Residents rally to keep town's only bank

Beachburg, Ont., population 1,054, is about to lose its only bank when Scotiabank pulls out in June. But residents aren't taking the bank's departure lying down.

Scotiabank pulling its branch out of Beachburg, Ont., in June

A sign outside the Scotiabank in Beachburg, Ont., announces the public meeting at which the impending closure of the branch will be discussed. (Marie Zettler)

The Ottawa Valley community of Beachburg, Ont., population 1,054, is about to lose its only bank.

Scotiabank confirms it will shutter its three-teller branch in June, but residents aren't taking the news lying down. They've formed Save Our Scotiabank (SOS), and launched letter-writing and social media campaigns in an attempt to convince the bank to stay put.

"This is ethically wrong," said SOS committee member Bonnie Johnson. "They announced they have a trillion dollars in assets, so what effect is this going to have? It's not going to improve their image."

A 'difficult decision'

The Bank of Nova Scotia, which operates as Scotiabank, posted profits of $9.4 billion in 2019. In a statement to CBC, the bank said the move to close the Beachburg branch was a "difficult decision."

Clients' accounts will be transferred to the branch in Cobden, Ont., 17 kilometres away.

But the SOS committee says many of the bank's elderly clients no longer drive and have no access to public transportation. 

"They don't want their family to have to take them 17 kilometres to the Cobden bank," Gwen Bennett, another committee member, told the CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Online banking isn't always an option either, due to slower rural internet service and spotty cell reception.

A sign at the Beachburg, Ont., Scotiabank branch informs customers it will close on June 4. (Marie Zettler)

A community hub

Bennett said the branch is more than a place to cash cheques and buy GICs: it's become a de facto community hub.

The SOS committee is conducting a community impact survey about Scotiabank's decision. Johnson said of the nearly 200 respondents who've completed it so far, "95 per cent are extremely disappointed, and 60 per cent say they plan to go to another bank."

Bennett said she's heard at least one local business say it won't transfer its corporate account to the Cobden branch.

"They're going to be showing the same amount of loyalty to Scotiabank that Scotiabank has shown to them. They are going to be moving their account to another bank."

Scotiabank is obliged by federal law to hold a public meeting to explain the closure. It's scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, at Beachburg Public School.

A man uses an ATM at the Beachburg, Ont., Scotiabank branch. A notice says the ATMs will be removed on June 3. (Marie Zettler)

No promise of ATM

For now, the bank can't even commit to keeping an ATM in Beachburg. A sign notifies customers the machines will be removed June 3, the day before the branch closes.

"At this time we cannot confirm if a bank machine will remain in Beachburg," Scotiabank said in a statement to CBC.

Bennett said the committee will keep fighting to keep the branch.

"It's been in the village for a long time, and the history is important to the people and they have a sense of loyalty to the bank," she said.

That will change if the bank doesn't reconsider, Johnson warned.

"They have worked with the bank for years and years and years. Now they feel the bank has showed them no loyalty, and so they're not showing them any loyalty. They're just taking their money and going."