The Farmers' Bank of Rustico
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Farmers' Bank of Rustico

 

Farmers' Bank

First People's Bank in Canada

Father Belcourt had become interested in a particular type of financial organization which seemed to be flourishing in Europe. These people's banks developed by a German economist had proved successful in helping ordinary people become self-sufficient. Belcourt had been corresponding regularly with the French historian, Rameau de Saint-Père, who had been keeping him up-to-date on various economic movements in Western Europe. It seemed to Father Belcourt that this type of bank would work quite well in a rural community like Rustico.

He introduced the idea to the community through the study club he had established in the parish called the "Catholic Institute of Rustico." The people of Rustico were quick to embrace the concept of starting their own community bank. Father Belcourt was undaunted by the magnitude of the task and approached the idea with great enthusiasm. The time was right for such an undertaking. The economy was strong and there was a significant lack of currency available for Islanders due to a shortage of banks.

Father Belcourt used his influence to have a bill to incorporate the Farmers' Bank of Rustico introduced to the legislature of PEI in March of 1863. Three years after his arrival, the 350 families of the parish of Rustico had succeeded in setting aside almost $ 4,000 (an average of $10 per family) for the bank. The bill to create the Farmers' Bank of Rustico was enacted into law on April 21, 1863.

It was the first people's bank in Canada and the precursor to the Credit Union Movement in Canada.

The Act creating the bank was quite ordinary and followed the conventional banking statutes that had already been applied in the chartering of the two existing Island banks. The charter provided for a fractional reserve system that permitted banks to make loans and issue notes in a multiple of its capital - a conservative two-to-one ratio to capital.

The Act met with no opposition in the Island legislature. The Island had only 2 banks and, therefore, suffered from a chronic shortage of currency. It was recognized that any addition to the scarce money supply would be beneficial for business.

Farmers' Bank

In 1859 Father Belcourt arrived to take over his duties as priest in the Parish of Rustico. He found that the Acadian community had little schooling, a low standard of living and a desperate financial situation. For nearly a century, the Acadian's language and religion has set them apart from most of the Island population.

Most of the village's people supported themselves by farming and fishing. Even though the Island economy was quite strong, money was scarce and credit expensive. The few Island banks charged very high interest rates so farmers were forced to obtain credit from local merchants for supplies. This meant that they paid high prices and became indebted to the merchants almost all year round.

Father Belcourt believed in addressing not only the spiritual needs of the community but also the more practical needs. He became determined to do something to help the Acadian people become more self-sufficient. He believed that farmers needed access to loans for agricultural purposes at reasonable interest rates. He was convinced that this was the best solution to provide the community with some measure of financial independence. He determined that a local bank offering low interest rates could be the answer.

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Acadian woman standing by door

The Acadian language and religion had set them apart from the rest of the Island. 2003, Carter Jeffrey

Father Georges - Antoine Belcourt - close-up in Office

Image of Father Georges-Antoine Belcourt. Circa 1860, Farmers' Bank Collection.

Farmers' Bank Building

Farmers' Bank was housed in the parish Hall built of Island sandstone. 2008, Barry King

Drawing of Rustico fishermen fishing from dory

Many Acadians living in Rustico were fisherman and farmers. Drawing circa 1880, Harris Collection, Confederation Centre of the Arts.

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