Grand Mananers lost their only bank, so now they're working to start their own

A protest lawn art display on Grand Manan in response to the bank closure in the summer of 2022. Despite the outcry, the Scotiabank still closed, and the island has been without a bank for months. (Submitted by Sean Doucet  - image credit)
A protest lawn art display on Grand Manan in response to the bank closure in the summer of 2022. Despite the outcry, the Scotiabank still closed, and the island has been without a bank for months. (Submitted by Sean Doucet - image credit)

Grand Manan residents are working to start their own bank after the only one on the island closed last summer.

Mike Munro and his partner Lauren Martin own and operate the only pharmacy on the small island off the southwestern tip of New Brunswick. They are proposing a joint credit union and health centre take over the former Scotiabank location.

They presented the proposal to Grand Manan village council recently, hoping to gain support.

"It is still a bit of a long road, but we've made some key steps," Munro told Information Morning Saint John.

"It would be nice because we wouldn't be at the whim of one of the big six banks anymore," Munro said. "It would be looking out for our community as opposed to you know shareholders' bottom line."

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

According to Finances and Consumer Services New Brunswick, a credit union is a financial co-operative. Members own and operate it, and anyone who uses the bank is a member.

Profits are shared among owners, the agency's website says, and the union is governed by a volunteer board of directors elected by the membership.

The village of about 2,400 lost its only bank last August, when the Scotiabank closed after almost 100 years of service. Now, the closest bank is about 2½ hours away from the island by ferry and car.

Munro said this has had a huge impact on the local residents and businesses.

"[It's] tough on the small community. And it can lead people to to think that maybe things could change or get worse," he said.

Online banking is still available, but that does not help the cash-only business owners, employers and seniors who don't use the technology.

Munro said island residents can fill out a form about what they're hoping to see at the new credit union. He said since the presentation to council, hundreds have filled out forms saying they want to volunteer, or they want to help invest.

"So it is going quite well considering it's only been public for about a week," he said. "Everybody who wants to be involved and everybody wants to help will increase the chance of making this reality."

ATM, loan services 

Next steps include meeting the requirements of the Credit Union Act to gain government approval, which is a roadblock he hopes to clear before the end of the year.

"We're optimistic, but still cautious that there's some roadblocks ahead," he said.

If all goes to plan, the credit union would have an ATM, personal and retail banking, and in time it could expand to provide small-loan services.

Alison MacDonald, spokesperson for Atlantic Central, the trade association for credit unions in Atlantic Canada, said there are six New Brunswick credit unions in total, and none are on islands. In Atlantic Canada, there are a total of 44 credit unions, she said.

Health centre plan

The plan for the health centre could happen even earlier than the bank, Munro said. Right now, going back and forth to the mainland involves a $27 ferry, the cost of fuel, and at least two hours of travel time.

"It can be quite expensive to go do something such as, you know, physiotherapist, massage therapist, acupuncture or something that we don't really have on on the island ourselves now," he said.

The plan is to get some health professionals willing to come over to the island on a rotational basis.

"We're hoping late spring or early summer we'd be all set up in place and ready to start seeing patients," he said.

The goal is to get people to feel some hope.

"We want to try and fill that space with a bit of positivity and say look at this beautiful place," Munro said.

"These are all the things that we can start bringing back to this island, and hopefully that will help change some attitudes, and people will think seriously about looking at this as a place to live and work."