The 34-storey headquarters of the Canadian Bank of Commerce (now known as Commerce Court North) was the tallest building in the Commonwealth from 1931 to 1962. Built at a time when banks were temples, this art deco temple incorporates a memorial to bank staff killed in WW1.
Enter the doors at 25 King St W and walk through to the banking hall with its soaring six story ceiling. Over the south door, a screen is dedicated to bank employees who “gave their lives in the Great War.” According to the bank, “this memorial was carved in situ inside the banking hall and was made from Belgian marble. Designed by a local sculptor, it featured two angels with sheathed swords kneeling on either side of the altar of sacrifice.” The screen features an excerpt from Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Dead:
These laid the world away; poured out the red sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be of work and joy, and that unhoped serene, that men call age; and those who would have been, their sons, they gave, their immortality
In 1920, the bank published Letters from the Front, reproducing letters written by bank employees on active duty during the war. The two volume collection included the names and brief service records of all employees who served (1701 in all), and photos of those who died, those decorated or mentioned in despatches, and the “lady members of the staff on active service” – two nursing sisters and six VADs.
The book also reveals that the screen was not the original idea for the bank’s war memorial. Photos of two wax models by Walter Allward were described as rough models for the intended tribute: The Service of our Women – Healing the Scars of War and The Service of our Men – Crushing the Power of the Sword.