The third week in October last week marked two important annual milestones: Co-op Week and International Credit Union Day, co-ordinated by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), celebrated on the third Thursday of October (Oct. 17 this year) since 1948.
Co-op Week has been celebrated by francophones throughout Canada since 1958. In 1981 celebrations were held among anglophone co-ops in the Maritimes and Saskatchewan. The event went national in 1982 with the encouragement of the Co-operative Union of Canada, a predecessor of the Canadian Co-operative Association.
The primary purpose of co-operatives and credit unions is to meet the common needs of their members, and important and beneficial purpose in a mixed private and public economy.
As Manitoba NDP Housing and Community Development Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross noted Oct. 16, a growing number of Manitobans are turning to co-ops to serve their needs in everything from financial services to providing gas, food, hardware, the trades, music, art and even a home.
Thompson Gas Bar Co-op Ltd., an eight-pump, eight-lane gas bar and convenience store at Thompson Drive South and Cree Road, opened in their current location May 12, 2007, and have similar plans for 179 Thompson Dr., now they've purchased the former Advent Lutheran Church, have a long history in Thompson dating back to being a grocery store operation at one time located at 32 Nelson Rd., where Light of the North Covenant Church is now, while a branch of Assiniboine Credit Union, which has 23 branches in Winnipeg, as well as a branch each in Gillam and Thompson, operates in City Centre Mall.
The Thompson branch before a series of mergers was at one time a Decibel Credit Union, Hyline Credit Union and Vantis Credit Union branch, eventually becoming an Assiniboine Credit Union Credit Union branch in 2007. Assiniboine, Astra and Vantis credit unions merged to become Assiniboine Credit Union on Jan. 1, 2007.
"The co-operative spirit Manitobans exhibit through credit unions, caisse populaires and a variety of co-op business ventures can be credited for the success of many social and economic developments throughout the province," said Irvin-Ross. "The Manitoba government is proud to closely work with the co-operative community to support and bring awareness to the long lasting benefits of co-operatives."
As part of the ongoing Co-operative Community Strategy, Irvin-Ross noted the province supports a number of initiatives that foster and build upon the social and economic benefits that co-operatives provide. The strategy is co-ordinated by a partnership with the Manitoba Cooperative Association, the Conseil de développement économique des municipalités (CDEM) and the provincial government.
Some of the initiatives under the Co-operative Community Strategy include the Co-operative Research Fund, which offers grants to stimulate, broaden and sustain the development of a socially and economically successful Manitoba co-operative community, as well as the inclusion of a chair in co-operative management at the University of Winnipeg, intended to foster learning and research to promote greater awareness and understanding of the importance of co-operatives throughout the province.
There are currently 361 non-financial co-operatives and 37 credit unions in the province extending services to 47 per cent of Manitobans through hundreds of branches and with combined assets of $22 billion. The co-op model has the advantage of bringing together specific expertise in different areas required for a strong business, the minister noted.
"Because co-operatives are organized by members with a common need, goal or ideal, members have a greater stake in the health of the organization, they have a high success rate and are more resilient to economic upheavals than other types of businesses," Irvin-Ross said. "Co-ops also keep profits locally, thereby increasing the wealth of their communities."
Well done, Thompson Gas Bar Co-op Ltd. and Assiniboine Credit Union. We salute you for Co-op Week and International Credit Union Day last week. Thompson and Manitoba are better places because of your presence in our community.