Celebrating 100 years: Great National Land Building

Guess what building in downtown Nanaimo is celebrating its 100th birthday? The Great National Land Building is one of Nanaimo’s best examples of Neo-Classical Revival architecture and is located at the intersection of Church Street and Chapel Street.

17 Church Street Nanaimo
Best example of Neo-Classical Architecture in Nanaimo is on Church Street, built in 1914.

In 1901 the Canadian Bank of Commerce absorbed the Bank of British Columbia and assumed control of their branches.

In December 1901 the Bank of BC building erected in 1888 was demolished and replaced by a two storey brick bank constructed on a triangular shaped lot formed by the junction of Church and Chapel Street, facing Commercial Street. The address was 5 Church Street.

That structure was designed by local architect James Kelly and comprised a banking hall on the corner with offices above and a block of stores at the rear. James Kelly also designed Haslam Hall (1893) 15 Wallace Street, Nanaimo.

1977 Corner of Church Street and Chapel Street Nanaimo
Corner of Church Street and Chapel Street Nanaimo  1977

By late 1913, increased business called for larger banking facilities and the banking section of the 1901 building was torn down. A flat iron-shaped building was begun in November 1913, and completed in 1914. V.D. Horsburgh, was the staff architect for Dominion Realty, a subsidiary of the Canadian Bank of Commerce.

Horsburgh designed all of the bank’s branches that were built between 1910 and 1922.

The portico built in Nanaimo was the result of trying to utilize the narrow end of a gore shaped lot.

Danforth and Broadview in Toronto, sister building
Danforth and Broadview in Toronto, sister building

A contemporary wedge-shaped branch similar to the Nanaimo structure and also designed by Horsburgh was built at the corner of Danforth and Broadview in Toronto. (see photo to left)

A major interior feature of the 1914 Nanaimo branch was its circular banking hall, opening off the main entrance. Cheque tables were located in the center, with wickets and counters on the inner side. Various offices radiated from the hall, beginning with the manager’s, located on  the left side, adjacent to the vestibule. The floor of the main hall was of white marble; murals decorated the walls.

When completed the Neo-Classical structure was considered one of the finest buildings in Nanaimo. It continued to serve as a branch of the Canadian (Imperial) Bank of Commerce until March 1960.

The building was eventually acquired by Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney, president of Nanaimo Company, who renamed it the Frontier Building. Back in the day the “Frontier Building” was the pulse centre of Nanaimo’s business district as Frank Ney, land developer, real estate agent and politician, built the city.

In 1977 a six storey office tower was added.  The accounting firm Church Pickard, a tenant since the addition was built, moves out in December along with Coast Realty Group.  Owner Norman Blattgerste has not revealed to the media what his plans are; maybe it will be renovated, leased or sold.

A heritage designation was given to the building in 1997 by the City of Nanaimo after a $1-million renovation to the exterior.

So much has changed over the last 100 years. What stories will this building have to tell over the next hundred years?