Lunenburg’s BMO building gets new lease on life

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The building&#8217;s new owner, Garth Turner, founder of Turner Investments, has had a varied working life that included politics, journalism and business.</p>
  • <p>FACEBOOK PHOTO</p><p>A photo of the original building posted on Facebook by Turner.</p>
  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>BMO filled in the 1907 building&#8217;s main door to fit a night security box. Garth Turner intends to restore it to its original design.</p>

While it outlived its usefulness as the Lunenburg branch for the Bank of Montreal (BMO) last August, the 111-year-old building on King Street has recently been purchased for another financial services company.

At the end of February, Garth Turner bought the domed granite structure, which was built in 1907, for his wealth management company - Turner Investments.

"I want to spend more time in Lunenburg and I want to move part of my business there," Turner told LighthouseNOW in a telephone interview from Toronto, where his company is based.

Turner Investments's website describes his career as "multifaceted," noting he has worked as a federal MP and federal cabinet minister, a business journalist, editor, TV personality, lecturer, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and financial advisor.

He and his wife, Dorothy, have divided their time between Lunenburg and Toronto for the past six or seven years.

"And I've always wanted to turn that into more full-time, so that's what we're in the process of doing now," he said.

Turner says he bought the building first and foremost because "it's a gorgeous building" whose architecture is "historically significant.

"It's a shame that the bank abandoned it."

He said he saw an opportunity to help restore and preserve the building for the community, "and also to have a really cool place to move my business."

Turner wouldn't reveal how much he paid for the building, commenting that it was "irrelevant."

However, he noted that he bought it at "fair market value" from the bank, adding that "banks don't give things away."

He said the 4,000 square foot space, with virtually the same amount in the basement, is more than his own company will require. Therefore, he intends to lease some of the property as well.

"It's going to be a low-impact use. It will be nice, high-quality office space."

Turner said contractors are now removing the bank teller partitions and a lot of the modern touches that BMO had left behind.

Referring to the domed ceiling, he describes the building as "classic bank architecture.

"And over the years it's been kind of screwed up by sticking banking machines in there and all kinds of modernizations. I'm really taking it back to its original configuration."

The building's architects were Peden and McLaren of Montreal, who undertook a number of projects for the bank around the turn of the century.

"So it's got a nice pedigree for architectural integrity," suggested Turner.

He says he's been been liaising with the Town of Lunenburg about making some slight modifications to the exterior of the building, such as peeling off some of the signage that is there and restoring the original main door.

"So that the building looks original - as the architects intended."

Turner is no stranger to historic restorations, having done "three or four" in Ontario.

"I just love, really, to be able to preserve and protect some of these buildings. It's what attracted Dorothy and I to Lunenburg, of course. It's just an architectural gem," said Turner.

He was expecting the renovation work to get underway "in earnest" in April, and to be completed by June or July.

In vacating the building for a new-build in Bridgewater last August, BMO shut the doors on 125 years of directly serving Lunenburg.

Until it made the decision to close, the bank operated three branches-one in Lunenburg, Bridgewater and Mahone Bay-all within a 20 kilometre radius.

"Obviously we did not make this decision lightly," Lee Winchester, the regional vice president, said at the time.

"We know that every community branch has a local history and of course local customers who're used to doing their banking a certain way, but this move is really about finding a way to deliver higher quality and consistent banking solutions to our customers."

Winchester said closing one branch was a way to broaden the bank's services without spreading itself too thin.

The bank elected to keep the Mahone Bay location because it was a larger, more modern building.

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