It’s a tale of growth, perseverance and collaboration, and now the Wetaskiwin Co-op is proudly celebrating its centennial anniversary in the community.
Wetaskiwin Co-op held its Centennial Kickoff and Equity Days celebration May 4 at the home centre, May 5 at its Falun location and May 6 at the grocery store.
The Co-op in Wetaskiwin opened its doors in 1917, as a small business with $36,000 in valued assets.
“It started with humble beginnings,” said Henrik Bruun, Wetaskiwin Co-op board president.
In the Co-op’s first year of business it brought in $28,000 in transactions for items such as oats, barely, bushels of potatoes, barbwire and hides.
In 1944 the Co-op expanded out to Falun and 1960 was the grand opening of the Co-op food market downtown.
During the summer of ‘87, as the recession continued to hit businesses hard, the Co-op was facing difficulties. Bruun says the board of directors had to make a decision, either weather the hardships or close down the Co-op. “Not too many people knew about that.”
“The one thing we can’t lose sight of is this company is a local company,” said Wetaskiwin Co-op general manager Allan Halter. “We’ve supported the community for 100 years.”
“This is a really, really important organization. Not only to Wetaskiwin but to western Canada,” he added.
Each of the speakers who took the microphone during the Centennial Kickoff thanked the board past and present, members, and all the others who have supported the Co-op during a century serving the community.
“It’s interesting, you talk about the Co-op, everybody’s got a story; 99.9 per cent of them are positive stories,” said Halter.
Mabel Glaser, former board member and granddaughter of the first Wetaskiwin Co-op Association president, talked about her memories of Co-op while growing up.
As a child she remembers the Co-op having a long counter in the interior of the store. Patrons would come in and give their list to the clerk, who would gather all the items together and package them.
Glaser also remembers Co-ops coming together for competition ball games, limbo contests, dances, bands and variety shows. “The Co-op had many socials back in the day.”
“The Co-op had been a darn good business to Wetaskiwin,” she added.
Deputy mayor Patricia MacQuarrie brought greetings on behalf of the city to the celebration and noted Co-op gives a lot back to the community.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the community who hasn’t been touched by the generosity of the Co-op,” said MacQuarrie.
“The Co-op has defined our community as a community that gives back and works together,” she added.
Bruun says in the long history of the Wetaskiwin Co-op the growth and successes it has seen has come from the hard work of the organization and the community. “Co-ops were and still continue to be a vital part of communities.”
Steffen Olsen, Federated Co-operatives Limited representative, attended the celebration and presented Bruun a statue of an inuksuk, purchased from one of the Arctic Co-operatives Limited Co-op locations, as a symbol of strength and friendship. “It reminds us of our need to belong to something greater than ourselves.”
“Co-ops are committed to the community,” he added.
Each year members receive money back through the Co-op’s equity program, and funds are re-invested in the community through facilities and services.
During the three days of the Centennial Kickoff members were able to come into the three locations with their Co-op number and receive their equity money. The 2016 equity cash back totals $2 million.
Earlier this year the Wetaskiwin Co-op launched its school equity program. Within the County of Wetaskiwin 16 Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools signed up to participate at the beginning.
Wetaskiwin Co-op marketing co-ordinator Sam McDowell says the program is now being used at all Wetaskiwin Co-op locations.
“We’re in the process of expanding to the schools who hadn’t originally taken advantage of the program,” said McDowell.