Renewed Growth, 1931-1960
In January 1931, The Canadian Bank of Commerce opened its new head office at King and Jordan streets in Toronto. Built during the Depression, it was a statement of confidence both in the stability of the bank and in the development of Canada. An observation gallery on the 32nd floor was a popular tourist attraction where, for the first time, visitors could get an aerial view of the city. An architectural and structural marvel, the 476-foot, 34-storey tower remained the tallest building in the British Commonwealth until 1962.
The heights of the Head Office, however, contrasted with the depths of the Great Depression. Poor economic conditions across the country forced the closure of more than 300 branches of both The Commerce and the Imperial. The banks had to look for new sources of revenue and in 1936, The Commerce was the first Canadian bank to establish a personal loans department. Initially, the bank decided it would issue loans only in the Toronto and Hamilton districts, and only for a maximum of $1,000. The pilot program proved very popular and loans were extended to Canadians across the country.
When World War II broke out in 1939, bankers and financial leaders were called upon to work for the Canadian government. J.H. Gundy, of Wood, Gundy & Company, resumed his position on the Victory Loans Committee and once again organized their sale. This time the Victory Loan campaigns raised some $12 billion for the war effort, with almost 3 million Canadians buying war loan bonds.
The post-war years were prosperous times for Canada. When The Commerce and the Imperial started to open new branches, they did so in the rapidly growing suburbs. The same suburbs where many Canadian families were building new homes and required mortgage financing. Although the banks had been barred from the mortgage business since 1871, the Canadian government now called upon them to provide mortgage services. Previously, life insurance companies provided the majority of mortgage funds; however, by 1953, those funds were no longer adequate. So, in 1954, Canadian banks started offering mortgages for new construction. By the end of that year, The Commerce had invested $25 million in mortgages; 6 years later, the amount had grown to $246.5 million.
During this time, Canada capitalized on the industrialization of its natural resources, and the economy grew at an unprecedented rate. Both The Commerce and the Imperial had been involved in the resource industry since their early days, but during the 1950s the financing needs of those clients grew exponentially. In fact, by 1960, the Imperial could not keep pace with the demands of its clients in the industry. To better serve these clients and to ward off a possible buyout by a foreign bank, Imperial Chairman Stuart Mackersy discreetly approached Neil McKinnon, president of The Commerce, with a proposal to merge the 2 banks. Legend has it that the 2 men reached a tentative deal for amalgamation in 10 minutes.