Branch closure would be tough on seniors

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Time is running out for the town of Ignace to convince Alterna Savings not to close its doors on the only banking facility in the Northwestern Ontario community.

Jake Pastore, president of Summit PCG, is assisting the town with inquiries about the nuclear waste management organization issues and advocating to keep the credit union open during a time of municipal restructuring involving the mayor and some council members.

“The municipality was notified that the Alterna Credit Union would be closing its doors on Sept. 15,” Pastore said. “The town council passed a resolution that they will try to meet with Alterna officials to look at how to mitigate some of the impacts for residents who are using the credit union.”

Alterna suggested that Ignace business operators and residents can travel 105 kilometres to Dryden for their banking needs or use online banking.

Pastore says that is impractical for many people in the community, many of whom are seniors without computer technology and mobility issues.

“I think there’s this potential to look at inviting other banking institutions into the community. . . or mitigating the impact with ATM machines,” he said. “Is there a potential for part-time work where they could utilize an office and come into town a few days a week to see clients?”

Chicki Pesola, the president of the Ignace Silver Tops Seniors Centre, told The Chronicle-Journal they were “alarmed” with news of the Alterna closure and cited numerous impacts to the community.

“Many of our regular financial dealings such as fundraising events and farmer’s markets involve cash transactions,” she said.

“It will be challenging for us to deposit proceeds from such events. A half-day’s travel to spend 15 minutes to safely deposit money seems absurd, yet necessary. Highway 17 between Ignace and Dryden is notoriously unsafe, especially in winter.”

With only one grocery store and one clothing store in the community, Pesola said “it is inevitable” they will make other purchases while travelling out of town to do their banking, just to make the time and travel expense worthwhile.

“The ramifications for our local businesses are obvious,” she said.

She pointed out that many of the community’s seniors are without the capability of online banking. Some with mental or physical challenges require in-person assistance from people they know and trust to help them pay bills and manage their finances. Cellphones for some are also unattainable.

“Many are not prepared to add the expense of a cellphone to their monthly budget,” Pesola said. “Seniors often have issues with cellphones, too small to read and/or work from.”

Meanwhile, interim mayor Kim Baigrie has the full backing of council to take any necessary steps to meet with Alterna management and its board members to urge them to consider keeping the local branch open pending future economic development in the community.

Both Baigrie and Pastore weighed in on the potential to be selected as the host community for the Deep Geological Repository Project with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization in 2024.“We are examining and considering all of our options to convince Alterna that this community is moving forward in a very progressive and positive direction for both future investment and population growth,” Baigrie said.

“Council is adamant that they need to continue to advocate for their local citizens. We are attempting to place a variety of incentives in front of Alterna to convince them that we are serious about having them reconsider their decision to close the local branch office. This move will seriously impede our ability to offer Ignace as a great location to locate businesses and future economic development opportunities.”

Several calls and emails to Alterna Savings by The Chronicle-Journal were not answered.