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Port Moody's heritage bank branch was also a home. Here's what it was like to live there

Denis Wood remembers the time he was startled awake by a loud thunk on the wall of his second-floor bedroom.

Denis Wood remembers the time he was startled awake by a loud thunk on the wall of his second-floor bedroom.

He became even more alarmed when he heard voices outside, so he ran to roust his dad, Robert, who immediately tried to reach Port Moody’s police chief.

The Wood family, you see, lived above the city’s first Royal Bank branch on Clarke Street, and n’er-do-wells skulking around with a ladder in the pre-dawn hours of a warm spring morning in 1953 might have had more nefarious plans than a simple cat burglary.

While the bank branch moved elsewhere long ago, and the building is on Port Moody’s heritage registry, its current owners are hoping to ensure its character inside and out lives on — by applying for rezoning from light industrial use, so the interior can’t be gutted by any future owners.

For Denis, the building was home.

He was seven years old when his dad became the bank’s manager in 1948 and moved the family into the living quarters on the second floor.

Now living on an acreage south of Vanderhoof after retiring from a career that included several years in the banking industry himself, Wood said growing up above a bank felt important.

But it also came with a weight of responsibility as he and his siblings — brothers Ken and John along with their sister, Roberta — had to be constantly reminded by their mom, Kathleen, not to make too much noise to disturb the business going on a floor below.

Wood said the short commute down a set of stairs on the eastern side of the building meant the family could enjoy breakfast together before Robert Wood pulled on his suit jacket and tightened his necktie to head down to open the bank at 8:30 a.m., the kids headed off to school or play and Kathleen Wood tended to the home or volunteered at the United Church on St. Johns Street.

As a banker, Robert Wood was a pillar of the community: A former flight control officer in England when he served in the Air Force prior to joining Royal Bank, he managed a staff of eight to 10, including a stenographer who wrote his letters to customers by hand.

“She had beautiful handwriting,” recalled Denis.

Among Robert Wood’s duties was ensuring the security of the bank’s two vaults: A big time-locked unit on the main floor and a smaller one in the basement, where he once offered to store a customer’s winning ticket in the old — and then illegal — Irish Sweepstakes, until he could file for his prize.

Also in the basement was the coal furnace that Robert Wood had to stoke himself to keep the building warm.

“I was often amazed the place never burned down,” Denis said, as the tall chimney could easily become choked with soot.

In the mid-20th century, Clarke Street was Port Moody’s thriving commercial core. There was a hotel kitty-corner from the bank, a dry goods store next door, a liquor store nearby and the railway tracks were busy with freight trains pulled by hulking steam engines.

“It was a good town to grow up in,” Denis said.

And while the family moved up to a new home on Gatensbury Avenue in 1956 when the Royal Bank opened a new branch on St. Johns Street, Robert Wood continued to serve as its manager until he retired.

Since then, the building has had various commercial tenants, including a Sears outlet shop for a stretch.

Denis said he still occasionally drives by when he’s in the Lower Mainland to visit his son, who lives in Coquitlam.

As for the possible heist that was foiled by his light sleep, Denis said the men down below were so shocked when his dad leaned his head out the window to yell at them, they scrambled into the bushes along the railway tracks, leaving their ladder behind.