"Co-op" Conquest

The story of the remarkable success of the co-operative movement in Eastern Nova Scotia

WILL R. BIRD August 1 1936

"Co-op" Conquest

The story of the remarkable success of the co-operative movement in Eastern Nova Scotia

WILL R. BIRD August 1 1936

"Co-op" Conquest


The story of the remarkable success of the co-operative movement in Eastern Nova Scotia

LITTLE DOVER. Nova Scotia, is a village of fifty-five families situated on the Atlantic Coast eight miles from Canso. Its population of English, Irish and French extraction is entirely dependent upon the sea for a living.

For decades the inhabitants of Little Dover lived in extreme poverty. They accepted jxiverty as they accepted the meagre price they received for their fish—as something over which they had no control.

Then came a man to Little Dover. His name was Rev. J. J. Thompkins and he came from St. Francis Xavier University at Antigonish, N.S., where they have the curious notion that poverty can be exorcised by education.

For five long years Dr. Thompkins kept coming to Little Dover, once every fortnight. In the homes, in the school house, anywhere he could get an audience, he talked about what Little Dover could do with knowledge, about what the village could do if its citizens would only learn how to co-operate intelligently.

Five long years, and little progress. A lesser man would have been defeated. Five years, and fifteen men had enrolled in an educational experiment. Fifteen men had agreed to see what co-ojxiration could do for Little Dover.

Their first constructive effort was the building of a street through the village. The only cost was labor, but it was the village’s first lesson in co-operation.

By the end of the sixth year, the fifteen had increased to fifty. Three years later the Little Dover adult education class numbered 100.

Success of the street venture emboldened the fledgling co-operationists to attempt a more ambitious project. They decided to build a co-operative lobster factory and to sell their own produce directly to the consumer.

Factory-building takes capital, however, and Little Dover had no capital. All that was needed was $125 but it took the village two years to get $125. Little Dover, by this time, was determined. The factory was built and at the end of its first year declared a small dividend.

Enthused by this success the co-operationists next built two large fishing smacks. The resulting dividend was larger than they had anticipated. Next they built a fish-curing plant, then a storage house. They studied the principles of co-operative buying and marketing. They learned new methods of processing fish products. Their classes at night school increased. Three men over sixty years of age who were illiterate learned to read and today enjoy their newspapers. The women formed study groups which placed most stress on training of practical value. They had arranged classes in weaving, dyeing, knitting and sewing. It is worth a visit to this little Atlantic fishing village to hear the villagers talk about what has been accomplished. Through their co-operative buying they save $4 on a single fishing net. five cents per pound on rope, four cents per pound on nails, and a greater proportion on food stuffs. By marketing their lobsters co-operatively they have obtained a much higher price.

The villagers’ educational achievements are even more striking. They can read and write. They can discuss with ability leading topics of the day. They have a spirit of community co-operation that has transformed their lives. Their old school building which housed ninety pupils under one teacher is now in departments, with a high school and an elementary teacher. They are building a community hall, introducing electricity and other conveniences. They have many plans for the future and, with system and team work, they are accomplishing all they attempt to do.

Such in epitome is the history of what is probably the most remarkable social-economic development the Maritime Provinces have known in many a decade.

Speaking at Halifax recently, Dr. Gustav Beck, of the Carnegie Foundation, said:

“You have a set-up in this province, at St. Francis Xavier University, which in my opinion is the boldest and most constructive attempt to conquer the depression that is going on anywhere in the world. In Eastern Nova Scotia is one of the most amazing examples of adult education ever undertaken anywhere.”

The Middle Way

CT. FRANCIS XAVIER UNIVERSITY has served the O people of Cape Breton and the eastern part of the Nova Scotia mainland since 1853. Never a “high hat” educational institution, it has always taken an active interest in the economic and cultural well-being of the farmers, the fishermen, the miners and the lumbermen who constitute the larger part of its constituency. As early as 1900 it was experimenting with various types of summer classes. During the nineteen-twenties it conducted “people’s classes” similar to the Danish folk schools.

Living conditions in Eastern Nova Scotia, however, did not improve with the years. Fish prices were low. There was much strife in the mining areas and strikes were the order of the day. By 1928 conditions were such that a Royal Commission, appointed to investigate the fisheries of the Maritimes, was impelled to report as follows:

“During the course of our enquiry we have heard from many reliable and restrained persons, detailed descriptions of conditions in many districts along the coast of the Maritime Provinces. We were given vivid word pictures of fishing villages in which ageing men alone were left to man the fishing boats, with little hope of adequate livelihood in the future and no hope of jxmsion such as is available to workers in other industries; of fishing communities from which the young men had emigrated or were hoping to emigrate as soon as they had sufficient means; of neglected boats with hulls ripe and rotten on the beach; of discarded gear falling to decay; of abandoned fishing vessels left hopefully equipped as they came in from the sea to wait for a better season which never came; of fisher folk despondent and disheartened, struggling on against economic disabilities, eager to labor in their most hazardous pursuits, but unable to sell their products for a reasonable reward; of school children psychologically distrustful of a future in their own country and planning to migrate at maturity to another land to make a living.”

Owing to tariff policies, there had been a steady decline of manufacturing in the province. Statistical evidence indicated a very definite decline in most branches of agricultural production, and no definite expansion in the production of lumber. An additional fact of serious import for the welfare of the people was that, whereas the cost of living in Nova Scotia was the highest of any of the Canadian provinces, the jxir capita buying power was the smallest in the Federation.

Confronted by these conditions, St. Francis Xavier decided that the middle way was the only way out for the Maritimes. The “reds” were finding the industrial areas fertile grounds for their propaganda. The capitalists were intent on profit. The middle way, St. Francis Xavier decided, was “co-operation.”

In 1928 Dr. M. M. Coady and A. B. MacDonald, both educators of marked ability, were appointed director and assistant director, respectively, of the Extension Work of the University, and a programme of adult education was planned. Its aim was to disseminate ideas so that the people would be impelled to undertake their everyday work in a more efficient manner and so help to solve their production problems ; to spur the people to greater interest in social and economic affairs which would condition them to carry on community business activities; to acquire facts and information which would result in discovery of new ways for doing things and so develop new local industries, thus establishing a greater degree of economic security.

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Work was begun in 1930 by establishing study clubs in fishing, mining and farming communities. Each club has about ten members, and they meet weekly in whatever quarters are available; in homes, halls, shops or garages. Once a month the various study clubs have a general meeting, and ideas and experiences are exchanged. The chief subjects studied are the principles and methods of co-operative buying and marketing, co-operative finance, and co-operative industry. A thorough understanding of the advantages and the hazards involved in each case is urged before any enterprise is attempted.

There was no age limit for club members.

Pamphlets and articles on a variety of were prepared. A few clubs held to their study, then others took interest.

Mist year there were 940 such clubs organized, with a membership of 9,000 men and women. An “Extension Bulletin” is published by the University every two weeks. Its circulation is more than 7,000 copies. Library service is given, books being shipped to different centres. The subject matter studied is mainly of an economic character. Scientific methods of farming are stressed. The fishermen are urged to study modem methods of curing fish. Social movements are keenly discussed.

Soon this study resulted in people beginning to organize co-operative societies for the carrying on of their business. It began with buying clubs, and fifteen to twenty families were supplied with a few staple lines of foodstuffs. Purchase and distribution were carried on under cooperative principles, and as soon as the club members had gained some experience in business and saw the advantages of consumers’ co-operation, a regular cooperative store was organized. There are now seven of these buying clubs active, two ready to establish stores, and stores are being operated at New Glasgow, St. Andrews, Ueatherton, Antigonish, Larry’s River, Port Felix, Canso, Judique, Mabou. Christmas Island, Sydney and Baddeck.

Credit Unions

ONE OF the first discoveries made by the members of the study clubs was that the type of credit they had been using was costly in the extreme. They made a study of money and credit, and discovered that the various credit institutions were not suitable for people with small incomes. With a thorough knowledge of these facts they began to arrange for their own credit needs by organizing co-operative banks or credit unions. The first one was established at Reserve, in Cape Breton, in 1932. By June 1 of this year sixty-five had been established, and there was then a list of five more places waiting to be organized. The Extension officials are hard put to keep up with the demands on their services, which are coming from all comers of their territory and far beyond it.

A. S. McIntyre, secretary of the Extension Department and president of the Nova Scotia Credit Union League, joined forces with Coady and MacDonald in 1932. A native of Glace Bay, reared in the industrial districts of Cape Breton, he was specially qualified to deal with the problems of the miners and steel workers. At Glace Bay the Extension Department met opposition from corporation lawyers and officials, from newspapers, even clergy —also from communists.

Study clubs, however, were established at Glace Bay. The miners began to take an interest. Then they joined forces with other study groups. Today it is the Extension speakers who dominate, not communists or corporation lawyers. Men in desperate need, with no money to pay taxes, to keep up payments on their homes or furnishings, men with only a few days work in each week, became members of the Credit Unions. They paid their taxes. They saved their homes. They got new. long-wanted furnishings. Some even got loans to buy needed clothing and then repaid the loans. They started small savings accounts. The Credit Unions were a miracle for Glace Bay. No wonder there are fourteen operating in that industrial district, alone.

One hundred and fifty members and $3,500 are required to establish a Credit Union. The entrance fee is 25 cents, and is used as a guarantee fund against bad loans— which are unbelievably few. One per cent is the interest charged on loans instead of seven, and this is only to take care of operating expenses. If it is more than sufficient, twenty per cent of the gain is put into the Guarantee Fund, and the rest is returned to the members as a rebate. The Unions promote systematic thrift by requiring small deposits at regular intervals. They differ from the banks in serving only one community, by having no elaborate offices or salaried officials except a treasurer, by making loans to members only by demanding character, honesty and industry as the basis on which loans are made, by having control by vote on the co-operative principle of one member one vote, by having the profits revert to the members after expenses are paid.

At New Waterford, a town of six thousand, 700 members joined in less than two years, and in that time had savings amounting to $16,000, though there had been a turnover of $36,000 in loans. By the help of Credit Unions, the co-operative store and other enterprises are made possible. Seventeen lobster-canning factories have been established, serving seventy communities. In Havre Bouche last year, thirty-five fishermen received $7,000 more for their catch through coojxirative selling than if they had sold to an independent packer. The lobster output last year netted the fishermen of Eastern Nova Scotia one quarter million dollars. This year they have co-o perated in chartering a whaleboat, and are shipping live lobsters direct to Boston from Guysboro County. The buyers can pay better prices as they deal with the representative of the co-operating fishermen instead of having to send agents to every small community, and they wire changes of price to the representative, thus helping the fishermen to take every advantage of the market. The next step will be the establishing of some sort of storage of live lobsters, so that they may be held for regular shipping at right periods. It was heartening to drive out to Port George and there see the lobster fishermen bringing in their catch and receiving in return only a slip of paper on which the weight of their catch was marked.

“When will you get your pay?” was asked.

“Don’t know,” they said cheerfully. “Our head chaps are shrewd and they’ll sell when the time’s right, not before.”

“And you don’t know what you’ll get?”

“No, mister, we don’t. But we do know we’ll get a square deal, which we never used to get, and that we’ll get all there is after operating expenses are taken out. You can’t beat that in any business.”

A Lesson in Organization

THE MOST amazing feature of the work organized by the adult education movements has been the absolute honesty of those who became members. In the records of the fishermen there were very few of all the hundreds who did not play the game. Two men of one district, needing ready money urgently, went to an outside buyer and disposed of their lobsters at a low price to get the cash. This they used in a manner not condoned by the community.

When winter began to set in they could not get credit from the private merchant because he knew they had joined the co-operative buyers, so they were forced to go to their own officials.

“No.” said these, a committee of their own neighbors, “you did not play straight with us, so you are not members any longer. We will not give you credit.”

“But,” they begged, “will you see our wives and children starve?”

“No,” said one of the committee. “I’ll donate them a bag of flour.”

Another gave potatoes, another sugar, another turnips, another shoes, and so it went. All these supplies were donated. There was no credit. Next spring the two culprits were first to get fitted for fishing, and they worked long, slavish hours. Their first catch was brought to the committee, all of it. All they wished was its acceptance. It was accepted, on the share alike basis of co-operation, and those two are now the best-working members of the organization.

Seeing what could be done with lobsters, communities organized to sell their fresh and cured fish. Twelve communities are selling regularly their herring, cod and haddock by this means. Two co-operative factories are canning haddock and finding a ready sale. Three more are putting up toneless cod in thirty-pound packages. Others are putting up pickled cod. They sold over one million pounds of these specially prepared brands last year, and now are getting in touch with the chainstore trade.

It is all a matter of adult education. The smelt catcher is no longer merely a smelt fisherman. He studies smelts. Who eats them? In what different ways may they to prepared? Which is the tost way to ship them? The most sanitary method to use in packing? They study, study, study, exchange ideas with each other, with other groups, with other communities. The old saying “Childhood is the time for learning,” has been replaced with a new slogan : “The time for learning anything is when you need it.”

They have canning factories that are now socializing in canned blueberries and fox berries. Others are canning salmon. Three communities have started co-operative sawmills, and are putting in machinery whereby they can make finished lumber products. Another is starting a can-making plant. Egg circles and livestock shipping clubs are going in full swing. The beginnings are always small, but growth is steady and sure. In one tiny village they co-operated to purchase a truck so that their small fruits, butter and eggs could to taken to market. Next year they will have a second truck, purchased with the profits made by this first one. The women are getting down the looms from the attics and are making blankets, suitings, material for home furnishings and decorations. During the sportsmen’s shows last winter in Boston, Hartford and New York City, the handicraft exhibit from the Extension Department drew hearty praise from all who saw it.

Intellectual Awakening

ON EVERY hand are indications of a remarkable intellectual awakening on the part of the people. They are organizing libraries. They have become readers and students, and are thinking through not only local problems, but also the economic issues that have a bearing on their standard of living. They are increasing their yearly incomes. They are developing self-confidence. They have discovered the strength of group activity. They are becoming interested in health problems.

The industrial workers are visioning more consumer - co-operative societies, stores, bakeries, laundries. The primary producers are visioning scientific production programmes, canning plants, creameries, marketing organizations, storage and processing plants. All groups are visioning consumer wholesales and productionconsumer plants on the manufacturing end—flour, rope, cans, shoes, etc. They intend to accomplish their aims by further study, by community conferences, by special courses for leaders, by a vigorous Youth Movement that will teach the young the principles and philosophy of co-operation. Ultimate objectives are the municipalization and nationalization of industries of a public utility nature: rigid control by the State of non-co-operative business; the formation of vocational groups in industry; ¡xilitical action on the part of industrial workers and primary

producers to protect their interests and to force more effective national policies

touching the social, economic and cultural life of the people as a whole.

These are the fruits of “education for co-operation” in Nova Scotia.

For those who are statistically minded here is the story in cold figures:

The Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University has started an economic transformation in Nova Scotia. It will surely spread a long, long way.