Mercury – the patron saint of couriers


There are few things prettier than grand pre-war towers – and banks were particularly great for investing in sculptural art and durable embellishment. This is a detail of one of my very favourite buildings in the financial core of Toronto – the Bank of Nova Scotia at the N-E corner of King and Bay.

Admittedly, Commerce Court across the street to the south is more ornate (and has some really incredible lofting and interior light-gathering) but the clean deco design of this beauty appeals very strongly to me. It also helps that I have a lot of funny old memories of the inside of this place from my youth – and to this day I get a smile from it, every time I go by.

As a teenager, I did once try out the office life (most junior of mail-room flunkies, to be sure) and I approached this chameleon job with my usual mania – and so was soon sporting a spiffy cigarette case, deco tie clips and an (art-store) fountain pen. The fact that I had to glue my dyed golden-blonde chin-length bangs back to my skull with about a half a bottle of hairspray every morning didn’t bother me – it was just part of being able to appear ‘normal’ to that crowd by-day without actually surrendering my more natural-feeling everyday freak look (new-romantic – basically ‘goth’ a decade before anyone started using that term).

It’s quite hilarious to me now – looking back – that my freakiest and straightest ever phases happened simultaneously – but kids are energetic like that, and I wanted both a job and a cool girl, so the bifurcation made perfect sense. I mentioned before that I was always surprised they would send such a junior guy as myself out to do the corporate banking – sometimes picking up the kind of cash that they paid me in salary for the better part of a year!

This was the bank I most often visited – and that was back in the pre-computer days, when you’d write-out your own transaction slips at a fancy marble table, with the infamous pens-on-chains (to prevent them from being stolen) which never EVER worked anyhow! (but they’d still tempt you to try them every time – and make you feel like a sucker for your naive hope!).

The main banking hall within is grand and lovely – but it was the quiet and over-polite library-manners of the place, almost ritualistic in their repetitive formality, that made it feel like a high-temple of mammon – and also often made me feel like an impostor, who was about to be called-out.  (All teenagers know caper-nerves!)  ;o)

Back in the mid eighties, when the corporate bigwigs decided they wanted to erect a more spectacular edifice, they studied the idea of knocking this beauty down – the story I heard is that not only was there opposition on historical grounds – but they also discovered it’s metalwork was done in high grade steel, rather than the usual pig-iron, making any potential demolition ruinously expensive (apocryphal as yet – but lovely story, no?).

The ugly pink 68 storey tower, very much ‘erected’ in 1988 next to this more modest and proportional one, is probably the single most exciting helicopter landing pad currently operating in the downtown core (terribly narrow footprint, as extremely tall roofs go), but aside from that, largely forgettable.

This beauty? No way, not ever! Though it and it’s towering companion were sold in 2012 (for a billion-two!) and leased-back, as all the big banks in Canada have done with their major properties, to better (Basel) liquidity.

This particular Mercurial panel is also facing ‘the can’ (first Canadian place) which remains a major core rendezvous spot for bike couriers, subway and tower-walkers (my own long-ago courier role).  Decent food-court too (rare – and been that way for decades now – far rarer still). Also, frequent art!

And yes – for reference, urban couriers are a tiny bit crazy – they need to be – and we need them, believe me! Also, they cannot reasonably be faulted for their sometimes smug-seeming smiles – there really is something awfully heady about walking into a gigantic office – fancy or not – seeing all of those trapped-looking people, stuck in their cubicles, and being the one person who can walk right out again into exercise and fresh air – all you need is one little signature – please?

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