The Wall Street of Québec
For many years the opulent buildings on rue Saint-Pierre housed the accounting firms, insurance companies, banks, and even a stock market that made the district the Wall Street of Québec, strategically located a stone’s throw away from the biggest port in Canada. Today the bank vaults have made way for famous restaurants and cozy hotel rooms.
A financial centre connected to the port
In the mid-19th century, rue Saint-Pierre bustled with business leaders intent on making their lumber, shipbuilding, or import companies a success. They needed capital, credit, and insurance. Some of them would form their own financial institutions alongside the Bank of Montreal or London’s Bank of British North America, both of which were located on this street.
Québec’s first financial institutions
Rich English-speaking entrepreneurs took the lead and chose rue Saint-Pierre as their place of business. The Quebec Bank, Union Bank, Quebec Fire Insurance Company, and Quebec Stock Exchange (a stock market founded in the early 19th century) appeared. Not to be outdone, in 1859 the French Canadian elite, albeit with more limited financial means, created the first chartered French bank in Canada, the National Bank, that would be located in the same building for more than a century (today’s Hôtel 71, at 71 rue Saint-Pierre).
These institutions opted for stately architecture in order to impress their clients. The famous architects they called in recommended choice materials and classical forms that suggested stability, wealth, and durability. Throughout the 19th century, architects upped the ante and designed ever-more lavish buildings featuring stone façades and entrances with pediments and colonnades inspired by the temples of antiquity.
The former Bank of Montréal branch at number 111 is one of the street’s most impressive buildings. Even to this day, its monumental entrance embellished with six capitalled columns catches the eye. Recently the building was restored by the architectural firm that became its owner. Another noteworthy building, number 139, located at the corner of rue Saint-Paul and rue Saint-Pierre, used to be the Canadian Bank of Commerce. Its curving entrance and four fluted granite columns are truly breathtaking.
Québec’s first skyscraper
In 1912 the members of the board of Dominion Fish and Fruit, a food wholesaler, decided to set up shop right in the middle of the business district (rue Saint-Pierre) and pulled out all the stops to commission Québec’s first skyscraper, located at number 126. The nine-storey building in the Chicago style towered over its neighbours. Its narrow façade accentuated the impression of height, and its terra cotta siding was a novelty in Québec. The building, recently restored by its new owners, houses a boutique hotel, Le Germain-Dominion.
From finance to the hospitality industry
In the second half of the 20th century, entrepreneurs, bankers, and insurers gradually left rue Saint-Pierre. The district’s decline, the transfer of economic activity to other parts of town, and the population exodus, along with the rise of Montréal’s financial institutions, sapped the vitality of the capital’s Wall Street.
Today these prestigious buildings are experiencing a new lease on life. Many of them house world-class hotels that derive their charm from the intimacy and the historical cachet of the district. Auberge Saint-Antoine is a perfect example of this trend. Built at the corner of rue Saint-Antoine on Îlot Hunt, which served as a commercial warehouse, its owners made sure that the site’s architectural and archeological integrity were preserved.
Many other entrepreneurs and restaurant and hotel owners on rue Saint-Pierre and nearby streets help to give this former financial centre its present-day energy and excitement.