International Year of Co-operatives launched in Guelph

Here are my speaking notes about the launch and some history of co-ops in Guelph:

Guelph is thrilled to be joining 13 communities across Canada – representing all 10 provinces and 2 territories – in launching the International Year of Co-operatives.

We are honoured to be hosting the Ontario launch, and proud to be flying the Co-operative flag at our City Hall.

I want to thank Barry (board chair) and everyone at the Ontario Co-operative Association for organizing this event today.

Guelph is a co-op town.

Our co-op roots stretch back to 1904, when the Guelph Co-operative Bakery began.

Established by the local trade and labour union, the co-op had 80 members at its inception, buying in at $2/share. Within 16 years, it had expanded to include a grocery store, butcher, shoe store and coal store, and had increased its sales 25 times over.

In 1909, Guelphite Samuel Carter became the first president of the Co-operative Union of Canada. He would also go on to serve as Guelph’s Mayor and MPP.

In 1913, the Guelph Campus Co-op was established at the University of Guelph – the first co-operative registered under provincial co-op legislation.

Several credit unions were also established during the first half of the last century.

Today, Guelph maintains its credentials as a co-op town.

We have housing co-ops, child-care co-ops, solar energy co-ops, and worker co-ops like Planet Bean (who is providing the hot chocolate today).

We are home to dairy co-ops like Gay Lea and Organic Meadow.

The Co-operators, one of Canada’s largest insurance companies and a Canadian-owned co-operative, is headquartered in Guelph.

And, of course, we’re home to the Ontario Co-op Association.

So, why does it matter that Guelph is home to so many co-ops?

The Ontario Co-op Association is running a billboard campaign that says “Guelph’s 45 co-operatives build a better community.”

As mayor of this community, I have seen the truth of that statement in many different ways.

First, co-operatives are good at creating jobs and investment.

In Ontario, co-ops employ more than 15,500 people, and have more than $30 billion in assets.

Research has shown that co-ops are more durable and resilient than other types of business enterprise.

In this era of economic uncertainty and crisis, co-operatives have shown themselves to be a model that works.

Second, one of co-operatives’ core values is concern for community.

Co-operatives care about more than just the financial bottom line. They care about the well-being of their communities. We see this time and time again in Guelph, as co-operatives show themselves to be some of our best corporate citizens.

Third, co-operatives are community-builders by their very nature.

Across the world, we are seeing a growing number of people who feel excluded, disempowered, and dissatisfied with an economic system dominated by profit-driven enterprises.

Co-operatives provide an alternative to that – an alternative that is participatory, inclusive, equitable, and empowering.

It is always good news for a community when its citizens feel engaged and empowered.

For these reasons, I believe that co-operatives and their values are as relevant today as they were in 1904 when Guelph’s first co-op was founded. Indeed, in these times of economic uncertainty and social change, they may be more important than ever.

I hope this year, people in Guelph and across the country will learn more about co-operatives and how they build better communities.

Guelph is proud to be a co-op town – never more so than this year, as we join others around the world to celebrate the International Year of Co-operatives.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

View all posts by Karen Farbridge

Connect with the City of Guelph

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: