At over 100 years old, the Great National Land Building on Church Street in the heart of downtown is one of Nanaimo’s most iconic landmarks. While easily recognizable today for its Neo-classical architectural style, the building has undergone a number of transformations throughout its long and unique history.
It all started in 1901, when the Canadian Bank of Commerce absorbed the Bank of British Columbia and assumed control of their branches. A new two-storey brick bank was built on the triangular shaped lot at the junction between Church and Chapel Street to house this newly formed entity.
The new bank at 5 Church Street was designed by local architect James Kelly, who was also known for designing the elaborate late-Victorian residence of Haslam Hall in Nanaimo. The building was comprised of a banking hall on the corner with offices above and a block of stores at the rear.
Just over ten years after opening, business at the bank was booming and they quickly outgrew their new space. In 1913, construction began on the new flat iron-shaped building, which still stands today. Officially completed in 1914, this was a tumultuous time in Nanaimo’s history, coinciding with the coal miners’ strike of 1912 – 1914.
Designed by staff architect Victor Horsburg, the building is most well known for its impressive exterior that features four massive columns. Inside, a grand circular banking hall opened off the main entrance, highlighted by white marble flooring, wall murals and central cheque tables.
Once completed, the Neo-Classical structure was considered as one of the finest buildings in Nanaimo and a prime example of the architectural style of the early 20th century. It continued to serve as a branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce until March 1960.
The building was eventually acquired by Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney, president of Nanaimo Company, and became a central hub of Nanaimo’s business district. In 1977, a six-storey office tower was added onto the building, and in 1997, it underwent extensive renovations to bring it up to modern standards, while still preserving the original materials and style. It was also at this time that the building received an official heritage designation. Today, the Great National Land Building stands proudly as one of Nanaimo’s most renowned monuments.