Abstract: Canada's ''Reputational Capitalists'': Virtue, Vice, and Reputation at Bank of Montreal, 1817-1840

Laurence B. Mussio


This conference paper examines the role of reputation through the lens of three key experiences in the first generation of Canada's first bank, the Bank of Montreal, between 1817 and 1840. (This study is part of a much larger multi-year study of the Bank's history.) Three ''reputational battlegrounds'' shaped the destiny and future of the Bank in this period: 1) the nature and character of the banking enterprise; 2) the battleground of politics in a tumultuous period; and 3) economic performance in the context of wild economic swings that produced crashes, booms, busts, and panics. The outcomes of those three key experiences later established the foundation for how the Bank put a premium on the strict maintenance of its reputation in its operations and relationships. It was in this formative period—between 1817 and roughly the end of the 1830s—that provided the conditions for the Bank of Montreal's long-term reputation as the most important and consequential financial institution in nineteenth-century Canada. The paper argues that the Bank of Montreal in this period became not only Canada's premier bank, but also Canada's reputational capitalists. While the paper takes a classic business history approach to its subject, it also explores a new, more interdisciplinary approach to the question of reputation by linking the historical evidence to some of the most relevant theoretical perspectives available in the study of reputation.