The Farmers’ Bank of Rustico branches back 158 years
Posted on June 24, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments
The stone walls of the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico building are a symbol of the solidarity and success of the Acadians on Prince Edward Island. As the first community-based bank in Canada, it set the stage for the development of credit unions across North America and provided a much-needed service to the Acadians of Rustico. Though operations ceased well over a century ago, the building remains a historic landmark on the Island.
Credited for establishing the bank, Reverend Georges-Antoine Belcourt moved to Rustico, a primarily Acadian community on P.E.I., in 1859. Upon arrival, he noted the financial hardship and lack of education amongst the community of farmers and fishermen. Wanting to make a difference, Belcourt established a church, adult learning programs and eventually a community-based bank.
According to a stone carving still on the building today, construction of the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico began in 1861. Made entirely of stone, the building also housed many other services Belcourt brought to the community including a school, library and community centre.
For the people
After receiving its charter, the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico began operations in 1864. Owned and operated by local farmers and fishermen, the bank was a mutually beneficial service. For many, it provided a source of financing by offering small, long-term loans with affordable interest rates. It also proved to be a smart investment for shareholders, providing up to 10-12 per cent in annual dividends. Though small, it certainly had a strong influence on the Acadian community.
Unfortunately, the Bank Act of 1871 was the beginning of the end for the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico. The federal Act aimed to regulate the banking industry by eliminating smaller banks across the country in favour of larger banks with national reach. With their charter set to expire in 1874, the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico applied for renewal, which was granted for a short time. However, operations ceased in 1894 after 30 years.
Influence & restoration
In 1959, the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico was recognized as a national historic site in Canada for its influence on the banking industry and the Acadians of P.E.I. The bank was a source of financial independence for the Acadians of Rustico that helped them purchase land and establish businesses. Reverend Georges-Antoine Belcourt received similar accolades as a person of historic significance.
Over the years, the building began to deteriorate. In 1991, Friends of the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico, a not-for-profit organization, was formed to raise the $500,000 in funds needed for interior and exterior restorations and renovations to convert the building into a museum.
Today, the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico building continues to operate as a museum, providing details of the Acadian settlement in the community and the establishment of the bank. Doucet House (the oldest home on P.E.I., now 250 years old) also became part of the museum’s operations in 1999.
With a history branching back 158 years, the significance of the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico is not forgotten.
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