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Co-op History

The History of Co-operatives

The co-operative movement has a long and fascinating history. There is a common thread that runs throughout this history. It is a desire by everyday people to care for each other, and to work together. They demonstrate a common effort to improve their lives and the life of their communities.

Although collectively owned enterprises have existed since the early Middle Ages, the first modern co-operative, structured as we know most co-ops today, was incorporated in Rochdale England in 1844 by a group of weavers. The weavers in Rochdale were tired of paying high prices for poor quality food at shops that were run by factory owners. Inspired by the co-operative teachings of Robert Owen, they decided to pool their money to start a store.

All of the people interested in becoming members and co-owners of the store contributed a small amount of money to a common fund. When the fund was big enough, the Rochdale Pioneers (as they came to be called) were able to rent a building, buy supplies, and open up shop on December 21, 1844.

The shop sold candles, tea, fuel, and basic food stuffs. The co-op kept track of each member's purchases, and distributed the profits in proportion to how much each member bought. The first consumer co-op was so successful that the members were soon able to rent the upper stories of the building. The extra space was used for a library and educational lectures.

Rochdale was a turning point in economic democracy. The lessons of Rochdale were the basis for the growth of the co-operative movement as a worldwide phenomenon. The legacy of Rochdale lives on because the co-op's founders passed on their organizing principles.


Co-operatives in British Columbia

The BC Institute of Cooperative Studies (BCICS), housed at the University of Victoria, expounds upon the history and nature of the cooperative movement in British Columbia through the BC Galleria Project

BC Galleria Project - Stories of the BC Co-operative Movement

Much of the history of British Columbia's co-operative movement is unknown and not researched. When co-operatives are mentioned, they are usually only given passing reference in a history textbook, either as an afterthought or with hesitation as though the very word was not understood. Despite their absence from the published historical record, throughout the twentieth century co-operatives have played vital roles in different sectors of BC's economy, rural communities, and among ethnic and religious groups. It is against this backdrop that the Galleria project was developed with the primary aim of providing a comprehensive introduction to the Co-operative Movement in British Columbia in an engaging and relevant way.

The Galleria Project provides a stepping-stone into the broad and fluid field of Co-operative Studies. Viewers can weave their way through the co-op stories by taking four different pathways-region, theme, sector, or co-op era. These pathways reflect four different aspects of the Co-operative Movement: the places in which co-ops develop, how co-ops intersect with people's daily lives, the organisational models of co-ops, and the larger historical and social context in which they are formed. Visit the Galleria Project: