Cooperatives are everywhere

Cooperation is creativity in action!

It creates partnerships and jobs and opens a door to the world. It generates debates and questions. It is a tool of democracy. In 1900, Alphonse Desjardins became a pioneer of the Quebec cooperative movement by creating caisses populaires. Cooperation is not a new phenomenon in this part of the country!

We don't always expect to find it in our daily activities but cooperation is alive and well, almost everywhere you look. The following is a list of 26 examples.

"Tell me what you eat, and I'll show you a cooperative!" Do you live in Quebec? If you do, there's a good chance that the cheese (Agropur) and maple syrup (Citadelle) you eat come from a cooperative. And these are but a few examples. The agricultural cooperative movement is approximately 37,000 members strong in Quebec. By purchasing their products, we promote local farmers and a non-capitalistic production system.

Does cooperative-produced beer taste better? Let's leave that judgment to the experts. One thing's for sure: La Barberie (site in French only)>'s Stout impériale is brewed by the owners themselves, like the Blanche de Trois-Rivières by the Frères Houblon. The La Barberie and Frères Houblon breweries are work cooperatives, which means that they belong to the employees. In this type of organization, workers participate in the decision-making process and receive a share of the company's profits.

Smell the delightful aroma of solidarity with fair trade coffee! Many small coffee producers, like those in the Dominican Fedecares and Conocado cooperatives supported by Plan Nagua, know all about its benefits. When their harvest is sold through fair trade, these producers receive a fair price, which is not what they get from the multinationals. At the end of the day, entire villages benefit from the increased income.

Would you like some fair trade chocolate to have with your coffee? If you want to find out where you can get these products in your area, the Équiterre (site in French only) website has 3 directories of purchase outlets.

The fair trade market is more than just food. You should have a look at the handcrafted fair trade merchandise made with the skilful hands of people in developing countries. They're worth checking out! Many of these exotic objects are available in shops in Quebec.

La Mauve (site in French only), is a solidarity (multi-stakeholder) cooperative in the Bellechasse region of Quebec that focuses on sustainable development. To promote social and economic equity between generations, these dynamic cooperators make use of innovative agricultural and agroforestry practices. They also support local producers and fair trade through their food store and distribution of summer produce baskets. These activities enable them to strengthen the bonds between consumers and small producers.

Did you know that in Quebec, in 2004, 87,000  jobs were generated by some 3,200 cooperatives of all types? Desjardins Group (our cooperative financial institution) has about 40,000 employees in Quebec. In Canada, nearly 155,000 people in a population of 30  million work in cooperatives in all categories, and all over the world, 100 million workers. Cooperatives do what it takes to stimulate the social economy.

The forestry industry has a good number of workers organized into cooperatives. Forestry cooperatives are closer to the people than the big paper companies and put more energy into the environment, ecology and sustainable development so as to leave a legacy for future generations. The Coopérative forestière de Girardville (site in French only) is proof of that. Twenty years ago, these cooperators started producing essential oils by extraction from black spruce logging residues. Now it is involved in numerous activities, including forest management, ecological harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries.

What household chore do so many people dislike? If you guessed mowing the lawn, you're right. However, not everyone considers it a chore. Every summer, aged 14 to 17 year-olds form Cooperative youth services (site in French only) to create jobs for themselves . For a small fee, they will mow lawns, paint fences, babysit, oversee children's parties, etc. As is customary of cooperatives, each group decides which services it will provide. In addition to gaining work experience, these teens learn how to manage a cooperative enterprise.

Are you an avid climber? At Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), you'll find many types of harnesses and all types of climbing equipment at the lowest possible price so you can climb farther and higher in complete security. This co-op supports people in achieving the benefit of wilderness-oriented recreation and is renowned for the quality of its products and services. Today, 2 million members consult enthusiastic MEC specialists to help them make the right choices. Integrity, mutual respect, community spirit and well-being are the motivation behind MEC's innovation and commitment to society and the environment

If you think that work cooperatives are limited only to traditional trades, think again. One such example is 1-20 media, an avant-garde company in the Outaouais whose multidisciplinary teams work with 3-D images, polygon forms assembly, lighting and photosimulation. Simply put, 1-20 media uses computer graphics to transform plans and photos into 3-D objects. These co-operators regularly stun their clients with their ingenious ideas and website creations, their graphic design abilities and audio-visual productions.

The flapping wings of south-bound geese was the inspiration for a Montmagny group when naming their cooperative newspaper. Each week, 21,334 copies of the L'Oie Blanche (site in French only) newspaper fly onto the doorsteps of subscribers living in Montmagny, L'Islet and four Bellechasse municipalities, keeping them up-to-date about the happenings in their community. L'Oie blanche employs dozens of people on a full-time basis.

To get the most out of their favourite activity, Bas-du-Fleuve regulars founded Coop Kayaks de mer des îles (site in French only). Kayaking… What a great way to discover the St. Lawrence River and its islands! This young association aims to introduce as many enthusiasts to this terrific adventure as possible. What's more, it doesn't remain within the confines of kayaking; it provides its members with nautical safety and technical training, which makes this sport even more enjoyable.

Many people will attest to the fact that it isn't always easy to find a place to live that's affordable! However, thanks to housing cooperatives (site in French only), some see this situation in a different light. Quebec housing co-ops have been growing over the last 25 years and currently have 22,474 affordable and decent apartments for rent. On a daily basis, 50,000 people run the 1,160 cooperatives, thereby contributing to the well-being of their fellow citizens.

Inventiveness and solidarity have already borne Allo Stop (site in French only) a carpooling pioneer in Quebec, and Communauto, a car-sharing service. Transport Collectif Rural (site in French only) (Rural Ridesharing) set up a system to serve the Haute-Gaspésie population where transportation is available to everyone regardless of age, income or health. This innovative project sees access to transportation as a way to facilitate a person's integration into socio-economic life. Encouraging group transport also means preserving the environment.

Very few people were familiar with Inuit art before the 60s but today, Inuit works are known around the world largely because Inuit artists formed cooperatives and joined the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Quebec. The federation includes 14 associations and its mission is to promote and maintain a cooperative organization in Nunavik. Marketing Inuit art is at the heart of its activities. Thus, the Federation is able to send magnificent sculptures by Inukjuak Cooperative members around the world.

Budgeting can sometimes be a game of skill. However, support can be found at the associations cooperatives d'économie familiale (family economics cooperative associations) which help people regain control of their finances. This is the case of, among others, the ACEF Rive-Sud de Quebec (site in French only) and the ACEF Basses-Laurentides (site in French only). The purpose of these organizations is to improve the neighbourhood's quality of life by providing help with budgeting, debt management and consumption.

Many young people dream about going back to their home town. But the chances of landing a good job far from urban centres can sometimes seem slim. Place aux jeunes (site in French only) works hard to dispel this preconceived idea. To halt the exodus of young people from our beautiful regions, the organization promotes the appeal, resources, market and know-how of these areas. Concretely, it organizes 3 weekend seminars for young people. Over a span of about ten years, it has informed many young people about business opportunities and real job openings that have enabled them to go home again.

Quinoa is just one of the many healthy organic foods that Bois-Francs residents can purchase at Victoriaville's La Manne (site in French only). Established in 1978 by 30 health-conscious individuals, La Manne is a cooperative whose mission is to promote healthy eating. It favours organic, locally grown and fair trade produce, as well as products with minimal packaging. Today, La Manne has more than 3,000 members and is a recognized reference in healthy eating and overall health.

More specifically goose rillettes. But goose terrine, confit, raspberry or black currant foie gras are also available at Jardins de l'Oie, a cooperative specializing in foie gras . Every year, the livestock farm raises over 2,000 geese imported from Châteauneuf-sur-Loire in France when they are as young as one day old. The Jardins de l'Oie breeders like to remind people that their graylag geese, French cousins of the snow geese, yield a divine foie gras that epicures appreciate! Today, more than 100 boutiques and markets throughout Quebec sell this Nicolet cooperative's products.

Health cooperatives are very concerned for citizens and strive to make frontline services accessible to meet a community's need for health services. In the same way, they organize health and prevention activities to educate the public (e.g., lectures on diabetes) as well as groups to encourage physical activity (e.g., walking club).

Health cooperatives are connected to their community through their members and partnerships with associations, community organizations, health and social services centres (CSSS) and hospitals. This promotes unity among social stakeholders in shared projects to improve the health of the population.

To learn more, see the Fédération des coopératives de services à domicile et de santé du Québec website.

Le Théâtre Parminou, a popular theatre company with 30 years of history, is in tune with the social problems and arouses emotions, reflections, discussions, and change. Whether it be in a village or in a capital city, in schools or in community centres, in prisons, in firms and in theatres, le Parminou reaches people beyond the walls of a theatre.

In the same vein, Déclic, a work cooperative, is devoted to the young public. These actors travel to rural areas to make culture more accessible. Shows focus on quality, fantasy and humour. Déclic entertains children but also makes them aware of the environment, their heritage, science, art history, reading and geography. One of its shows even talks about cooperative values.

In 1941, the Nicolet Seminary became the cradle of school co-operatives. So, as you can see, the COOPSCO (site in French only) network didn't start spreading cooperative values in school establishments just yesterday. Today, there are approximately 100 points of sale in Quebec high schools, colleges and universities. Each fall, nearly 300,000 students go to their school co-op to get books and school supplies. But COOPSCO consists of much more than just products and services. It's also a high concentration of dynamic energy to encourage students to become active in cooperative movements.

The Saguenay Fjords can be seen from all angles on land, from the sea and from the air. For fans of adventure tourism or ecotourism, there is something for everyone at the Coop de solidarité du Cap-Jaseux in Saint-Fulgence. Because of its wide range of activities, rich natural environment and lodging infrastructure, the Parc Aventures Cap-Jaseux has become the area's prime getaway destination. The Saguenay roots of the cooperators can readily be discerned in the warmth and passion they've poured into this project.

Développement international Desjardins (DID) personnel is quite familiar with the pleasant sounds of Wolof, a language commonly spoken in Senegal. Desjardins cooperative spirit knows no borders: since 1970, DID has actively supported the caisses populaires network in developing countries, particularly in Senegal. Thus, around thirty organizations provide quality financial services to people that are left behind by traditional banks. Together, they count nearly 3 million members and 4,400 employees. Alphonse Desjardins' vision was for the cooperative movement to become a precious development tool for communities all over the world. And it has.

The vibraphone, a close relation of the xylophone, contributes a very special sound to jazz music. Shows at the Café Touski (site in French only) in Montreal give music lovers the chance to jazz it up to the sounds of this instrument. The neighbourhood café is a place where patrons can enjoy a good meal and the social contact. This work coop knows the meaning of community life as it brings life and activity to the neighbourhood.


You have been enjoying dairy products since you were a baby. In fact, advertising confirms it. But did you know that your milk and its derivatives are mostly from coops? Farming cooperatives transform and market 64% of milk, and 54% of industrial milk into yoghurt, cheese and butter. Natrel and Nutrinor (site in French only) have a lot to say on the subject.

Does this word make you laugh? Good! Your zygomatic muscles, which run from your cheekbones to the corners of your mouth, are working. Aylmer and Sainte-Thècle residents (in the Mauricie) are also exercising these muscles because they have been all-smiles since the inception of a health cooperative in their area, where doctors don't only heal small scrapes and serious illnesses. They also focus on education, information and prevention to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles.

This feature article courtesy of Mes finances-Ma caisse magazine.