Nova Scotia

Credit Unions in Nova Scotia Through the Years

Credit unions have been a reliable part of Canada’s economic community for more than 100 years. Beginning as simple savings and loans organizations, they grew to a network of full service financial institutions providing easy access to flexible products and professional financial services online or in person. Canada’s credit union system currently consists of almost 1,059 individual credit unions and caisses populaires; Canada also boasts the world’s highest per capita membership.

Proud to First

Credit unions are not “branches” subject to centralized direction. They are independent, autonomous institutions accountable only to their customer-owners, and so they are able to respond quickly and effectively to their needs. As a result, credit unions are innovators in the financial services industry. Credit union firsts that are now industry standards include ATMs, variable rate mortgages, equity-linked GICs, home equity lines of credit and PC-based home banking. These, and many other progressive services, were developed by credit unions to meet unique customer-owner needs.

Community Involvement

The depth and breadth of engagement with community involvement is a hallmark of credit unions. Credit unions exist to serve their particular jurisdictions, so community economic development initiatives abound. These initiatives include community loan funds, community partnerships and special programs to assist the disadvantaged. During periods of economic difficulty, many credit unions create flexible loan repayment options and adopt sensitive approaches to accommodate specific needs.

Small Business’s Best Solution

This characteristic also makes credit unions ideally suited to serve the needs of the small business owner. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ Banking Matters published in November 2007, with a combined total of 22 per cent, credit unions and caisses populaires have the largest share of the small business market in Canada.

Committed to Member Education

The importance of education of customer-owners, staff and volunteers is another hallmark of credit unions. Perhaps nowhere was this better understood than in eastern Nova Scotia during the depression of the 1930s. Mortgaged to the local merchants and loan sharks – fishermen, farmers and miners needed a source of manageable credit and education on how to use it wisely. After years of perseverance, the dream to bring education to the community, rather than serving only the affluent who could afford to come to the university, was realized. St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish organized an extension department whose mission was to bring education to the community. The department became the prime mover in the cooperative movement in eastern Canada.

From humble beginnings in church basements and kitchens, credit unions of Nova Scotia now provide careers to more than 900 citizens. In Nova Scotia, 31 credit unions provide 82 locations and 80 ATMS to customer-owners to access services. In 30 provincial communities the credit union is the only full service financial institution. Over the past 20 years, these credit unions have doubled in size several times over. Professional, modern credit union premises stand proudly in high profile locations throughout the province, and well trained professionals provide quality service that consistently rates higher than competitors.

In the Beginning…

The Nova Scotia credit unions and Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia’s story begins nine years before its founding when, in 1925, a group of farmers met and passed a resolution to urge the government to create credit union legislation. In 1931, the credit union movement held its first known credit union rally among lobster fisherman. In 1932, legislation was passed with Filene Credit Union being the first to organize and Reserve Mines Credit Union obtaining the first credit union charter from the Nova Scotia government. In 1934 the first meeting of Nova Scotia credit unions was held in Sydney.

Founders of the Credit Union System in Nova Scotia

1930s – Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

The first known rally of the Credit Union Movement was held in Little Dover in 1931, assembled by Roy F. Bergengren and Father J.J. Tompkins (“Father Jimmy”). This new idea of cooperative credit caught on, spreading rapidly from seaport to village and outpost throughout the province.

By the time the first Nova Scotia credit union opened its doors in 1932, the province was entrenched in the Great Depression.

This era spawned new protection for workers – including unemployment insurance and social welfare – as well as growth of the credit union movement. Offering local self-determination, people joined together, pooled meager savings and borrowed from the common pool. Credit unions came through the Depression with increasing numbers.

1934 First meeting of Nova Scotia credit unions is held December 16 at Lyceum Centre in Sydney. It is from this date that we celebrate the founding of the Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia.

  • Credit unions: 14
  • Customer-owners: 3,124
  • Assets: $100,000

1936 The original “Little Man Under the Umbrella,” designed in 1923, is copyrighted. It symbolized the “every man” shielded from financial hardship by the umbrella of the credit unions.

1937 As early as 1937, the directors of the Nova Scotia Credit Union League (the League) considered the possibility of patronage rebates to member credit unions and standardized lending forms for all credit unions. (The League was the precursor to Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia.)

1938 The Nova Scotia government legislatively incorporated the Nova Scotia Credit Union League and the League began acting as a clearing house for credit union funds.

1939 Newfoundland and Labrador enacted its own credit union legislation.

1940s – We’ll Meet Again

The 40s were an era of conflict. The early years saw Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada drawn into the Second World War. The shift in workforce, as able-bodied men were shipped overseas, brought women to occupy new positions in the workplace while maintaining households. During this time, credit union loan policy supported the war effort with loans to customer-owners for the purchase of War Bonds.

1940 Central began granting mortgages to credit union members.

1943 First all-Canadian credit union convention

1947 Convention delegates pass resolution approving chequing accounts (implemented in 1950)

  • Customer-owners: 36,000
  • Assets: $3,200,000

1950s – All I Have To Do Is Dream

Nova Scotia credit unions continued to grow through the 50s, providing more services for a growing membership. By mid-era, there were more than 200 credit unions in Nova Scotia and over 52,000 customer-owners. Sustained membership campaigns educated tomorrow’s leaders on the pioneering philosophy that a credit union was not just another financial institution – that their job was not just to supply credit but to provide “educative credit.”

By the end of this era, credit union growth had levelled off. A goal was set to increase membership to about 70,000, or 10 per cent of the Nova Scotian population.

1952 League headquarters moves from St. Francis Xavier campus to Main Street, Antigonish – a site chosen almost unanimously by credit unions; the building is dedicated in September 1952.

1958 25th anniversary of the Credit Union Movement in Nova Scotia.

Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (DOSCO) becomes the first credit union to reach the $1 million mark in assets.


  • Customer-owners: 59,993
  • Assets: $14,111,000

1960s – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Education became the focus in the early part of this era, and the Atlantic Regional Credit Union School was developed for credit union managers, staff and volunteers. The goal was to rekindle the founding inspiration of the Antigonish Movement.

By the mid-60s, many smaller rural credit unions became full-time. Canada’s Centennial Year brought with it increased competition. Banks were offering higher interest rates: revision to the Bank Act gave them more freedom to advertise, and marketing played an increasing role in financial services.

1963 US President John F. Kennedy marks International Credit Union Day with the signing of a federal Credit Union Bill.

1966 The familiar Hands and Globe logo is introduced as the new credit union symbol


  • Members: 93,133
  • Assets: $36,731,000

1968 Under a special act of Canadian Parliament, Nova Scotia credit unions and Central (then known as League) incorporated League Savings and Mortgage Company to provide mortgages for customer-owners.

1970s – We Are The World

Credit union growth boomed again in the early 70s. Their national presence was strong and unified as they rallied successfully to prevent unfair taxation of credit unions.

The explosion of knowledge and technology in the 70s brought rapid and unsettling change. Economic conditions deteriorated substantially during the first part of the era; Nova Scotians faced industrial closures and unemployment ran high.

In response to an unstable economy, spiraling inflation and record high interest rates, Nova Scotia credit unions held tight to their traditional values and became more aware of the critical role they played in the local economy.

1971 Opening of the current Credit Union Central building on Lady Hammond Road, Halifax. The move to the Province’s capital, Halifax, and the erection of a new building made a strong statement to the public – credit unions are here to stay and growing stronger.

1974 Creation of League Data to provide credit unions with information services, total solutions and data support services.

1975 Credit unions took their accounting and data management online for the first time, starting with Dartmouth Community, followed by Greenwood in early 1976.

  • Customer-owners: 132,595
  • Assets: $123,666,000

1980s and 90s – Simply The Best

Nova Scotia’s credit unions grew steadily between 1938 and 1969, from a membership of 12,000 to 97,000. The transition years of the 70s and early 80s saw a refocusing of the credit union movement.

By the 90s, with the growth in science, technology and communications, economics switched from commercial-based to commodity-based interests. This new economy forced credit unions to look at their operations and expand services to meet changing lifestyle needs of customer-owners.

1989 League Savings opens office in Moncton, New Brunswick.


  • Credit unions: 71
  • Members: 171,033
  • Assets: $630,147,000

1994 Credit unions lead the introduction of ATMs in Nova Scotia.

1998 MemberDirect online banking introduced.

Central assists with the first-ever bank branch purchase in the province.

1999 Nova Scotia Credit Unions Charitable Foundation is introduced to enhance our system’s charitable efforts.

A New Century Dawns

Today, one in five Nova Scotians belongs to a credit union. The 21st century brought demands for credit unions to grow in new ways. Through amalgamation, larger credit unions were created, with the ability to offer a full range of financial services.

Amalgamation wasn’t isolated to Nova Scotia, however, as the trend nationally was toward consolidation. As credit unions across Canada continued to merge, talks began regionally around creating a single central for the Atlantic region.

In addition, assets hit new highs. Adding to this growth was the addition of Newfoundland and Labrador credit unions as shareholders of Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia.

2000 Nova Scotia credit unions returned more than $1.1 million to members in the form of common share dividends and patronage rebates simply for doing business with them.

2001 Newfoundland and Labrador credit unions became shareholders in Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia.

System assets exceed $1 billion for the first time.

2002 Credit unions in all Atlantic provinces embarked on a new branding strategy, focusing on the competitive advantage of our professional network.

2004 37 credit unions serving 85 communities in Nova Scotia; 11 credit unions serving 37 communities in Newfoundland and Labrador

2005 The Small Business Financing Program, a joint initiative of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia and the Department of Economic and Rural Development, is introduced. Since its inception, 1,347 jobs have been created and 2,335 jobs have been maintained.

2007 Discussions began on creation of a regional Central for all four Atlantic provinces.

2009 Credit unions of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador unanimously agree to join credit unions in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in forming an Atlantic Central.

The Immigrant Small Business Loan Program, a joint initiative of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, Credit Union Central of Nova Scotia, local credit unions, the Department of Economic and Rural Development and the Office of Immigration, is introduced.

A $33,000 donation from Nova Scotia credit unions pushes the system’s total donations to the IWK Foundation to more than $1 million; credit unions of Nova Scotia receive the “Thanks a Million” recognition on-air during the annual telethon.

  • Credit unions: 42
  • Members: 208,551
  • Assets: $1.8 billion

2011 Credit union centrals of PEI, NB and NS join together in a business combination to form Atlantic Central with the strength of 62 credit unions and 340,000 members.