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History of the Bank of Nova Scotia 1832-1900




John V. Payzant, President.
Charles Archibald, Vice-President.
R. L. Borden, G. S. Campbell, J. Walter Allison, Hector McInnes.
H. C. McLeod, General Manager.

Dawn of Banking in Nova Scotia.

WE are told in Murdoch’s History of Nova Scotia that the first effort to establish a Bank in Halifax was made in the spring of 1801—or just a century ago. Sir John Wentworth, the Lieutenant-Governor, wrote to Mr. Bernard, the Provincial Agent in London, under date of April 10th, 1801, that £50,000 had been subscribed for this purpose in one hour—that ^100,000 would be subscribed if necessary. He says: “Ten years agone there did not exist £6,000 in the Province that could by any possibility have been applied to any one point. A copy of the plan as agreed on in March, 1801 has been lent me by John Duffus, Esq.” The project contemplated a capital of £50,000, in shares of £100 each, capable of being increased to £100,000. There were to be seven directors. The Cashier was to have £300 a year salary, besides house rent and fuel. They were to issue paper money and discount notes. “No other Bank“ to be established by any future law of the Province during the continuance of the said Corporation.” A committee was named on the indorsement, viz.: Edward B. Brenton, William Forsyth, Foster Hutchinson, Lawrence Hartshorne, James Foreman, James Fraser and Captain John Beckwith. The demand of a monopoly was fatal to the success of the incorporation bill, and it was accordingly deferred till next Session by the House of Assembly, on 16th June, 1801. In 1811 the Halifax Committee of Trade published a project for a provincial joint stock bank with a capital of £50,000, but as no proceedings relating thereto appear in the records of the Assembly, it is probable the share list was not filled up. In 1822 and 1825 bills were introduced to incorporate banks, and both failed; On the 3rd September of the latter year the Halifax Banking Company, otherwise known as Cogswell and Company, opened its doors as a private firm. It had no Act of Incorporation or Charter. The partners who signed the public notice were : Henry H. Cogswell, President; William Pryor, Vice-President; Enos Collins, James Tobin, Samuel Cunard, John Clark, Joseph Allison and Martin Gay Black. The new banking firm met with a considerable degree of favor, but as their prosperity increased their methods became autocratic. Their notes were made “payable in gold, or silver, or Province paper”; .the public construed this to mean that the holders were entitled to whichever they desired, but found in actual practice that they could get only that which the Bank chose to give them. Five partners out of the eight who were concerned in the Bank were members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, forming, with their relatives, a majority in both.

The monopoly of the Halifax banking company was not long borne in silence; a series of bitter attacks was made upon its methods through the columns of the newspapers; every commercial mishap was laid at its doors; and adverse feeling finally crystallized in a scheme for the establishment of the “Bank of Nova Scotia.” The subscription list, a photographic reproduction of which appears on the following pages, was opened on 1st February, 1832; the accompanying petition, and, in due course, the incorporation bill, were introduced into the House of Assembly by William Lawson, one of the members for the County of Halifax.

It would appear that the proposed charter was a modified copy of that thrown out in 1801, and closely resembled that of the Bank of New Brunswick, established in 1820; but instead of seeking a monopoly it this time appeared as a relief from that evil. The account of the political struggle for incorporation, which appears on page 20, is quoted from “Reminiscences of Our Native Land” published in the Halifax Acadian Recorder: it is compiled from original records, including that newspaper’s parliamentary reports of the time.

The Struggle for Incorporation
The Act of Incorporation

The Meeting of the Coffee House
The Bank Commences Business
Chronological Notes, 1832 to 1870
The Forman Defalcation
The Fiftieth Anniversary
Progress and Expansion
Note Circulation
Directors of the Bank 1832 to 1901
List of Shareholders as at January 1901
General Statement of the Bank of Nova Scotia 31st December 1900

More recent history of the bank can be found here

Return to our History of Nova Scotia Page

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