Westlock Terminals (Video)

It’s hard to over emphasize the importance of quality infrastructure for robust economic activity. In rural communities, it can be especially hard to keep and maintain the things needed to attract large businesses. Westlock Terminals is the amazing story of how this community rose to the occasion.

Brought to you by Co-operatives First.

Battle River Power Co-op (Video)

A few years back, a snow storm took out 26 miles of powerlines in the Camrose area. Battle River Co-op battled together with community members to bring power back to every farm and community along the way. Here’s their story.

Ukrainian Co-op (Video)

The Ukrainian Co-op has been creating a unique experience and welcoming space for over 80 years. Best known for their meats and imported goods, the store is more than simply a supermarket. Check out what makes this one of the longest running co-ops in Saskatchewan.

Brought to you by Co-operatives First.

Aboriginal Designers Co-op (VIDEO)

In the heartland of Turtle Island, a small group of Indigenous designers join in laughter, combine resources and support each other through a shared purpose. Celebrating three years running, this unique designer co-operative helps ensure their voices and cultures are heard and experienced throughout the world.

The Backroad Diaries is a Co-operatives First project.

River Select

At the end of August, we had the chance to visit the Okanagan to spend some time with an amazing Indigenous Co-op: River Select.

Smoke from the August wildfires plaguing northern BC was evident in the Kelowna area during our visit, but the natural beauty of BC wasn’t hidden by the haze. Our drive into the Lower Fraser Valley was highlighted by corn fields, winding roads, and lush green landscapes. The area is packed with the promise of good food and good people.

Harrison Select

We were fortunate to encounter both when we met with Dave Moore, Manager of River Select Co-operative on the Sts’ailes First Nation near the Chehalis and Harrison Rivers. Dave gave us a tour of the fish processing site operated by the Sts’ailes and Scowlitz First Nations. This partnership, dubbed Harrison Select, brings together fishers from both Nations to brand and market a product that is harvested using traditional learnings. The logo for Harrison Select is the Sasquatch walking alongside a salmon: the Sts’ailes First Nation recognize the Sasquatch as the caretaker of the land, and the Scowlitz recognize the salmon as their logo.

(Unfortunately, there were no Sasquatch sightings during our visit.)

Sisan and Kyle with the Harrison Select logo

Dave said many First Nation communities that rely on the fishery have been concerned with declining stocks and overharvest resulting from commercial activity over the last 150 years. River Select was created in response to this destructive practice. The co-op allows relatively small-scale First Nation-owned fisheries to conduct sustainable harvest using sustainable methods while finding efficiencies through co-operation. By working together, the eight members can maintain feasibility allowing them to preserve their traditional fisheries.

“Our co-operative came into being when it became clear that these small artisanal fisheries of yesteryear, they can’t survive in today’s global economy because it’s all about large, consistent volumes year-round,” said Dave. “…we designed a fisheries co-operative that could provide the financing, the infrastructure, the professionals in order to help do the kinds of things they couldn’t afford to do as a single small enterprise, but could do collectively if they shared these things.”

While the co-op only employs four people directly, it fosters the livelihoods of hundreds of Indigenous fishers across BC.

“We invest in value-adding that fish so the community and the fishermen see more value from their efforts,” Dave said.

Each Nation maintains a storefront where they sell their own branded products that are distributed by the co-op. This complements the online store and allows each Nation to capitalize on tourists hungry for local salmon.

As a biologist who has worked in the fishing industry for over 30 years Dave knows a thing or two, so we had to ask: ‘How do you cook the perfect salmon?’ His favourite: Chinook salmon, barbequed on a cedar plank.

With mouths watering, we purchased some salmon jerky from the Sts’ailes store to satisfy our craving on the drive home.

Okanagan Select and Osoyoos Lake

On our second day, we met Howie Wright with Okanagan Nation Alliance, a representative of eight Nations in the area and the owner of Okanagan Select. Howie gave us a tour of Okanagan Select’s storefront, processing site, freezers, and dry storage areas.

After our tour of the Westbank-based site, Howie asked if we could join him at the landing ground on Osoyoos Lake where he had arranged for us to meet some local fishers. The Backroad Diaries team is always up for a road trip, so we set off for Osoyoos.

If you’re wondering how to get to Osoyoos Lake when heading south, Howie’s directions were spot on:

  1. Turn left on road 22 off highway 97
  2. Turn right onto Black Sage Road by the old barns
  3. Turn left by the second set of houses where a toilet used to be
  4. Keep left until you reach the lake

When we arrived we met Louie, the owner of Louie’s Extreme Fishing, who took us out on the lake to meet some local fishers. With the smoke thickening, we were unable to appreciate our mountainous surroundings, but that allowed us to focus on fishing.

We also met Reagan, a local fish harvester. Using sonar technology, Reagan can detect a cluster of fish, then cast out a net to surround the fish and pull them up. Once near the surface, a packing boat (a smaller boat filled with totes) moves alongside the fishing boat to receive the catch. The fish are then poured into the totes and brought ashore.

Community Fishery

Louie told us that that week the fish weren’t being harvested commercial purposes, but for the community food fishery. The fish harvested on the day we visited would go to Merritt, and fish from the following day would head to Vernon. Communities rely on the fishery for more than just revenue: the co-op helps preserve a way of life that has been practiced for thousands of years.

Limləmt, thank you, to Dave, Howie, Louie, and everyone else we met throughout the Okanagan for your hospitality and kindness.

Dauphin, Manitoba

For a small town, Dauphin has a lot going on. We arrive a few weeks too late for the massive annual country music festival that draws around 14,000 people to the area, but we did get there just in time to see the street fair that kicks off the Ukrainian Festival. It’s clear that this is a town where people work together to make things happen.

Parkland Industrial Hemp Producers

Keith shows us a variety of hemp developed by the co-op.

Our first co-op stop was the Parkland Industrial Hemp Producers Co-operative. Keith, the Associate Plant Breeder, and Clare, the office manager, have lined up interviews and tours of the area to give us a glimpse of how the crop and the co-op has had an impact on the region. After chatting in the office, we hop in Keith’s truck and head out into the countryside. We stop at co-op member Chris Federowich’s farm, where he tells us all about the equipment he uses to harvest his hemp crops (hemp is notoriously tough on machinery). He and Clare also chat about the role the co-op has played for local producers.

“We go to our processor members first and say ‘how much do you want us to grow for you?’ So they give us their order for the year,” said Clare. “Then we go to our farmer members and say ‘okay, this is how many acres are required, so this is how many acres of production contracts we’re going to do’. The co-op has done that to protect our members so they always have a home for their grain and their grain is always moving. …it’s all about protecting the members, both the buyers and the farmers, so that the buyers’ needs are being met and the farmers aren’t over-growing and ending up with extra grain in the bins.”

The crop also becomes very popular with local kids when, once a year, Chris uses hemp bales to create a giant slip and slide.

Clare and Chris on the Federowich farm.

Remembering the co-op’s champion

On our tour we pass Hemp Sense, a processing business that has started up in the area, as well as miles of fields grown by local farmers. We stand in fields of two different hemp varieties – among the 10 varieties developed by the co-op and named for people who have been involved with it. In a field of “Joey” hemp, Keith and Clare reminisced about Joey Federowich, Chris’ father and one of the driving forces behind the co-op’s start.

Joey’s sharing nature was a big part of the co-op’s ultimate success, Keith said.

“He spent hours and hours on the phone talking to people no matter where about the crop, the machinery, about making it work and growing it. In the early days he was a real catalyst — he got information out to people, promoted the crop and the potential in the industry. He just never gave up.”

When it came time to name a new variety in 2010, the year after Joey passed away, there was no question what it should be called.

Catalyst Credit Union

When we arrived at Catalyst Credit Union the next day, Sisan’s reputation proceeded him.

“You’re the guy who got attacked by the goat!” said CEO Ron Hedley.

Catalyst (now temporarily known as Vanguard Catalyst after a recent merger), like many credit unions in small prairie towns, supports its community in numerous ways. It sponsors sports teams and the local arena, helped the cinema get up and running, and has supported local businesses when other financial institutions would not. In fact, said board member Stephen Roznowsky, many small towns might not have a financial institution at all if not for their credit union.

“Small towns would actually die faster” without their credit union, he said.

A unique tour of Dauphin

At the end of our interview, Ron said “We’ve got a surprise for you”.

The surprise is that the credit union owns a seven-seat bicycle that it brings out once in a while for parades, events, or just getting its staff to work (for fun) — and that we would get to ride it. Several members of staff joined us in pedalling around the main streets of Dauphin, as drivers honked and waved at our strange octopus-like bike in true small-town style.