Raised and educated in Halifax, Harry Alden Richardson spent his entire career with the Bank of Nova Scotia, starting locally at 17. He worked his way up, though how he came to be promoted is unknown. As the bank expanded through the Maritimes, guided by Thomas Fyshe*, Richardson managed branches in Sussex and Newcastle, N.B., Charlottetown, and Yarmouth, N.S., where he dealt with the financial implications of a sea-based economy facing industrialization. His posting in 1900 as manager of the Toronto branch (opened in 1897) coincided with the bank’s decision to transfer its head office there from Halifax, to be closer to the opportunities created by booming economic growth in Ontario and the west. Both branch and office occupied space in the Canada Life Assurance Building on King Street until the construction nearby in 1902–4 of separate premises, designed by the firm of Frank Darling.
Toronto’s bankers did not give Richardson or his employer a hearty welcome. Through various creative approaches, he broke their hold on a number of prized customers, including the City of Toronto. After introducing himself to treasurer Richard Theodore Coady, he reportedly said “that he had a good mind to boot the municipal custodian in the classic manner.” When a startled Coady asked why, Richardson replied, “Because you have not given us any of your business.” Thus was born a fruitful relationship with city hall. Richardson profited as well from the emphasis of general manager Henry Collingwood McLeod on transparent accounting. The bank’s publication of its audited statements, beginning in 1902 and a first for a Canadian bank, gave Richardson an advantage at a time when bank failures left customers looking for safe repositories. His elevation to general manager in 1910 surprised many, perhaps no one more than assistant general manager Daniel Waters. Richardson proved a contrast to the prickly McLeod, who had not hesitated to spar openly with other bankers during his campaign for government inspection. His humour and grace took the sharp edges off the bank’s executive offices. To appease some members of the bank’s board of directors, who had become tired of the constant bickering between McLeod and others, Richardson made some concessions to win peace, including ending the publication of the audited statements. He knew how to circulate, as a member of several Toronto clubs as well as St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church; keenly aware of the public’s perceptions of bankers and failed banks, he displayed simple tastes and personal thrift. During much of his time in Toronto he walked to work in the tan overcoat that became his trade mark, though by 1914 he had acquired a “big car, in which he picked up other bankers to discuss deals and mutual difficulties foisted on the banks by war finance.”
Despite their contrasting styles, Richardson shared his predecessor’s focus on turning their bank into a national institution. His success would distinguish it from most other banks, which were slow or unable to identify new markets. By 1910 banking was undergoing rapid transformation, with a concentration of capital in central Canada. Extraordinary economic growth brought unbridled optimism, new banks, and the demise of others, run into the ground by venal managers. Inducing shareholders to finance new branches and wooing accounts was a difficult business, but Richardson’s interest in expansion began soon after he occupied the general manager’s office. At the same time his bank maintained its interests in the Maritimes – one of his earliest moves was to continue the advancement of funds to Nova Scotia Steel and Coal to thwart a takeover.
To consolidate markets and create a national bank with a strong network, Richardson initiated not just new branches but also mergers and he introduced internal measures to keep his best managers from moving to rival banks or into the lucrative brokerage field. Combination began in 1913, when the Bank of New Brunswick was added. A year later came the Toronto-based Metropolitan Bank. In 1919, in his greatest coup, Richardson persuaded federal finance minister Sir William Thomas White* to allow his bank to buy the Bank of Ottawa. Mergers required cabinet approval, and White was conscious that the disappearance of many banks between 1915 and 1918 had intensified public concern. Richardson told him that the acquisition would put the Bank of Nova Scotia in a better position to provide money for exports – it financed more Winnipeg grain shipments than other banks and was well practised in capitalizing international trade – and thereby buoy up the dollar. White agreed, despite public outcry. Another key to these mergers was Richardson’s friendships with the general managers of the other banks, who had all at one time been employed by the Bank of Nova Scotia.
During the war Richardson had placed his services at the dominion’s disposal. As advisers to White, he and other senior bankers assisted in the sale of war bonds to the public and played an important role helping the government to manage various fiscal needs and emergencies. Richardson and fellow members of the Canadian Bankers’ Association met with White on different occasions to arrange credit for wartime supplies, though in a climate of public hostility to profiteers Richardson was reluctant to have any attention drawn to the banks’ commissions. He used his access to White to remedy another problem. His pressure to break the Bank of Montreal’s monopoly of government business intensified as this rival accepted the huge sums collected from war loans and other sources. Richardson bluntly told White in 1918 that such large deposits allowed the bank to reduce its rates on commercial loans and that, if Ottawa wanted the banks to share equally in financing exports and government obligations, the preference had to stop. The Bank of Montreal eventually lost its favoured position in the 1920s.
By the war’s end, Richardson was a member of White’s inner circle of financial advisers, drawn from the top bank managers in the country. A vice-president of the CBA in the early 1920s, he was one of the senior Canadian and American bankers who met in Toronto in July 1922 to discuss areas of possible cooperation as post-war depression had the dominion in a sour mood and looking for new answers to old economic problems. Never comfortable with the steady travel required by his bank’s business across Canada and in the Caribbean, by that year he had appointed two assistant general managers and more supervisory officers. However, he did not sail off into retirement as McLeod had done. Apparently troubled by poor health for a good part of his life, he died at age 60 in 1923, still general manager. One bank official was certain that the collapse of sugar prices in the West Indies and fish prices in Newfoundland had contributed to his demise. A friend described him as a man “wrapped up in the bank.” It was very much the centre of his life – his outside business involvement appears to have been limited to a directorship with Canada Life. The Bank of Nova Scotia was testament to his success as a banker; his many friends were testament to his character.
phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 2000). j.a.t.-e.]
AO, F 977, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto; RG 22-305, no.48231; RG 80-8-0-910, no.4266. Scotiabank Group Arch. (Toronto), Richardson papers. Toronto Daily Star, 18 May 1923. Canadian annual rev., 1916: 361–62; 1920: 57; 1922: 523, 535. H. V. Cann, Pages from a banker’s journal (n.p., 1933; copy in LAC). J. D. Frost, “The ‘nationalization’ of the Bank of Nova Scotia, 1880–1910,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 12 (1982–83), no.1: 3–38. Joseph Schull and J. D. Gibson, The Scotiabank story: a history of the Bank of Nova Scotia, 1832–1982 (Toronto, 1982). TRL, Biog. scrapbooks (89v., Toronto, 1973; mfm. copy in AO library coll.), 4: 678. Vital statistics from N.B. newspapers (Johnson), 81, no.1990.
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