At the turn of the last century things were looking up for the French Canadians who had found their way to Central Falls, Rhode Island.
Immigration from Quebec had begun during the Civil War with America’s demand for textile products. There was a shortage of workers so mill owners went north to recruit French Canadian workers.
Fast forward to the early 20th century and employment opportunities for the region’s largest ethnic group were growing as mills expanded again as our nation entered World War I.
By 1915, sixty percent of the French Canadians in Central Falls were earning more than the average American wage, putting houses and cars within their reach.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a banking institution willing to do business with them, and more important, one that they could trust.
The answer came from Manchester, New Hampshire where just a few years earlier America’s first credit union was established. Saint Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association opened under the leadership of Alphonse Desjardins.
The idea was simple: the combined resources of members’ pooled funds would make it possible for each to secure trusted savings accounts, mortgages, and car loans.
Fewer than 10 credit unions had been created by 1915 when the Notre Dame Roman Catholic Parish in Central Falls opened la credit union de notre dame de central falls in the church basement.
Opening day on March 29, 1915 saw the credit union launched with just $22,110 in assets. Who could have imagined that by 2005 its assets would top one billion dollars?
By 1930, Notre Dame was dropped from its name as it moved from the church to a six- family house on Broad Street with two storefronts and a bowling alley out back. It was renamed Credit Union Central Falls. As the French Canadian population grew in the city, Credit Union Central Falls relocated next door where it continued to upgrade and expand.
By the arrival of the 21st century, the ethnicity in Central Falls had changed markedly and Credit Union Central Falls began to expand beyond the city.
The credit union’s planned growth process saw it open 11 more branches in 18 years while merging or purchasing seven smaller credit unions. In 2005, it constructed a corporate center in Smithfield, RI. It became obvious that their name, Credit Union Central Falls, was no longer appropriate.
On January 23, 2007, after much study and debate, credit union members at its annual meeting, voted to change its name to Navigant Credit Union.
Navigant was selected because it connotes uniqueness to Rhode Island and has strong connections to the ocean state through its nautical implications.
But even more important, the Navigant management learned of a connection to its French heritage when it found that Navigant in some French dialects, when translated, meant leader or navigator.
The credit union was certainly both of those when it was established to serve the French Canadians of Central Falls.