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My book, The Co-op Revolution (Caitlin Press), talks about Roger Inman, CCEC and 1970's co-ops.  It is an account of my time with the co-op movement in Vancouver’s activist years of the 1970s. I was a founder and member of CRS Workers’ Co-op, an organization that was owned and managed by us. We started four projects in Vancouver, all to do with food production and distribution: a cannery that preserved BC fruit in honey, a beekeeping co-op, a bakery and a food wholesaler. As well, we helped other small food co-ops get started.

Sometime in the autumn of 1975 Michael Goldstein showed up at the Pandora Street office of CRS Workers’ Co-op with a sheaf of documents in hand. We knew that the co-op movement possessed its own form of financial institution founded by the people, for the people’s well-being. So when Michael told our group that he and others were trying to organize just such a credit union to be called CCEC, we were happy to sign up. Several of us signed on a charter document that night and some of us expressed interest on serving on the new credit union’s committees when it received its charter in 1976. Right on!—as we said in those days. This was what co-operatives needed—access to funds that were not governed by the big business of Canada's banks or subject to the day’s political whims. The credit union movement would be a big boon to women in business as well, recognizing their abilities to manage a loan without requiring a man at the helm.

From The Co-op Revolution: “Most of us opened our personal share/saving accounts at CCEC when it moved to its first real office at 205 E. 6th Avenue. I was member number 32 and my deposit card reports that on March 4, 1976, I deposited $4 to open my account, after which the deposits and withdrawals continued sporadically until 1981. That first transaction was initialed by K, which probably stood for Katherine Ruffen, the first manager.

The best thing about this credit union was its personal service in the days before ATM machines. If I had neglected to withdraw cash on a Friday for the weekend’s activities, I could call Katherine at work and tell her I was on my way. “Please don’t leave until I get there,” I would say, and I would arrive minutes before closing time.  It’s doubtful whether any bank or credit union today would be concerned about my lack of cash for the weekend.” 

One member of our co-op, Roger Inman, served CCEC Credit Union loyally and after his death in 1989 a memorial award commemorated his work. The award is given by CCEC annually in recognition of a project that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of the community. And that’s how Roger would have wanted it.  

I first met Roger in 1975 when I moved to Vancouver from Ontario. He had moved from Winnipeg around the same time with his tent in his backpack and had heard about CRS starting the Tunnel Canary cannery. He didn’t know much about co-ops or canning at the time but he was most enthusiastic about the project and his sense of humour helped us to get through some of the hot, labour intensive work of processing fruit and jam. Roger continued to work with the cannery collective until its demise when he turned to another CRS project, Uprising Breads Bakery.

There’s more about Roger and other CRS workers in my book, The Co-op Revolution. I’ll be reading from it at the Vancouver Public Library main branch on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend and books will be for sale. (For more, see: jandegrass.com).

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Read about the history of the co-op movement in the '70's including CCEC!  Jan DeGrass is one of the first 25 members of CCEC.

From Jan on her new book: 
I’m excited to tell you that The Co-op Revolution has just been published by Caitlin Press. My latest book gives an account of my time with CRS Workers’ Co-op in Vancouver during the heady, activist years of the 1970s. Hope you can make it to my book launch in Vancouver. 
Visit the publisher or Jan's website for more information. 
Vancouver Book Launch: VPL Main Branch Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m

Excerpt from the book: “We were undercapitalized, inexperienced, practiced democratic decision-making and some of us smoked dope occasionally. All elements that would make us grow as human beings and as business people. We ran a helluva show.”

In the spring of 1975, a free-spirited Jan DeGrass backpacked across Canada in search of adventure and greater meaning in life. When she arrived in Vancouver, she met a group of people committed to social change; together they reimagined the food industry in BC.

In The Co-op Revolution: Vancouver’s Search for Food Alternatives, author and journalist DeGrass writes about her journey as a founding member of the Collective Resource and Services Workers’ Co-op. Bounding to life during the heady, activist, grant-funded years of 1974–1980, the CRS Co-op became one of the most successful co-ops in BC and was committed to co-operation and worker ownership. While the decade of the seventies is remembered for its new wave of co-ops—usually organized by a “free-flowing” collection of women and men in their twenties—CRS was unique in its success. Among its many accolades, it created the Tunnel Canary cannery, the Queenright Co-operative Beekeepers, Vancouver’s popular Uprising Breads Bakery and a food wholesaler, which later became Horizon Distributors. The economic, political and social skyline of Vancouver was changing. For some, the co-op movement was about crushing capitalism; for others it was simply about buying cheap, wholesome food from people they trusted, and living in communal camaraderie. No matter the pursuit, co-operation was the answer.

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Cafe Rooster Logo

A café that is the heart of the community is a hidden gem, for now!  Three long time CCEC Members who have lived in the Commercial Street neighbourhood for years, partnered with another friend to open café.   Meet  Chris Richmond, Pete Tuepah, Nadene Rehnby and Margot Skelhorn.

“CCEC made it possible.   
CCEC is more than just a bank.” 

Offering Matchstick locally roasted coffee, you can now stay in the hood and don’t need to go to The Drive.  Serving up fresh baked muffins daily, vegan and light fare (not a diner), they source local and organic ingredients as much as possible.   

The Commercial Street Cafe opened in November 2012 in the heritage building Gow Block. Some people may remember when it used to be Ernie’s Grocery and more recently a store/café. When the space was up for sale, the four friends knew they wanted a great café in the neighbourhood and worked through the steps to make it a reality. While opening a café was not on their bucket list, according to Nadene, they were pleasantly surprised when their bid for the cafe went through and CCEC approved the business loan.

They renovated in nine days to create an open concept space that spans two rooms.  They have Pete as head chef in the kitchen, Chris running the day-to-day as the general manager and Nadene busing tables in between her job as a graphic designer.  Margot as coffee manager setup the coffee bar and is now on sabbatical back home in Nova Scotia.  Tracy Thorn of the Cake Conspiracy, whose cake-decorating business needed more space,  uses their kitchen in exchange for baking.  It is a great partnership where the food and atmosphere is wonderful.

Commercial Street Café is truly a neighbourhood coffee shop.  When I visited on a mid-week morning, there was a steady stream of moms and dads with young kids stopping in for a coffee and baked treat.  The owners can walk to work and feel that as they are community based, they have more at stake in running a successful cafe.  They haven’t done much advertising and are focused on the day to day operations.  They are learning a lot and have plans to grow their business and neighbourhood connections in the years ahead.

“The credit union has been with me through all stages in my life, from my first home, to services related to my graphic design business and now, a commercial mortgage for the café.  CCEC is more than a bank. It is about personal relationships where, for example,  Shelly provided tips on using our ATM card in Mexico and Nikki sharing tips on visiting Disneyland.”   Nadene

“CCEC cares about you.  They know you and I’m not lost in the shuffle.”  Chris

 

Address:

3599 Commercial Street at East 20th Avenue, Vancouver

info@commercialstreetcafe.com

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