Bank of Canada Favours Greek Currency

By James D. Georgiles

How many people scurrying along Wellington Street, Ottawa on their way to or from work pause to notice the beautiful doors on the old Bank of Canada?

Attracted by the presence of Greek lettering on them, I approached the doors. After all, what is Greek doing on a Canadian Government building? I was rewarded, for these graceful doors with their classical motifs now partially obscured by a patina of verdigris demand a closer inspection.
The doors, surrounded by a delicate architrave, are divided into six equal panels each of which bears in mezzo-relievo (half relief) the obverse or reverse of some coin of ancient Greece.

Curious as to why Greek coinage had been chosen for the Bank doors, I approached the architects Messrs. Marani, Morris and Allan of Toronto and asked the reasons for their choice and how the doors had been designed.

Originally, I was told, the design had been based on coins of various countries and periods. But after careful consideration, it had been decided to use only Greek coins because they were deemed more in keeping with the Greek detail of the moulding and ornament in general display throughout the building.

Many Greek coins were studied and those used were selected because of the suitability of their scale and modelling and the compatibility of their design to the building generally.

After selection of the coins to be used, F. H. Marani and W. R. Winegar, of Marani, Morris and Allen, designed the doors.

The finished design was turned over to Messrs. Ricci and Zarri, architectural modellers of New York, who, under the direction of the Toronto architects, conducted the full scale study of the models for the bronze work.

Ulysses Ricci, head of the New York firm and a sculptor of repute with a wealth of knowledge of bronze – casting techniques, prepared full – scale plaster models to the final stage.

The next step was the actual casting of the doors. This was done from the full-scale plaster models by the General Bronze Company of New York.

In the upper panel of the left door is depicted a stag about to browse from the tender shoots of a young tree. Above the stag appear four Greek letters, the first letters of Caulonia and symbol of that city, which was one of the Greek (Archian) settlements in Magna Grecia (south Italy). The scene was taken from the reverse of one of the silver coins issued by the Deme of Caulonia between the years 700 and 480 BC.

The centre left panel is a facsimile of the reverse of a silver coin struck by King Antigonus Doson, who ruled in Macedonia from 229 to 220 BC. The scene is that of Apollo, bow in hand, seated upon the prow of a galley. On the side of the galley appears lettering stating “I belong to King Antigonus,” while just below Apollo’s foot is the city symbol.

The bottom left panel is the reverse from a golden coin minted in 500 BC., one of the beautiful series issued by the city of Tarentum in Calabria, southern Italy. A young horseman is shown bedecking his horse with a chaplet, while in the field appears the symbol of the city – a spindle, and the name of the then current magistrate. Tarentum was noted for its celebrated horsemen and was the venue for many equestrian games and contests.

On the top panel of the right door is Taras, son of Poseidon and founder of the city of Tarentum, riding on a dolphin. In his hand Taras carries a cup while beneath his foot appears his name. The engraver’s initial is on the right. This is the reverse from a silver didrachm of 400 to 336 BC.

The middle panel is ornamented with the reverse from a silver coin of Macedonia, struck in the reign of Antigonus Gonatus, 277 to 239 BC. Pallas Athena is shown hurling a thunderbolt. The genitive form of the king’s name appears on the coin together with city symbols and engraver’s initial.

The lowest panel on the right shows a naked horseman armed with a shield, riding side-saddle on an unbridled steed. this scene was taken from the obverse of the Tarentine silver didrachm depicted in the upper right panel.