Cape Bretoners rally to save historic credit union branch

More than 100 people appealed to the East Coast Credit Union's board of directors on Tuesday to try and save one of the oldest credit union branches in Nova Scotia.

Some members are angry over the decision to close the small branch in East Margaree, N.S., next Friday.

The board met with members and staff at St. Patrick's Parish Hall in North East Margaree, and was told the branch should be relocated to nearby Margaree Forks, which is a busier and more convenient location.

Brian Peters, head of a member group called the Save Our Credit Union committee, said many people were upset because they were not given any warning about the closure until three months ago.

Tom Ayers/CBC

"The Margaree community was really blindsided by this decision," said Peters. "There was no consultation. None of us expected it. Not even the staff."

Several people said they were angry and some said they were prepared to take their accounts to another financial institution if the branch closed.

Others said the closure would be historic, given the Margaree area gave birth to the credit union movement in Nova Scotia.

The Margaree Credit Union opened in 1936 in Margaree, the home of Father Jimmy Tompkins and Father Moses Coady, two of the founders of the credit union movement in Atlantic Canada in the 1930s.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Mary Oxner, chair of the East Coast Credit Union, said there simply aren't enough local savings and loans to sustain a Margaree branch.

She said many of the credit union's local members were obviously already banking with other financial institutions.

For example, some are getting vehicle loans from car and farm equipment dealers, said Oxner.

She said the credit union had warned members they need to use the services to make the branch sustainable, but that wasn't happening.

Other options to be considered

Oxner also said the credit union has offered to consider putting an automatic teller in the community and is willing to consider other options.

However, she said keeping the branch open is not one of them.

"Having the ATM or some other services in a different model would require less discussion from us, and I think it's something that the CEO, and I think the board members, would support," she said.

The credit union is renovating the Inverness branch, about 35 kilometres away, but many members say that's too far to drive.

Glimmer of hope

Peters said it was good for members to show their determination and to be heard by the board.

"They did make a concession at the end where they agreed that they would take our new information ... back to the board, consider it, and then let us know before the closing date of July 26," he said.

"It was also an opportunity for our community to see that despite that glimmer of hope, that we do have to continue to take matters into our own hands."

Peters said he was hopeful that some board members would reconsider the decision to close the Margaree branch.

In the meantime, the committee is putting together a business plan for a Margaree Forks branch, he said.

Peters said if the East Coast Credit Union won't back it, the committee will contact another financial institution.