Wanstead Co-op hits the century mark

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Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

The Wanstead Co-op officially turns 100 April 7.

It was on this date in 1924, the Wanstead Farmers’ Co-operative Company was established. But a group of farmers in the community had been working together to keep costs down long before that.

The process to form the cooperative began on Jan. 24, 1924 when a meeting was held at the home of Edwin Morris on the Main Street of Wanstead. For years before the co-op was established, the Wanstead Farmers’ Club joined with other similar organizations in the area to purchase coal, flour, seed and fertilizer. The club also organized various social functions.

The Wanstead Farmers Cooperative Company at first incorporated as a joint stock company with the new ventured capitalized at $10,000. Orville Ramsay was elected the first president and Arch Williamson became the first manager, a post Williamson held until 1942.

From the original 18 members who were part of the cooperative in 1924, the organization has grown to over 500 members during that 100 year span.

Growth of the cooperative began in 1926 when scales were purchased from the Lambton Loan Company for $50 and an office building for $25. It then leased enough land from the Canadian National Railway to accommodate the scales and to build covered stock pens.

The Wanstead Farmers Cooperative weathered the Great Depression and the Second World War and it wasn’t until 1946 when improvements were made to its facilities and seed cleaning plant was installed.

In 1947, the Townline Mill was purchased as the cooperative expanded into the feed business. The first warehouse was built at Wanstead in 1948. Fire destroyed the facilities at Wanstead on March 19,1954. When members were asked whether the cooperative should close after such a devastating hit, membership wanted to rebuild.

An elevator was built by the fall of 1954 at Wanstead to handle the marketing of grain, as cash cropping had increased in the area. The Townline Mill was still going strong but by 1958 the mill was getting old and the volume of feed had increased to the point where the facility was hard pressed to handle it. So, the cooperative built a new mill at Wanstead in 1958. Tragedy struck again in May 1961, when fire destroyed the Townline Mill, which meant the new Wanstead mill had to handle more volume.

The co-op purchased the McCormick Elevator in Wyoming in 1962. New bulk fertilizer facilities were built at Wyoming with a liquid nitrogen depot being installed. A modern grain dryer was installed at the Wanstead elevator in 1965.

Expansion continued into the 1970s, as two grain storage tanks were built in Wanstead in 1971, followed by a storage building in 1972, which could hold 100,000 bushels of grain.

General Manager Peter Kelly says the co-op now has three locations, Wanstead, Alvinston and Inwood with between 26 and 39 staff members.

Kelly said the secret to the organization’s success and longevity, is centred on the cooperative model; it is owned the very customers that conduct business with the co-op. Each member has an equal say and decisions are made democratically.

The Wanstead Farmers Cooperative continues to expand its services, something which he credits the organization for having a long-term vision for growth, said Kelly. In 2018, for instance, the co-op installed a new information technology system.

Kelly is sure those original members who started the Wanstead Farmers Cooperative would not be surprised that the co-op is still in existence 100 years later and still thriving. “One hundred years is amazing,” says Kelly adding he is honoured to be the guy in charge while the organization marks its centennial.

Even though the anniversary date is April 7, the organization will not be holding its celebration until Aug. 17 at the Wanstead branch site. The organization is also putting together a booklet to document the history of the cooperative.

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