A tall flagpole out front made the Wells Fargo’s Yates Street office a local landmark in Victoria.
A tall flagpole in front of the building made Wells Fargo’s Yates Street office a local landmark in Victoria, British Columbia.
Photo: Image courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.
July 7, 2017

Wells Fargo’s evolving role in Canada

In honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary, a Wells Fargo historian shares the company’s history with the country.

Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year, but the history of Wells Fargo doing business there started even earlier.

A gold rush on the Fraser River brought Wells Fargo to Canada in 1858. That June, express agent Samuel Knight arrived on the steamship Cortez to open Wells Fargo’s first banking and express office on Yates Street in Victoria, British Columbia. Wells Fargo had already earned a reputation for reliable banking and express transportation service up and down the Pacific Coast, and Knight was welcomed into the local business community. “Such an establishment is much needed,” the editor of the Victoria Gazette wrote.

After setting up Wells Fargo’s first office in Canada in the summer of 1858, Samuel Knight returned to San Francisco, where he became a company superintendent.
After setting up Wells Fargo’s first office in Canada in the summer of 1858, Samuel Knight returned to San Francisco and became a company superintendent.

Every inbound steamer brought express shipments of valuable goods, mail, and newspapers, and outbound vessels carried bags of Fraser River gold. Wells Fargo’s shipboard messengers assured their safe delivery.

From August to October 1858, Wells Fargo agent James H. Latham bought 4,469 ounces of gold from miners and then loaded it on steamers headed south to San Francisco, where the metal was sold at the U.S. Mint. Although business slowed in the winter when the river froze over, when it thawed in spring Wells Fargo dispatched more agents to mining camps.

Brisk trade continued year-round between Victoria and other Pacific ports, and Wells Fargo’s office on Yates Street continued to provide key connections to the outside world for customers in western Canada. When Victoria’s first city directory was published in 1860, Wells Fargo advertised worldwide service — using express transportation networks which reached the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and even Europe — and promised to “ship treasure, packages, etc., at the lowest rates to all parts of the world.”

Wells Fargo messengers also safely transported gold from nearby mining districts. On his trips from the Cariboo Mining District in British Columbia, messenger Billy Ballou became a master of disguise. For security reasons, he altered his appearance and dress so that no one recognized him as he transported precious gold dust to Wells Fargo’s banking office — one of only four banks in British Columbia in the mid-1860s.

A receipt from Wells Fargo’s office in Victoria, British Columbia, dated July 1867 — the month Canada became a nation.
A receipt from Wells Fargo’s office in Victoria, British Columbia, dated July 1867 — the month Canada became a nation.

Expanding business

Local businessman Francis Garesche took over the Victoria Wells Fargo banking and express office in 1866, and in 1873, Wells Fargo officially transferred its entire Victoria banking business to Garesche, Green & Co. Garesche and his business partner, A. A. Green, moved the local Wells Fargo express office to Government Street in the late 1870s — where it remained for four decades.

In 1911, Wells Fargo took over routes of the Alaska Pacific Express Co. and opened offices in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in the Yukon Territory. Just a few years later, in 1917, the company expanded beyond British Columbia and used new railroad connections to establish express offices to the east in London, Port Stanley, and Toronto, Ontario.

Wells Fargo ended its express transportation business in North America in 1918, leaving the company with just a single banking office in San Francisco. That banking office continued to maintain strong correspondent relationships with commercial banks in Canada. In recent decades, Wells Fargo has expanded its worldwide banking presence into Canadian markets through expansion and acquisitions. The addition of several businesses from GE Capital in 2015 and 2016 greatly increased Wells Fargo’s services for its customers in Canada. This acquisition also tripled the number of Wells Fargo team members in the country.

Today, as Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial year, approximately 700 Wells Fargo team members continue to deliver a variety of financial services across Canada from key locations including Calgary, Alberta; Mississauga, Ontario; Montreal; Toronto, Ontario; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Wells Fargo proudly participated in the sesquicentennial Canada Day celebration in July 2017 with a stagecoach appearance in the Vancouver parade and in the Calgary Stampede.

Learn more about the history of Wells Fargo.