A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Sidebar: 'Join Your Credit Union'

"JOIN YOUR CREDIT UNION"

The credit union movement took hold in western Canada in 1940s and early 1950s. The idea of a credit union was something that appealed Jane Aberson, who had become known not only for her Canada columns, but also for her tea-party fundraisers for the war effort in Holland. A credit union, she figured, was a great opportunity for a group of neighbours to get together and help each other out when times got tough.

Finances were often a serious problem for new immigrants to Canada. It was not only a matter of not having enough money to get by, but also of how the money they had was spent and invested.(1)

The Dutch immigrant to Canada brought with them a new method of dealing with finances. In the 1890s in the Netherlands, co-operative savings and lending institutions had been developed, often along religious lines. The small saver and borrower, whether farmer or urbanite, had sought an alternative to the larger banking institutions that were notorious for ignoring their needs.(2)

On arriving in Canada the Dutch once again found themselves the victims of a disinterested banking system. An immigrant with little or no savings or collateral was not considered a good risk and had great difficulty getting a loan. The Dutch developed credit unions, often in association with their Protestant or Catholic religious institutions. The DUCA Community Credit Union of Toronto, founded in 1954, was non-denominational.(3)

The credit unions -- also prominent in Québec from the 1920s and later Ontario(4) -- began as savings institutions and often operated out of someone's basement. As capital and banking laws allowed, they expanded into full-scale financial institutions.(5)

That's how the credit union started up in the Aberson's town of Dauphin, Manitoba. One night a delegation came to visit the Abersons suggesting they all start a credit union, with Bob Aberson as the president. Bob became the president, but Jane Aberson became the driving force. She set up the credit union in her own home. Between writing her columns, minding the kids, and feeding the farm hands, she managed deposits and loan applications and kept the books. Before long, Bob and Jane Aberson had become known as Mr. and Mrs. Credit Union.

What exactly is a credit union? Many people of the day asked the same question. In 1941, the Manitoba Department of Agriculture published promotional pamphlets to inform the public and encourage new members. The pamphlets became an annual occurrence and came complete with financial reports, and information describing how the these financial co-operatives worked:

SAVE FOR THAT RAINY DAY
--
JOIN YOUR CREDIT UNION

Build up a cash reserve. Provide for needed loans. Make a start toward financial independence...
Operated For the Members By the Members

WHAT IS A CREDIT UNION?
A Credit Union is a small co-operative bank, receiving deposits from and making short-term loans to its members.

FOR WHAT PURPOSES ARE CREDIT UNIONS ORGANIZED?

  1. To encourage thrift by providing a safe, convenient and attractive medium for the investment of the saving of its members.

    For example, many people who could save regularly are not doing so because they have not formed the habit or because the amount they can save each week is too small to take to the bank. The Credit Union is organized to serve such people and welcomes them to the membership.

  2. To promote industry, eliminate usury an increase the purchasing power of its members by enabling them to borrow for productive and other beneficial purposes at a reasonable cost.

    For example, the Credit Union promotes industry when it lends a member money with which to hire a workman to improve his home or makes a loan to a farmer to buy another cow. It eliminates usury when it lends at reasonable rates of interest. It increases the purchasing power of its members when it enables them to buy for cash something they need but could not otherwise obtain.

  3. To train its members in business methods and self government and bring them to a full realization of the value of co-operation.

    For example, men and women members serve on the Board of Directors or the Supervisory Committee for their Credit Union. At Credit Union meetings every member has an equal voice and vote. And through making regular deposits and prompt repayment of loans, every member learns to plan expenditures in a business-like way.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A CREDIT UNION AND A BANK?

  1. Credit Unions exists to serve wage-earners and farmers; banks cater chiefly to business men and the financial interests.

  2. Credit Unions make small loans on the basis of honest character and necessity; banks usually lend more substantial sums based on tangible assets.

  3. Credit Unions promote systematic thrift by requiring their members to contribute small sums at regular intervals.

  4. Credit Unions serve only a specified area, such as a parish, community or a particular industry.

  5. Credit Unions, then, belong to the common people, controlled by them, and operating solely in their interests, while banks are purely business institutions controlled by men of wealth and operated for profit.(6)

In 1942, the promotional pamphlet also cited a few of the credit union's success stories from the Dauphin Plains. The members had purchased 5,000 baby chicks, for example. And because of the large order and prompt cash settlement, they secured a reduction of $1.50 per hundred, and a saving of f$75.00. Members also purchased three tons of sugar in 100-lb. bags instead of in small lots, through which they saved a dollar a bag. And one of the lady members needed a new pair of spectacles and was going to sell a calf to obtain the necessary money. After discussing the matter with the manager of the Credit Union she borrowed a sufficient amount to buy her glasses and feed for the calf which was old the next spring as a baby for $50.00 instead of the $10.00 or $12.00 which it would have fetched as a calf.(7)

Footnotes:
1,2,3,5
A Bittersweet Land, The Dutch Experience in Canada, 1890-1980, by Herman Ganzevoort
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1988).

4
The Poor Man's Prayer, The Story of Credit Union Beginnings, by George Boyle
(Palm Publishers, Montreal, 1962).

6,7
Join Your Credit Union
(Department of Agriculture, Province of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1941, 1942).


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