A Historical Look at Co-operatives and the Guelph Campus Co-op

In the Beginning...

Co-operatives have been in existence for over three thousand years in the form of ancient Chinese memorial societies and in artists' guilds of the early Renaissance. The precedent for modern co-operatives was set on October 24, 1844 in Rochdale, England.

Twenty-eight weavers, joiners and shoemakers pooled their meager savings to register the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers' Society. They bought food supplies for their store in Toad Land and sold these staples back to themselves at market prices.

With the surplus, which was their own, they bought more goods. At the end of the first year their surplus was sufficient enough to increase their stock and set aside reserve funds. It was also enough to issue a rebate to members in proportion to the amount of business each had done with the co-op during the first year. This philosophy was embodied in their Rochdale Principles. The modern version, known as the Seven International Principals of Co-operation serve as our guidelines.

Canadian Co-op Development

One of the movements that developed amid the optimism and need of the early twentieth century was the co-operative movement. The first co-ops to achieve stability in English Canada in the years after 1900 were farmers' marketing and purchasing societies. They were built on urgent needs and the seeds of co-operation planted during the previous century. It gained a large following in Ontario as well as smaller groups of supporters in Quebec, the Maritimes, and Manitoba.

The movement spread to dairy farmers and the establishment of co-operative creameries soon followed. By 1900, there were over 1,200 creameries scattered across Canada. This movement began primarily in Ontario and Quebec. As early as 1887 the Manitoba government had passed enabling legislation largely to allow settlers from Ontario to build their own co-operative creameries. Between 1907 and 1911 the efforts of co-operators had paid off in a stable co-operative farm movement in Saskatchewan.

In fact, farmers in all regions participated in the development of co-operative movement, but it was the Prairie grain growers who first made co-operative action work on a large scale. In many ways it is the strength of and depth of the co-operative movement in rural Canada that ensured the development and continuity of other co-operative sectors of the Canadian economy. It was out of the agricultural co-operative movement that Guelph Campus Co-operative began as the Ontario Agricultural Students' Co-operative in 1913, forming the oldest continuing student co-operative in Canada.

Student Co-ops

The first student co-ops in North America were created around bookstores: the Harvard Co-op Society (1882); the University of Texas in Austin (1896) and the OAC Students' Co-operative Association (1913) which changed its name in 1962 to the Guelph Campus Co-operative. Other student co-op bookstores are: the Oberlin Consumers Co-op, in Ohio; and the UConn Co-op, in Connecticut.

The OAC Students' Co-op was created on November 26, 1913 by seven students from Guelph and Wellington County. Its main purpose was to provide a cost-effective and structured business on-campus that would sell students their textbooks and supplies. As the only other bookstore was downtown, the Co-op provided a valuable service.

Membership also meant ownership. The board of directors, elected from the student community and Co-op alumni, ensured the Co-op's continued success from year to year. This experimental model of a Co-op, as first envisaged by H.H. LeDrew, provided a viable alternative to the traditional way of doing business.

The Campus Co-op exists to serve the needs of its members. As the needs have changed, so has the Co-op.