Co-op History and Partnerships from the Beginning

The Canadian Co-operative movement began in 1900, when Alphonse Desjardins started North America’s first successful credit union in Levis, Quebec. Credit Unions in Canada now have assets in the billions.

Around and after the turn of the century, agriculture co-operatives such as United Grain Growers were banding together to buy and sell farm supplies and products. Alberta has a rich history of development through co-operatives. That continues to this day.

The 1930’s saw the birth of the building co-operatives and the continuing housing co-op. Building co-ops are those incorporated for the bulk purchasing of materials and construction services. Once the houses are built, the co-operative dissolves and the members own their houses individually. This type of co-operative is popular particularly in the Maritimes, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

In a continuing housing co-operative [like Sarcee Meadows] the group not only builds or acquires the buildings, but continues to own or lease them. Members have the right to occupy, but no individual ownership.

Aside from student housing co-ops that began to appear on university campuses in the thirties, the first continuing housing co-operative was Willow Park, built in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1964. Between 1964 and 1970 eight more family projects were built, including Sarcee Meadows.

From 1973 to 1978 over a hundred co-operatives were developed across Canada. This concentration was in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. This was primarily because these provinces piggybacked a provincial subsidy on top of the federal government’s subsidy. This meant that housing co-operative could be viable in large urban centers. The program did not work easily in provinces without provincial participation.

In 1978 the federal government held a program review in order to develop a universal program not dependent on provincial participation. Under this program housing co-operatives were developed across Canada in greater numbers than ever before.

With growth came recognition, and the co-operative movement has taken its place as the “third sector” of housing, being neither “public” or “private” in nature.

In 1970, the Co-operative Housing Federation [CHF], a resource and special interest group to promote the housing co-operative concept, was formed. They lobbied in favour of the 1973 amendments to the National Housing Act which allowed for the development of co-op housing all across Canada.

CHF Canada, as it is now known, played a fundamental role in negotiations that resulted in the 1978 “56.1” program and the federal program which succeeded it in 1986, know as the ILM – Index Linked Mortgage. It continues to monitor legislative activities that can affect the sector and the member organizations.

In 1992, the federal government ended its financial support for the development of new housing co-operatives. Nonetheless, the co-operative housing movement in Canada is a strong and vibrant example of how successful communities can be built and sustained across a range of social economic and geographic contexts.

As well as a federal partner,[CHF Canada] Sarcee Meadows has a provincial partner as well. We are members of the SOUTHERN ALBERTA CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING ASSOCIATION – [SACHA]

SACHA was founded in 1989 to serve and represent the housing co-operatives of Southern Alberta. There are 20 members – all of whom are also members of CHF Canada. SACHA provides a wide range of services to their members. These include bulk-buying, SACHIP, a banking pool for member housing co-operatives, allowing a co-op to earn a higher rate of interest on funds that pass through its account each month, advocacy, and a selection of educational support services.

Rooftops Canada is our international partner. Rooftops is the international development arm of the co-op housing sector. They draw on the experience of the Canadian housing sector to help meet the long-term housing needs of local communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. It is a huge source of pride for our Co-op. Our relationship with Kataayi Multi-Purpose Co-operative in Uganda Africa. In partnership with Rooftops Canada, and Sarcee Meadows, the members of Kataayi have built countless brick houses and a vocational school. They have also started income generation, and sustainable agricultural projects. These help families take care of and educate AIDS orphans in the community. The co-op has become a model of integrated development. Numerous guests from Uganda and abroad have benefited from visits to Kataayi.