(Editor’s note: in 2007 Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan interviewed the last surviving eyewitnesses to the Home Bank collapse, largest bank failure in Canada to that time. Founded as a savings bank for farmers and tradespeople, its 1923 closure left 47,000 depositors penniless. The scandal drove Finance Minister William Fielding to a nervous breakdown, and the bank’s president to a fatal heart attack before his fraud trial. A subsequent 1924 Royal Commission inspired eventual banking reforms including federal deposit insurance. Descendants of Home Bank depositors, many in their 80s and 90s, recalled the collapse. Here are their stories)
“My mother had $299 in the Home Bank in Winnipeg. It was devastating. I mean, when that’s all you have, and it’s gone in the blink of an eye – it’s devastating. My mother went down to the Bank and they wouldn’t let her in. She was not alone. There were a lot of other people who wanted to get in, but they closed the doors. My mother took that all very personally. She figured it was her money, and she couldn’t get it. The bank stole her money.
“After that I had to quit school and went to work, $8 a week. That was ten hours a day, six days a week, and I’d go down to the mortgage company and put $2 down on the mortgage so they wouldn’t foreclose. Any money that Mother did have after that, even food money, went into a deposit account at Eaton’s. My mother never trusted banks after that, because they stole her money.”
- • Molly Egilson, Winnipeg
“The Town of Fernie had $116,000 on deposit at that bank. So did the miners. I’ve lived all my life in this valley, and my dad was a miner. They’d come out of the mine, black as coal, with a lot of sore backs. It was very, very hard physical work. We used to say you put money under the mattress to save. I knew one man who kept his money in a coffee can instead of taking it to the bank. We found out later there was a lot of crookedness going on at the Bank. There was a lot of money stolen. That’s why it went broke. In our thinking, no ordinary working man would never, ever do anything like that to people. They were a different breed of people, the top brass, and they did things that were not good.”
- • Grace Dvorak, Fernie, B.C.
“My mother and Dad packed up the family from St. Thomas, Ontario and bought a Model T Ford for $300. The brought all us kids all the way across Canada for better conditions, they figured, in British Columbia. They’d sold everything back East and put all the money in the Home Bank. I remember we put up camp, and Dad took off and disappeared, going to the Bank to get some money. I remember he came back with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘We haven’t got any money. The place is broke.’ Mother was in tears. It was a disaster, you know. We heard later that some people committed suicide. Imagine, losing all their life savings. You know how people are. Terrible, sometimes, what happens.
“Looking back, it may be the best thing for the whole country if the Home Bank did go broke, and brought in all these guarantees of your savings. Otherwise it would have just kept going and going. So, I think it’s the best thing actually for the country that it did fail. It helped the country. Don’t you think so?”
- • Albert Brown, White Rock, B.C.
“My father sold his grain through the elevator and until the day he retired, he was a United Grain Growers man. The Grain Growers even sold Home Bank shares. My father worked for other farmers, and saved what money he could. He and his brother decided they would save to buy their own farm. They lost $2,400.
“They were very, very proud Scotsmen, and they just felt they were a failure. My parents never discussed this in front of the children, about having lost their life savings in the Home Bank. My mother was very bitter about the whole thing. All their dreams were shattered when their money was gone. Well, I guess they would be described as crooks. It was actually stealing somebody else’s money.”
- • Mary Horner, Minnedosa, Man.