Residents of tiny Ontario town launch big fight against RBC branch closure

Residents of a tiny rural community in Ontario's cottage country are fighting against a plan by RBC, one of Canada's big five banks, to close the only branch in town.

RBC branch is now the only bank in Apsley, Ont.

An online petition to save the RBC branch in Apsley, Ont. reads: 'RBC has been a vital part of the Apsley, Ontario community for more than 60 years. Having a financial institution in our town is imperative in order for our town to prosper and flourish.' RBC plans to close the branch in April 2018. Residents are fighting back. (Save Apsley RBC)

Residents of a tiny rural community in Ontario's cottage country are fighting against a plan by RBC, one of Canada's big five banks, to close the only branch in town.

Amanda Gray, a resident of Apsley, about 50 kilometres north of Peterborough, Ont. in the North Kawartha Township, says she was shocked when she heard that RBC is planning to close the branch in April 2018. A business owner, Gray worked at the bank two years ago.

"To hear that it was closing came as a complete shock," Gray told CBC's Ontario Morning on Friday.

Gray, a founder of a group called Save Our Bank, said the plan is "a devastating blow" to the community, its local businesses, seniors, tourists and property owners. Residents are worried the loss could have a "domino" effect, prompting other business to leave. 
Amanda Gray, a resident of Apsley, Ont., says she was shocked when she heard that RBC is planning to close the only bank in the community in April 2018.

Apsley, with a population under 2,500, is halfway between Peterborough and Bancroft and it's east of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. More than 60 per cent of its residents are seniors. In summer, when cottagers come, the population swells to an estimated 12,000.

According to residents, the branch has been there for close to 60 years.

"Basically, they are saying that not enough people are coming in and using the branch itself," Gray said.

"They've really pushed, in the past couple of years, online banking and ATM banking. They are basically forcing our hands to go that way, to use the Internet and telephone banking, but customer service is no longer there."

The closure would be the second in Peterborough County, now that TD Canada Trust has closed its branch in Millbrook, 70 kilometres south of Apsley.

To fight the closure, members of Save Our Bank have set up a Facebook page, Stop Apsley RBC Closure!, launched an online and paper petition that has collected more than 1,800 signatures, and written letters of protest to RBC. 
An RBC logo is seen on Bay Street in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Save Our Bank hopes to bring its concerns to the big city in April next year. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Group members have also spoken to Liberal MP Maryam Monsef, who represents Peterborough—Kawartha.

And members hope to attend RBC's annual meeting of common shareholders in Toronto next April to voice their concerns. 

Gray said the loss of the branch will be huge.

"If people have to drive to Lakefield or Peterborough to do their banking, then they are going to also do their grocery shopping there; they are going to go to the liquor stores and the pharmacies," she said.

"That is not helping our town at all. It's a devastating blow to our businesses." 

The nearest bank is in the community of Lakefield, 40 kilometres south of Apsley. But for many residents who live outside town, the trip is actually much longer than that, she said.

Closure will affect seniors

"We're not talking about closing a bank in Peterborough, where you could just go to the next block and go to the next RBC. We have a considerable drive. And it affects our seniors. A lot of them don't drive and a lot of them don't have internet access. This truly does affect everyone in our community." 
A local teenager sports a Halloween costume in support of the efforts to save the local RBC branch in Apsley, Ont. (Facebook)

An offer by RBC to have representatives come to the community is not good enough, she said. And a meeting held on Thursday night by the bank left her feeling defeated. 

"I think RBC is missing a chance here to stand up for small communities. We are the people who helped them to build their business. for them to disregard us, and to show that we are not worth the investment, it's heartbreaking."

The group is hoping to turn its little fight into a big one. 

"This is bigger than just Apsley. We want to stand up for all rural communities where financial institutions are leaving us, high and dry. Hopefully, we can take it to the next level. Hopefully, a bank stands up for us and stops bullying rural communities and realizes we are important."

RBC has not responded to CBC Toronto's request for comment. 

RBC says technology behind move

In an email to Apsley resident Susan Suhr, however, RBC regional vice-president of Kawartha-Lakeshore Region, Scott Mancini, confirmed that the branch will close on April 18, 2018 and merge with the Lakefield branch.

"Technology is changing people's banking habits, and while some do visit our Apsley branch regularly, far more of our clients have come in less and less often," the email reads.

"We've seen this trend for nearly a decade and this move to using online and other technology is accelerating—and we're changing in response."

Mancini noted the decision to relocate "was not easy." He said all accounts from Apsley will be transferred to Lakefield following the merger. 

With files from Ontario Morning