Mr. Allan Halter, Manager at the Wetaskiwin Co-op, will be managing another Co-op store on April 23rd. The store, located at 4703 – 50 Street, Wetaskiwin, is the former Sobey’s store and becomes the new Co-op grocery store. Co-op grocery stores aren’t new to Halter as he arrived in Wetaskiwin 5 years ago with 25 years of experience in the food retail business. Co-op grocery stores aren’t new to Wetaskiwin, either.
Back in 1917, settlers felt they were being exploited by too many profit-takers in what they felt was an unfair marketplace. To address this challenge and improve their situation, farmers all across Western Canada joined forces and formed cooperatives.
The first settlers in the Wetaskiwin region envisioned a store they could rely on for their needed commodities like salt, flour, sugar, apples, feed, seed grain, and binder twine. In the beginning, that store was a railway spur at the box car door. Local members were notified that their supplies had arrived and farmers would call at the box car to pick up their orders and sometimes their neighbours' orders as well. It was not unusual for families to purchase supplies that would last them six to twelve months. The charge for these goods was the cost of the goods plus transportation expenses and a very small handling fee.
Early records indicate that by 1915, John Berg and Carl Eliason, of the Cherry Grove Local, helped organize other locals and began buying farm and family essentials on a group basis. A few months later, under the direction of Thomas Toreson, the Lone Ridge Local convened a meeting in the sitting room of the Wetaskiwin Hotel. The representatives decided that their main purpose was co-operative buying and selling. They adopted a constitution and bylaws, and elected Edward Schmidt as President and John Berg as the Secretary of the Wetaskiwin District Association of the United Farmers of Alberta. Each local paid a membership fee of $1.00 per year and designated a representative to the association.
At the next general meeting held on December 15, 1916 Mr. A.B. (Burt) Evarts assumed the secretarial duties from Mr. Berg because he was more centrally located to all the locals and the railroad. Although the Association was not making any significant profits, volume of commodities and membership was increasing. The Association made the decision to offer benefits in which they were enjoying to the town people.
The Association had built a strong grassroots foundation for growth. At a general meeting held on November 16th, 1917 at the Bijou Theatre in Wetaskiwin, the district locals determined that they could no longer operate from a boxcar on a railroad spur. They decided to acquire a permanent store and apply to the Province to incorporate under the Alberta Co-operative Association Act. The charter was signed by twenty farmers who comprised the provisional Board of Directors. The name was modified to the Wetaskiwin U.F.A. Co-operative Association Ltd.
By March 9th of 1918 an elected Board of Directors was chosen. They were: Edward Schmidt, Hugh McGrandle, Edward Rasmuson, Thomas Toreson, Victor Thompson, Edward Peterson, Carl Hanson, Fred Freeman, and A.B. (Burt) Evarts.
The locals and the directors raised $550 for working capital and opened a store on West Railway Street in a building they rented from Jack Walker for $30.00 per month. Mr. A.P. Moan became the Secretary Treasurer at a salary of $1400 per year and was instructed to take the $550.00 of share capital and buy necessary fixtures and invest the balance in merchandize.
The first retail Co-op store in Wetaskiwin was open for business and open to all.