When the Imperial Bank of Canada announced the opening of a branch in town it was taken by many citizens as a significant sign of Cranbrook's increasing importance as a financial centre. Rumours of such a move had been circulating for almost a year but in Nov. 1902, when Mr. J.M. Lay, manager of the Nelson branch of the Imperial Bank, arrived to assess the situation, liked what he saw and approved the decision, the rumours became fact.
Within a short time the bank secured quarters in the Aikens Block - a large two story building on the northwest corner of what was then the intersection of Baker and Cranbrook Streets (now Clock Tower Square) - in rooms formerly occupied by undertaker C.P. Campbell. The Imperial Bank stood just a few doors away from its only financial competitor, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, situated on Baker St. in the building that would later become the Nu-Way Café (now demolished to allow for the Ninth Ave. connector).
The Imperial Bank opened for business on Mon. Dec.1, 1902, in rooms deemed "neat and convenient." They weren't quite finished and the stationery had not yet arrived but it was in business. The presence of the bank certainly raised the general tone of the neighbourhood. Far nicer say, to stop for a light lunch at the adjoining Vancouver Tea, Coffee & Confectionery before transacting one's financial affairs next door than the former option of a light lunch and a visit to the undertaker.
By 1904 the Imperial Bank - the first branch of which opened in Toronto in the 1870s - was a well-known institution with over thirty-nine branches across Canada, including nearby Nelson, Revelstoke and Golden. The local branch soon proved too small and a new site was chosen; the former drug store and post office managed by R.E.Beattie on the southeast corner of 8th Ave. and Baker St. The building was one of Cranbrook's oldest and required a large degree of renovation to make it suitable for the bank's purposes. In the spring of 1905 the entire front portion was removed and rebuilt and the rear of the building enclosed for staff quarters. The structure was refitted, repapered and repainted and the seven ton safe moved from the old site to the new by the local cartage firm of Perry and Fitzgerald. The fine-grained oak partitions, counters, doors and desks combined with an artistically woven bronze lattice teller's cage served to make the new location one of the finest financial institutions in the district. This fact was most probably not lost on the Canadian Bank of Commerce who at the time were undertaking the initial construction of their own building (completed in 1906) on the corner where now stands the Royal Bank. This fact was most probably not lost on the Imperial Bank who, in 1907 began preparing plans for a new building on the site of the building they had recently renovated. Although tenders were called in Apr. 1908, the site did not afford the size required for the new building and after protracted with local landowner Valentine Hyde Baker the Imperial Bank purchased land directly across the street to the north, the site of the original Townsite Office.
The Imperial Bank moved part of their building to the rear of the new lot as temporary quarters and construction of the new bank began in early Sept. 1909 under the able hand of local contractor George Leask. The plans for the 30 x 61ft., two storey building included a full concrete basement with a sandstone foundation as a base for the locally manufactured bricks forming the upper two stories. The first story held the bank proper while the second level contained staff apartments and office space. Three vaults were installed, one on each floor with the entire building heated by steam and lit by electricity.
Construction continued sporadically, held up in part by the delay of sandstone shipped from Calgary which did not arrive until Apr. 1910. It was a busy time for construction in Cranbrook during the year. Other large projects underway included the Masonic Temple (The Studio), the Arena Rink, the schoolhouse and the city powerhouse. These would soon be joined by the construction of City Hall, the Hanson Block and the YMCA. Nonetheless, by May the local plumbing and heating firm of the Patmore Bros. was fashioning the galvanized iron cornice to decorate the top of the building.
A small note in the Cranbrook Herald of Oct.27 1910 states, "The Imperial Bank is nearing completion and bank officers expect to move in the following weekend," and that, it would appear, constitutes the opening of one of Cranbrook's finest and most enduring heritage buildings.
In 1961 the Imperial Bank of Canada and the Canadian Bank of Commerce amalgamated to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The institution continued to do business out of the former Imperial Bank while the Royal Bank took over the former Bank of Commerce building which they later demolished to make room for their present day structure. The CIBC moved to its present location in 1973 and for a time the former Imperial Bank building held the Chamber of Commerce. In 1975 Cranbrook Photo moved from its home in the Raworth Block (now Delamont E H Jeweler Ltd.) and took over the historic bank building where they remain to this day, one of a small handful of local businesses committed to the preservation of Cranbrook heritage buildings.