Entrepreneurial co‑operation has impacted the history and economy of our vast country, which is now celebrating its 150th Anniversary of Confederation.
As a milestone in the history of Canada, 150 years is significant. However, we recognize and acknowledge that Indigenous communities have, for thousands of years, and in a spirit of tribal co‑operation, cared for this land we call Canada.
Over the last few hundred of years immigrants have settled and colonized this country. Some things the colonizers learned from indigenous peoples, other ideas and attitudes came with them. We must acknowledge that mistakes were made and at the same time make room to celebrate the positive accomplishments and future potential of Canada and its peoples.
The Co‑operative concept is said to have originated in Rochdale, England, in the 1840’s. The first mutual insurance companies in Canada can be traced back to that era. The first producer co‑operatives appeared soon after. Before confederation, Canada’s economy was actively innovating and co‑operating to meet the needs of its peoples. By finding ways to share risk through mutual insurance and strengthening our communities through co-operation, the country opened up new regional economies and this is part of our collective and co-operative heritage.
The first financial co-operative, the “caisse populaire” founded by Alphonse Desjardins in Levis in 1901 was a cultural milestone for Quebec and Canada. Alphonse Desjardins also made an impact by helping credit unions and ingraining financial self-determination into the very fabric of our Canadian identity.
Over the past 150 years co-operatives and mutuals, including the Wheat Pools, the Antigonish Movement, Coop Fédérée, Federated Co-operatives Ltd, Agropur, The Co‑operators, and many more, became Canadian economic institutions in every region of Canada. Co-ops and mutuals are now some of the largest and most successful businesses in Canada and have helped build our communities in every region. Today there are approximately 9,000 co-operatives and mutuals serving 18 million members from coast-to-coast-to-coast with a contribution to GDP of approximately 4%.
As we celebrate, today, 150 years of Confederation, we salute our predecessors who were builders of the Canada that we so proudly and thankfully cultivate, sustain, and grow for future generations.
Canada Day 2017 is an especially auspicious day for Canadian Co-operators because July 1st coincides with the United Nations global celebration of the International Day of Co-operatives. Happy 150th birthday Canada, and happy International Day of Co-operatives, too.