larone adds. In a lot of cases, a U.S.-based developer can get a property tax abatement from a municipality, a state or from Washington.

In any country, the economics of a conversion aren’t always easy, Mr. Larone adds.

“You have to look at how cheaply you can acquire the property, because your retrofit is likely going to cost you more than putting up a new building. The masonry is probably going to need work, the level of insulation is likely not going to be up to today’s standards. You’ll probably want to retain the old windows, but you’ll have to find ways to do that which are energy efficient,” he says.

One converted bank hotel in Alberta that boasts about its heritage is the Union Bank Inn. Converted by Edmonton developer (now an industrial manufacturing chief executive officer) Diane Buchanan in 1997, the renovation drew on her experiences at boutique inns in Europe.

The heart of the inn, now with 40 rooms, is a 1910 building that cost less than $60,000 to construct at the time and which later housed a Royal Bank of Canada branch. The Edmonton property was renovated again in 2017, converting a ballroom into more guestrooms.

Story continues below advertisement

Not all converted banks are old-time buildings in Canada. In Quebec City, the Hôtel Royal William is a former National Bank building dating to 1954 that now offers 44 rooms. The hotel is proud of its history but is still looking for the best ways to incorporate the bank’s heritage elements into the property, says general manager Martin Lamothe.

“We have a safe in the basement and one in the reception area. We have a new owner; we’re renovating and we’ll look at how to use some of the elements from the bank in our design,” he says. But the $2-million renovation will not focus on the building’s history as a bank.

The 44-room Hôtel Royal William, a former National Bank building dating to 1954, is undergoing a renovation that may include incorporating some of the bank's remaining elements.

Handout

Why bother to convert a bank? Because banks can be beautiful, Mr. Larone says.

“You have a great sense of arrival, you have high ceilings on the ground floor, you usually have tall windows with good light. And there can be some connection to the local community, so you can offer experiential travel, too.”

Even when they need overhauls, old banks are often good structures, too, he adds. “After all, who has more money to put up a building than a bank?”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter