Sydney historic society unearths surprises as renos continue at old bank

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Stop-work order halts museum renovations at Sydney bank building

The Old Sydney Society is receiving some pleasant surprises as it moves into its new home in the historic former Bank of Montreal building on Charlotte Street. 

The non-profit society is moving one of its four museums into the space and the process has led to some interesting discoveries, executive director Joyce Rankin said Friday.

The first came while removing temporary offices installed in the former bank, which was originally constructed 1899 in the neoclassical style.

"It became very apparent the whole intent of the architecture was to have this big open space with that lofty, vaulted ceiling and the dome, and the archways and the columns," said Rankin.

Digging deep

The renovations also involved lifting up some of the floor, which became a journey back in time.

"In a way it's sort of archeological," said Rankin. "As we dug down, there were several layers of flooring."

At the bottom was a surprise — an intricate mosaic of very small tiles in shades of charcoal grey and white, painstakingly laid out in a repeating fan pattern. 

Rankin said it's evidence the bank was built to be a showplace.

"It would have been pretty magnificent," she said. "The theory at the time was very much that the institution commanded respect and a bit of awe."

Regrettably, there was not enough of the mosaic left to recover for use in the museum, she said.

A chance to rediscover

The process of moving the society's collection of artifacts from their old home in the Lyceum Building to the bank's basement also unearthed items Rankin had never seen before.

"We opened all the boxes, checked what was in them, checked that all the labels were correct. And when you're doing that, you really get to see how beautiful some of the pieces are. Because when you look at the list and it says "Yellow silk dress, 1921," that's different from actually looking at that dress."

Rankin said it will be some time yet before the public gets to discover the museum in its finished state. The permanent exhibit is still in the planning stage, and likely won't be finished until late this year. In the meantime, the society will stage temporary exhibits.

The Old Sydney Society hopes to host a grand opening sometime in May.