On July 1, Canada celebrates 150 years of confederation. Our nation’s financial sector pre-dates the creation of Canada itself, starting in 1792, when nine Montreal merchants formed the Canada Banking Company, an enterprise that quickly failed, since it couldn’t issue bank notes, states The Canadian Encyclopedia.
With the creation of Canada in 1867, the federal government began issuing bank charters. By 1886 there were 38 banks. But radical ideas were being formulated. Fourteen years later, House of Commons clerk Alphonse Desjardins and supporters opened Caisse d’épargne Desjardins in Lévis, Que. In 1908, Ontario saw the creation of the Civil Service Savings and Loan Society.
Desjardins lobbied to have the House of Commons pass legislation supporting the creation of credit unions, which would have made them federally regulated. However, the Senate rejected the bill by one vote in 1908.
It took the Great Depression of the 1930s, as unemployment soared and wheat prices collapsed, for financial cooperatives to gain a foothold across the country. Credit unions, nurturing the concept that community wealth should be circulated to support local economic development, sprang up in the Maritimes, British Columbia and, finally, the Prairies.
Since then, the credit union system has been an innovator in many areas of finance, being the first to lend to women in their own names, offer registered education plans, full-service ATMs, daily interest accounts, open mortgages and equity lines of credit, online cheque imaging, branchless banking, among many other conveniences, according to Interior Savings Credit Union (70,000 members and $2.45 billion in assets.) ◊
SOURCE: CO-OPERATION CONFLICT AND CONSENSUS – B.C. CENTRAL AND THE CREDIT UNION MOVEMENT TO 1994 BY IAN MACPHERSON