Grand Manan is home to a scenic coastline, active fisheries, and pebbly beaches – and small businesses ranging from fast food to cafés, shops and art galleries serving around 2,400 residents year-round.
But after August 24, there is one major convenience that the Grand Manan will not be able to offer – a bank.
Scotiabank announced in January its intention to close the Grand Manan branch, the island’s only bank for more than 100 years, and to shutter the island’s only ABM as well.
“I really thought it was a joke at first,” Selena Leonard said, while making a cash deposit in the bank. “I thought it was just one of those things you see on Facebook that isn’t true.”
“It became like a nightmare when we found out it was true.”
Leonard and her husband live on the island, where they own two restaurants.
So close, but so far
She says full-day travel, in addition to meals, to do routine banking is out of reach for most people on the island, many of whom will have to take a day off at work.
In the summer, Coastal Transport operates two ferries, with two hours between each journey. The rest of the year, there are four hours between flights and one ferry.
“There are quite a few people who do online banking – but a lot of our residents are very old people who don’t, and not all of them have a family who can help them,” Leonard said.
For some, that could mean having to “hire someone to take them away to the mainland. Then they have to feed them, pay the boat fare, pay that person to go and deposit, like $100, seniors check or whatever.”
Tabitha Bainbridge was withdrawing cash at the Grand Manan Scotiabank with her aunt, who is in her late 80s and lives in North Head.
“This, unfortunately, I think, will be the last time I visit the bank to withdraw some money. I’m not happy with everything,” Bainbridge said.
Her aunt “smartphones don’t work. Although we try to impress her, she doesn’t have a computer, she doesn’t use a bank machine, so she can’t go 45 minutes to St. George every time she needs her to pay her bills.”
“Like many seniors here in person, they bring their bill and pay it in person. So it’s ridiculous that they’re talking about leaving this island without a bank,” Bainbridge said.
A series of workshops, called Digital Days, have been held at the bank branch for anyone who needs help learning to use alternatives like online and phone banking.
The next session will be on August 11th.
Theft and attracting new business is a concern
Leonard also worries that companies with large amounts of cash on hand may be attractive to some shady customers.
“I’m afraid for our businesses, and for other business owners. Our homes and businesses are going to be painted on, sort of, big characters.” Oh, come rob me because we have money. “
“I’m not looking forward to it,” she said. “Just a little bit of fear and worry about it.”
The mayor is also concerned about the island’s future prospects, wondering if companies considering setting up a project on Grand Manan might not want to do so without a financial institution.
City halls and protests
The Grand Mananers have tried everything to make Scotiabank retract the decision.
There were heated town halls and peaceful protests. One resident, Greg Russell, went all the way to Toronto and organized a one-man sit-in outside the Scotiabank headquarters on King Street W.
District Conservative Representative John Williamson held a meeting between Grand Manan Mayor Bonnie Morse and members of the Federal Treasury, including policy advisor Chrystia Freeland.
“They’ve been well informed about our cases, but their scope, or ability to do anything about closing the bank is very limited,” Morse said.
Watch | Why some residents of Grand Manan may not be able to switch to online banking:
Mayor Morse says the village council is meeting with local businesses to determine what they need, and his Economic Development Committee is working on potential options. But there were no definitive answers.
The loss of traditional banks is a story set in rural communities across Canada.
In New Brunswick, Scotiabank also closed its historic branch in Bath Village, which has a population of about 500, in July.
More branches will also be closed in Prince Edward Island and rural Nova Scotia in the coming months.
“What do you think of the name Heaven?”
The uncertainty is hard for people at Grand Manan who remember a time when banks and other businesses felt more connected to their community and saw customers as more than “numbers on the page,” Leonard puts it.
“This decision was taken as a result of a successful commercial review,” the bank said in a statement. “We feel this relocation will help us provide better service and greater resources to our customers in both the communities of Grand Manan and St.
Selena Leonard don’t buy that. She has a question for Scotiabank officials who made the decision to close the bank.
“What in the name of heaven are you thinking?”
“It’s just a number on a page from an office they have no idea how remote and unique the island is – how difficult and uncomfortable it is for people here to escape,” she said.
“We’ve been loyal to you. It’s your turn.”