2 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
4 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union Copyright ©2015 by Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the publisher or, in the case of photocopying or other photographic copying, a licence from Access Copyright, www.accesscopyright.ca, 1-800-893-5777, firstname.lastname@example.org. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Dunae, Patrick A. (Patrick Alexander), author Common bonds: a history of Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union/Patrick A. Dunae Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-9937207-1-0 (paperback) 1. GVC Credit Union—History. 2. Community development credit unions—British Columbia—History—20th century. 3. Banks and banking, Cooperative—British Columbia—History—20th century. 4. British Columbia—Economic conditions—20th century. 5. British Columbia—Social conditions—20th century. I. Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union. II. Title. HG2039.C3D85 2015
COVER IMAGE Looking north from the roof of Vancouver City Hall, June 1946. Photographer: Don Coltman, Steffens Collmer. Image courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives, AM154-S3-: CVA 586-4381. Produced for GVC Credit Union by TAKE 5 Publications, 230-622 First Avenue, Box 59, Ladysmith, BC, V9G 1A1. www.take5.ca email@example.com Published by GVC Credit Union 1801 Willingdon Avenue Burnaby, BC V5C 5R3 www.gvccu.com Printed in Canada by Friesens Corporation Altona, Manitoba, R0G 0B0
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From the Board
GVC Credit Union directors, February 2015. Back row, left to right: Rick Orford, Gilles Deschenes, Les Hausch, Ken Sherwood, Shaun Olafson. Front row, left to right: Herb Gill, Glenn McLaughlin, John Schretlen. Missing from the photograph: Judi Corra (see page 93).
This book commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union and chronicles our achievements over the past 75 years. Our story began with pioneer financial co-operatives chartered in Burnaby and Vancouver in 1940. In the decades that followed, we enlarged our membership base and extended our services to Surrey, in 1989, and New Westminster, in 2007. We stand on a very solid historical base, thanks to the dedication of the volunteers who served our antecedent credit unions. Today, staff members contribute to our prosperity. Their expertise in an increasingly complex and competitive financial market, and their unwavering commitment to personal service and co-operative values, are outstanding. Our success also derives from the dedication and acumen of the elected members of our Board. Since 1984, when we became Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union, over twenty people have served as directors. Some of us have provided many years of service, others are relative newcomers to the Board. All of us are proud to serve the Credit Union. The purpose behind the creation of the credit union movement has not changed over the years. GVC will continue the role of serving members with co-operative values toward the common goal of supporting families in our community. Our membership is our core strength. Our membership includes families who have been with us for three generations. We appreciate their loyalty and look forward to maintaining our relationship with them, while welcoming a new generation of members. With this book, we hope to provide an interesting retrospective for our members, employees, and friends. We hope the book will also provide inspiration for the future success of GVC Credit Union. - Glenn McLaughlin, Chair, Herb Gill, 1st Vice-Chair, John Schretlen, 2nd Vice-Chair, Judi Corra, Gilles Deschenes, Les Hausch, Ken Sherwood, Shaun Olafson, Rick Orford
Milestones 1938 Pacific Co-operative Institute founded by Archbishop Duke to promote credit unions. Provincial government passes enabling statute, Credit Unions Act. 1940 Rosary Credit Union incorporated with Charter No. 21. Location: Rosary Hall, 640 Richards Street. 1941 St. Patrick’s Credit Union incorporated with Charter 61. 1945 Rosary Credit Union appoints Frank Filgiano as treasurer. 1950 Rosary CU relocates to 423 Hamilton St. 1951 St. Joseph’s CU amalgamates with Rosary CU. 1953 Rosary CU relocates to 305 Cambie Street. 1956 Rosary CU acquires St. Andrew’s CU. St. Patrick’s CU at 3219 Main St. 1957 Rosary CU to 2412 Granville St. 1958 St. Patrick’s CU to 2950 Main St. 1961 Rosary CU to 2423 Granville St. 1965 Rosary CU purchases St. Francis de Sales CU. 1966 Rosary CU purchases Saint Willebrord CU. Rosary Credit Union renamed Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. GV Catholic moves to 1340 West Broadway. St. Patrick’s CU to 2922 Main St. 1967 GV Catholic Credit Union absorbs Immaculate Conception CU. 1970 GV Catholic CU purchases St. Helen’s CU.
1973 St. Patrick’s CU acquires St. Mary’s Ukrainian CU. 1974 St. Patrick’s acquires Shingle Weavers’ CU. GV Catholic office moves to 1344 West Broadway. 1975 Death of Frank Filgiano. 1976 GV Catholic CU purchases St. Patrick’s Credit Union. J. Philip Moore appointed general manager. Main St. office relocated to 3917 Knight St. 1978 GV Catholic absorbs St. Mary’s CU. A new branch opens at 5166 Joyce St., Burnaby. 1979 Branch moves from 3917 Knight St. to 4007 Knight St. 1982 GV Catholic purchases Kenworth Employees’ CU and Bakovan CU. New branch at 9626 Cameron St. in Lougheed Plaza, Burnaby. 1983 Knight St. office relocated to 1675 Kingsway [Sunshine Plaza]. Accounts from Joyce St. branch transfer to Sunshine Plaza. 1984 GV Catholic Credit Union is renamed Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union [GVC CU]. 1985 GVC CU acquires Hungarian CU and Shell Employees’ CU. West Broadway office moved to 1402 West Broadway. 1988 GVC CU acquires Western Canada Steel Employees’ CU . 1989 New branch opeed in Surrey in the Impact Plaza, 152nd St. 1990 GVC Credit Union celebrates its
50th anniversary. The office in Lougheed Plaza moves from 9626 Cameron to 9608 Cameron St. 1991 Branches at Sunshine Plaza and West Broadway close. Large new office opens at 4008 Cambie St. 1998 January: GVC CU absorbs B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings CU and purchases AlPine CU. Also absorbs B.C. Projectionists CU. 1999 GVC CU purchases Polish CU and opens St. Casimir branch, 3979 Fraser St. 2000 GVC CU opens new branch and head office at 1801 Willingdon Ave., near Brentwood Town Centre in Burnaby. 2001 St. Casimir branch and accounts moved to Cambie St branch. 2004 Surrey branch in Impact Plaza relocated to Towngate Shopping Centre. 2006 GVC Credit Union adopts new slogan: For Real People. 2007 New branch opened in Royal Square Mall, New Westminster. 2010 New branch opened in Kingsgate Mall, 370 East Broadway, near Main Street in Mount Pleasant. 2011 Cambie St. branch closed and operations consolidated in the Brentwood Branch at 1891 Willingdon Ave. 2014 Surrey branch in Towngate Shopping Centre returns to Impact Plaza location. 2015 Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union celebrates its 75th anniversary.
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Introduction They are member-owned and community-focussed—two things we don’t tend to associate with big business; but credit unions are a major industry in British Columbia. They serve over two million members and manage assets of nearly $65 billion. The autonomous credit unions in B.C. are affiliated with a central body and their network is known as the credit union system. The system began some eighty years ago as a social and economic movement. It grew out of co-operatives and related initiatives that helped working-class households recover from the Great Depression. The credit union movement promoted thrift and self-reliance, productivity and community development. The zeal that characterized the movement in its formative years has diminished over time, but the strength of the industry today derives from the same idealism and enthusiasm shown by the men and women who organized the first credit unions in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Some of those pioneer organizations were antecedents of Greater Vancouver Community [GVC] Credit Union. GVC Credit Union traces its origins to a savings and loans society that began in June of 1940. When Rosary Credit Union was incorporated under provincial government legislation, it received Charter No. 21. The provincial credit union system had been inaugurated a year earlier, a few months before the start of the Second World War. The charter number indicated that Rosary Credit Union was the twenty-first financial co-operative in the province. It was an exhilarating time for the nascent credit union movement, but success was not guaranteed. By 1945, five of the first twenty credit unions in British Columbia were out of business. When a credit union failed, its articles of incorporation were dissolved and its charter was cancelled. So, in the year that marked the end of the Second World War, Rosary Credit Union stood among a very select group—a group comprising British Columbia’s first
fifteen, successfully operating credit unions. GVC Credit Union has inherited the tenacity of its 1940 forebear and carries on proudly as Charter No. 21 in the provincial credit union system. This book has been written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of GVC Credit Union, and is intended in part as a souvenir for members, employees, and friends of the Credit Union. Additionally, it is offered as a chronicle of the credit union system in British Columbia. By tracing the history of GVC Credit Union, we can chart the growth of the credit union industry and account for some important features in the social and economic development of British Columbia. Within a large field of historical study, this book aims to bring attention to a small and relatively untilled corner, one that invites further cultivation. Credit unions resemble banks, in some respects. They offer financial services and products that are similar to and competitive with those offered by Canada’s major banks. But credit unions are different in several significant ways. First and foremost, they are financial co-operatives, not corporations. They are owned by their members and are committed to the well-being of the communities they serve. Credit unions support a wide range of local activities and events, from youth sports teams, arts festivals, and seniors’ programs. They support local charities, finance affordable housing projects, and provide bursaries and scholarships in schools, colleges, and universities. The major banks—which are chartered and regulated by the federal Bank Act—exist primarily to make profits for their stockholders. Many credit unions display a symbol that is associated with the World Council of Credit Unions: it features a stylized family group, superimposed on a globe that is cradled in a pair of hands. The industry’s facilitator, B.C. Central Credit Union (now known as Central
1 Credit Union), officially adopted the ‘helping hands in many lands’ symbol in 1978. Before then, most provincial credit unions used an image popularly known as the ‘Little Man under the Umbrella’. The image shows a cheerful fellow, striding resolutely forward and carrying an umbrella that protects him from a deluge of “Financial Distress, Sickness, and Hard Times.” Registered as a trademark in 1936, the image evokes the essence of the credit union movement in its formative years. Credit unions were created to serve the ‘little guy’—that is, ordinary men and women whom pollsters would categorize as having a low or modest social and economic status. They provided ordinary people with services that banks reserved for their wealthier customers and corporate clients. For ‘unbanked’ people, credit unions promoted a systematic method of saving money. They offered loans, life insurance policies, and other services that were inaccessible to working-class people at chartered banks and other financial institutions. As the quaint image of the Little Man under the Umbrella shows, credit unions were intended to help ordinary people accumulate resources for the proverbial rainy day. In the formative years of the movement, credit unions were run entirely by volunteers. The early credit unions did not maintain commercial offices or branches; rather, they operated from locations where their members congregated—at a work site, church hall, or some convenient place in the neighbourhood. Thus, many classic credit unions—including GVC Credit Union—trace their earliest transactions to a volunteer treasurer presiding over a folding card table at the back of a meeting hall, or to their treasurer’s home, where business was conducted over a kitchen table. The operating expenses of the early credit unions were negligible and membership fees were small. Members paid 50 cents to join their credit union and committed to purchase at least one share with a par value of $5. They could purchase the share in cash or with installment payments over a couple of years. The member’s share constituted an investment. It also denoted the member’s ownership and a voice in the organization. One member had one vote, irrespective of the number of shares owned, and proxies were
not permitted. “This [business model],” a Canadian economist remarked in 1940, “makes the credit union an organization of men and women and not an organization of money.” The fundamental characteristics of credit unions derived from many sources. They came from farmers and industrial workers, social reformers and educators. Some early advocates of credit unionism were motivated by philosophical ideals; others were inspired by religious convictions. The credit union industry has a complex lineage and impressive heritage. The historical context of the credit union movement and the origins of the credit union system in British Columbia are described in the chapter that follows.
The image of the ‘Little Man under the Umbrella’ was registered by the Credit Union National Association [CUNA] in 1936 and widely used by credit unions in Canada and the USA.
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Part I In 1936, as Vancouver marked its Golden Jubilee and 50th anniversary, the city was just beginning to recover from the devastating effects of the Great Depression. But despite new public works projects and other signs of recovery, jobs were scarce and many families remained destitute. In neighbouring Burnaby, the social, economic, and political impact of the Depression was acute. Per capita, Burnaby had the highest unemployment rate in the province. At the time, municipalities shouldered most of the burden of unemployment relief, and with its small tax base and large welfare roll, Burnaby was unable even to maintain its ordinary operating costs, let alone meet its unemployment relief expenditures. In December 1932, Burnaby went into receivership. It was the first municipality in British Columbia to be placed under a government-appointed administrator, a situation that lasted for ten years. The mayor of Vancouver, G. G. (Gerry) McGeer, who grew up in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, was disillusioned by the prevailing financial system. He was dismayed at the apparent disinterest of chartered banks to address the economic ills afflicting ordinary citizens, rather than corporations. In his book, The Conquest of Poverty (1935), McGeer called for the creation of municipal banks that could respond to local issues. The federal government, which
Vancouver citizens march along Hastings Street near Cambie Street on May Day 1935 to show support for unemployed workers and distressed families. The credit union movement was galvanized by the Great Depression. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, Acc. No. 8814.
regulated the banking industry, refused to entertain the idea. But a growing number of social reformers in Vancouver—and elsewhere in the province—advocated for locally-based, financial co-operatives in the form of credit unions as a means of relieving financial distress and rejuvenating the economy. Advocates of credit unions in British Columbia pointed to the province of Nova Scotia, which had established a successful system of government-regulated credit unions in 1932. Legislation was eventually introduced by the Liberal government of Thomas Dufferin (“Duff ”) Pattullo, after a sustained campaign led by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation [CCF]. A forerunner of the New Democratic Party, the CCF won enough seats in the 1933 provincial election to become the Official Opposition. Twice—in 1936 and 1937—the CCF member for North Vancouver, Dorothy Steeves, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate financial co-operatives. The bills failed because some government MLAs equated co-operativism with socialism. But many other proponents—including the Roman Catholic Church—continued to call for legislation that would pave the way for credit unions. Their advocacy succeeded, and in November 1938 the Attorney General, Gordon Wismer, introduced a bill in the provincial legislature to incorporate and regulate credit unions. The bill was proclaimed and enacted as the Credit Unions Act (1939) a few months later. The provincial government subsequently became a champion of credit unions, which it saw as counter-weight to federally chartered banks. The Credit Unions Act established the office of Inspector of Credit Unions within the Department of the Attorney General. Under the
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The Common Good [C.G.] Co-operative Association store on Douglas Road, Burnaby, c. 1939. Founded by the Army of the Common Good in 1931, the C.G. Cooperative Association established the first de facto credit union in 1936. C.G. Credit Union was incorporated by provincial statute in 1939 with Charter No. 3. Image courtesy of the Burnaby Village Museum, Acc. HV976.46.1.
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terms of the Act, a credit union could be chartered if at least ten people made a formal application to the Inspector’s Office. If the inspector or his deputy was satisfied that “the formation of the proposed credit union [would] be for the convenience and advantage of the public,” the credit union would be authorized and a charter of incorporation, with a charter number, would be issued. Powell River Credit Union, incorporated in June 1939, was the first chartered credit union in British Columbia. GVC Credit Union traces its origins to an organization (Rosary Credit Union) incorporated a year later. However, GVC Credit Union is also related to Powell River Credit Union and Rosary was already a de facto credit union before provincial legislation was enacted. A century earlier, the foundations of the credit union movement were laid in Europe. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen established rural savings and loans co-operatives in Germany in the 1840s and is regarded as the movement’s founding father. As Ian MacPherson wrote in Hands Around the Globe (1999), a history of the international credit union movement, Raiffeisen is revered for his “commitment to ethical and religious values,” his concern for “the health of communities and his intelligent interest in general economic and social issues,” and for the emphasis he placed on personal qualities of “self-reliance and self-responsibility.” The credit union movement also grew out of co-operative societies established by artisans and labourers in early Victorian England. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in Lancashire in 1844, was the most influential. The Rochdale Pioneers created a model organization that was controlled entirely by its members, practiced direct democracy (‘one member, one vote’), maintained political neutrality, and promoted a benevolent spirit of ‘self-help’ and community action. In Canada, the credit union system started with the caisse populaire, or people’s bank, founded by Alphonse Désjardins in Lévis, Québec, in 1900. Desjardins wanted to eliminate usury, which inflicted poor families with extortionate rates of interest on money they needed to borrow. A devoutly religious man, he was inspired by liberal Catholicism, which sought to improve the material
well-being of the masses. In Québec, the caisse populaire was organized around the parish church and so functioned as a parish credit union. The concept of parochial (parish-based) credit unions developed further when Désjardins introduced the caisse populaire to expatriate Québécois in the New England region of the United States. Massachusetts was the first American state to provide legislation for credit unions. Enacted in 1909, the legislation was drafted under the guidance of Edward Filene, a Boston philanthropist who is venerated as the driving force behind the credit union movement in the United States. Filene and Roy Bergeron, another credit union pioneer, subsequently founded the Massachusetts Credit Union Association, and in 1920, the Association published a “statement of principles” that would inform the credit union movement in the United States and Canada for decades to come. Credit unions were to be organized on a co-operative basis. Their objective was to promote thrift by encouraging members to deposit small sums of money on a regular basis to a savings account. From their collective funds, credit unions would provide their members with modest loans for productive and provident (as opposed to frivolous) purposes. Members who received loans committed to repay them through regular partial payments. Credit unions received a reasonable amount of interest on the loans, and the accrued interest was returned to the collective. After its operating expenses had been paid and contingency obligations had been met, a well-managed credit union would have shown a profit—or rather, in co-operative parlance, it would have accumulated a ‘surplus’. A portion of its surplus could be returned to its members as ‘dividends’. The statement of principles declared that only “honest and industrious men and women” were eligible for membership in a credit union. This was an important factor because credit unions would lend money on the basis of an applicant’s character, unlike banks, which demanded collateral in the form of property or chattels before they would entertain a loan. The emphasis on personal character accounts for another fundamental feature of the early credit
14 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
unions—the ‘common bond’ or ‘closed bond’. A closed bond system was predicated upon personal relationships. It held that credit union members who knew each other could make good judgements when they were considering a loan application. Good judgements of character minimized risk and ensured that loans would be faithfully repaid. For this reason, credit union legislation required members had to have something definable in common—such as their parish, occupation, or workplace. The common bond was stipulated in British Columbia’s Credit Unions Act (1939). British Columbia’s legislation was modelled on Nova Scotia’s Credit Union Act of 1932. That statute had been drafted with the assistance of the Rev. Father Moses Michael Coady of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Many fishing, farming, and mining communities in this Maritime province were crippled by the Depression and Fr. Coady believed that locally-based financial co-operatives would be beneficial. He was familiar with the caisse populaire in Québec and the credit unions of Massachusetts and incorporated elements from both systems in Nova Scotia’s legislation. Fr. Coady was an influential figure in the Antigonish Movement, a concept that stressed the importance of adult education in the process of community development. He and his colleagues in the Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University developed an outreach program involving field workers and community-based ‘study clubs’. In the Antigonish model, a field worker would make contact with a local group such as a parish congregation, a workers’ union, or a fraternal association. A study club would be established where group members could discuss social and economic issues of the day, such as unemployment. Study clubs were excellent vehicles for promoting co-operative initiatives and institutions, including credit unions. Professor Ian MacPherson, the credit union historian, described the Antigonish Movement as “a kind of economic populism” that was inspired by “co-operative thought.” It asserted that economic systems “could be operated on democratic principles” and that “broad segments of the population could be educated to take an interest in, and could operate, economic organizations, even those
of some complexity” like credit unions. An adult education program based on the Antigonish model was created in the Extension Department of The University of British Columbia in November 1939. The Pacific Co-operative Institute had already established Antigonish-style study clubs by that time. It was founded by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, the Most Rev. William Mark Duke, in 1938. Some of the first credit unions in the province—including Rosary Credit Union, GVC Credit Union’s predecessor—originated with the Pacific Co-operative Institute. Archbishop Duke is a major figure in the history of the credit union movement in British Columbia. He was born in St. John, New Brunswick in 1879 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at St. Joseph’s University. He was ordained by the Bishop of St. John, Dr. Timothy Casey, and served as a priest in rural parishes and as rector of St. John Cathedral. In 1928, after Dr. Casey had been installed as the Archbishop of Vancouver, Duke came to British Columbia and was appointed as the second ranking Roman Catholic prelate in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The name of this See or ecclesiastical district is misleading: the Archdiocese of Vancouver covered metropolitan Vancouver but also stretched from Powell River to White Rock. On the death of Casey in October 1931, Duke became the Archbishop of Vancouver. As church historian Jacqueline Gresko has noted, when Archbishop Duke took the helm “the Archdiocese of Vancouver entered a new and important period of its history under a strong leader.” He would “lead the Vancouver diocese through the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the Cold War, the postwar boom, the growth of the welfare state, the development of Canadian citizenship and multiculturalism, the resurgence of First Nations, and the emergence of a more secular society.” In 1931, he established a weekly newspaper, the British Columbia Catholic, as a way of communicating issues of importance to Roman Catholics throughout the province. The newspaper was edited by the Rev. Father Daniel Carey, who was active in the Pacific Co-operative Institute, and the British Columbia Catholic became a vehicle for promoting co-operativism and the credit union movement.
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Archbishop Duke knew Fr. Moses Coady and the two men may have been friends, although records indicate that the prelate had a closer friendship with the clergyman’s cousin, the Hon. Justice James Moses Coady. Judge Coady was born in Cape Breton and attended St. Francis Xavier University. He came to Vancouver in 1910, and after a brief stint as a school teacher, he qualified as a lawyer and was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1916. For most of his career, he was a sole practitioner and his leading client was the Archdiocese of Vancouver. He advised the Archbishop on a wide range of legal matters and in 1937 was honoured by the Pope for his services to the Roman Catholic Church in Vancouver. Having received the distinction of King’s Counsel [K.C.], Coady was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1942 and to the Court of Appeal in 1955. When Gordon Wismer, the Attorney General, was considering legislation to incorporate credit unions in 1938, he consulted Archbishop Duke and his legal counsel, James Coady. Archbishop Duke’s faith in co-operatives and credit unions sprang from an encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. In Latin, the title meant “Revolutionary Change;” in English, the papal encyclical was entitled The Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour. It discussed the relationships and mutual duties between employers and workers, labour and capitalism, as well as governments and citizens. Of primary concern was the need for some amelioration of the “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” This was an expression of the liberal Catholicism that inspired Désjardins and the caisse populaire. The 1891 encyclical supported the rights of workers to form trade unions, rejected communism and unrestricted capitalism, but affirmed the right of private property. The document would later define the conservative side of the credit union movement. The Archbishop and other reform-minded prelates who supported credit unions were also inspired by an encyclical issued in 1931 by Pope Pius XI, entitled Quadragesimo Anno. In English, the title read “Forty Years After”—a reference to the encyclical of 1891. Its subtitle was: “Restructuring the Social Order.” In his 1931 edict, Pope Pius advocated for a social and economic system that would
provide workers with a living wage and ensure a wider diffusion of wealth. The Roman Catholic Church was not opposed to the capitalistic system, but it advocated a more benign, socially-responsible system. In 1938, the British Columbia Catholic newspaper described the capitalistic system, and the reforms it needed, as follows: This system [capitalism] might be compared to a great machine capable of doing a great work. But if any flaw came in the machine, even the loosening of a single bolt, or the slightest change in its proper position, the machine would not function properly. Even if the machine were perfect, if those in charge of the machine were careless, or incapable, or destructive, the machine would not function as it should.
“Thus might be illustrated,” the newspaper said, “the faults that have crept into the Capitalistic system itself, and the careless, incapable, and willful driving of that machine by its leaders.” In October 1938, Archbishop Duke established the Pacific Co-operative Institute. It was a “non-political, non-sectarian organization, formed for the purpose of advancing co-operative knowledge in its various forms: credit, production, and marketing.” The following month, the Pacific Co-operative Institute organized a conference at Rosary Hall with several other like-minded organizations, including the Vancouver & District Co-operative Council. The president of the Council, A. S. (Austin) Trotter, was the keynote speaker. Trotter was a Protestant. His faith in the credit union movement was inspired by the Social Gospel Movement—a reformist movement within Protestant churches that infused Christian ethics with social action, in order to alleviate problems caused by economic inequality and injustice. Trotter represented the progressive side of the credit union movement. Partnered with its conservative Catholic side, credit unionism could embrace a very wide spectrum of society. The Pacific Co-operative Institute’s conference was a significant step in the formation of the credit union movement in British Columbia. Further progress was made at a Vancouver conference held in May 1939, when delegates representing co-operatives and other interest groups from around the province gathered at Victory Hall
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Delegates to a provincial Credit Union League convention outside the Vancouver Court House, 1949. The office of the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions (Tom Switzer, front row, third from left) was in this impressive building. Photograph by Art Jones. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, Acc. 83162.
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at 535 Homer Street. Their objective was to create an organization that would “promote and sustain the growth of the credit union movement…in an orderly and systematic manner.” The British Columbia Credit Union Association—later incorporated as the British Columbia Credit Union League—was created at this conference. Alphonse Bruyneel, a delegate from the Pacific Co-operative Institute, was elected to the executive of the new organization. The Institute was thus actively involved in the formation and direction of the provincial credit union movement. The influence of the Pacific Co-operative Institute is also evident in the first chartered credit union in British Columbia. Powell River Credit Union developed out of a study club at St. Joseph’s Parish Church in Powell River that had been organized by the pastor, the Rev. Father Leo Hobson. Born in Revelstoke, he was ordained by Archbishop Casey in 1927. Following pastoral duties in the Kootenay District, Fr. Hobson was posted to St. Joseph’s Church in 1935. Encouraged by Archbishop Duke, he organized a study club the following year to discuss the 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum. Fr. Hobson’s brother, who worked in the Powell River paper mill, participated in the club, along with William Cavanagh and other millworkers. Gradually, the study club members expanded their discussion to the principles of co-operativism and the credit union movement. A credit union in the coastal mill town was imminent, the pastor informed readers of the British Columbia Catholic newspaper in October 1938: “A credit union is on its way, composed of both Catholics and non-Catholics, working together in Christian harmony.” Fr. Hobson left Powell River in January 1939 to take up a new assignment as the rector of Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver. The study club he organized at Powell River was the genesis of the credit union chartered there six months later. Cavanagh was the first president of Powell River Credit Union. Its charter members included Robert Strachan, who became leader of the provincial CCF party and an NDP cabinet minister. Another early member, Rod Glen, became a very prominent figure in the provincial, national, and international credit union movement. Today, the financial institution based in Powell River is called First Credit Union.
When Hobson arrived at the cathedral, a de facto credit union was operating in Holy Rosary Hall. It was organized under the auspices of the Pacific Co-operative Institute. The archdiocese records do not indicate exactly when this de facto credit union began, but it may have started in the autumn of 1938. The British Columbia Catholic newspaper was referring to it in 1939 as “our Co-operative Bank” and reporting that “our Credit Union depositors held weekly meetings at the cathedral hall.” This de facto credit union may have been one of the earliest in British Columbia. The very first de facto credit union in the province, as far as we know, was the Common Good Credit Unit which had started in 1936 in Burnaby. The Unit—it did not use the word Union in its title—developed out of a co-operative initiative organized in 1931. The Army of the Common Good was established to help impoverished families and unemployed workers in Burnaby and east Vancouver cope with the Depression. Archbishop Duke was one of the Army’s many supporters. When the provincial Credit Unions Act was enacted in 1939, the organizers of the pioneer co-operative in Burnaby hoped to receive the first credit union charter. They submitted their application in good time, but because of a clerical error, they were pipped by Powell River. They were also pipped by Vancouver post office workers who received Charter No. 2 in July 1939 for an organization with an unwieldy name—the Amalgamated Civil Servants of Canada (Vancouver) Credit Union. This outfit was later renamed VanFed Credit Union. The pioneer Burnaby-based organization was incorporated as C.G. [Common Good] Credit Union with Charter No. 3 in August 1939. Some years later it was renamed South Burnaby Credit Union. Considering its head start, it is surprising that Holy Rosary in Vancouver was not the first chartered Catholic credit union in the province. That honour belonged to Perpetual Help Credit Union in Victoria, which was incorporated in March 1940 with Charter No. 8. But the cathedral-based co-operative in Vancouver was not far behind, and in the months preceding its incorporation, the Pacific Co-operative Institute energetically promoted the concept of parish credit unions in the region. In a feature article about the Insti-
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tute, probably written by Fr. Carey, the British Columbia Catholic declared: “A knowledge of how credit is created, preserved and used is absolutely necessary to the creation of opportunities for employment—and without opportunities for employment, no community can survive, much less progress….The Credit Union is the hope of the parish desirous to develop industries and increase its opportunities for good.” Part II The management and structure of credit unions have changed since the system was inaugurated, although certain features remain constant. Credit unions are still made up of their members, who purchase shares in the organization. The members elect a board of directors to serve as officers of the organization and also elect or appoint a president or chair, who is the titular head of the credit union. Now, the day-to-day operations of credit unions are carried out by paid employees and overseen by professional managers. The financial records are audited by chartered accountants. But up until the 1960s, most credit unions operated with a parttime treasurer and committees of volunteers. The duties of the treasurer and committee members were prescribed in the Credit Unions Act, which was, with its attendant regulations and frequent amendments, a very dense document. While the basic structure of a co-operative was relatively straightforward, the operation of a financial co-operative in the form of a credit union was complex, demanding, and daunting. These were challenges that early credit unionists— ordinary men and women who did not have advanced training in accounting or financial management—addressed. But with guidance from the Inspector of Credit Unions and help from other quarters, the system progressed remarkably well. Early credit unions involved four components; membership was the first and most important of these. The Board of Directors, second, was responsible for the overall operation of the credit union. A third component, the Credit Committee, was responsible for loans, while a fourth, the Supervisory Committee, was responsible for auditing
the books and ensuring that the organization complied in every respect with the terms of the Credit Unions Act. Committee members were elected at the annual general meeting, when directors were also elected, but the Credit Committees and Supervisory Committees functioned separately from the board. Individual directors and committee members were elected for one-, two-, or three-year terms of office. In this way, there was both continuity and change among the leadership of a credit union. The treasurer was usually an ex officio member of the executive. A credit union practices manual in 1940 described the treasurer as “the most important individual on the board, on whom the success of the credit union depends most of all.” The manual aptly described the treasurer as the “general manager” and that title was increasingly used within the system by the 1950s. Before credit unions had dedicated offices, routine financial transactions were made at informal settings, such as a treasurer’s home or a temporary table in a meeting hall. However, there was nothing slapdash or improvised about how the accounts were kept. Treasurers had to deposit all funds they received within 48 hours and submit a detailed balance sheet to their supervisory committee at the end of every month. The committee, in turn, had to submit detailed reports to the provincial inspector every three months. Consisting of nearly seventy questions, the quarterly financial and statistical reports covered all aspects of a credit union’s operations. Provincial legislation stipulated that each credit union had to transfer a portion of its net earnings to a statutory reserve fund every year. The fund was to insure against bad loans or other losses and was the first ‘call’ on a credit union’s earnings. Reserve funds had to be held in a separate account from the credit union’s share capital. Most credit unions kept their reserve funds with the B.C. Central Credit Union. Incorporated in 1944 and located in Vancouver, it served as the deposit and loans depot for the entire credit union system. In 1996 it was renamed Central Credit Union of British Columbia. Ontario’s credit union network merged with it in 2008 and the combined organization is now called Central 1 Credit Union. During the formative years of the credit union movement, when
20 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
A fieldsman from the B.C. Credit Union League instructs members of a Supervisory Committee in an unidentified credit union, c.1955. Image courtesy of Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
the antecedents of GVC Credit Union were incorporated, the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions was a significant figure. He and his deputy and their assistants closely monitored every organization, large or small. Edwin Keary (Ned) DeBeck was the first provincial inspector in British Columbia. Raised in Vancouver, DeBeck qualified as a lawyer in 1910 and practised law in the city for many years. He was a contemporary, and possibly a friend, of Judge James Coady and Attorney-General Gordon Wismer, who represented the electoral district of Vancouver Centre in the Provincial Legislature. DeBeck worked from an office in the Parliament Buildings in Victoria. He was well-regarded by the leadership of the provincial credit union movement and received many tributes when he retired in 1948. His deputy and successor, Thomas Albert (Tom) Switzer, was even more esteemed. Switzer was based in the Vancouver Court House on West Georgia Street. He continued to work from Vancouver when he became chief inspector in 1948. Switzer retired in 1956, but worked for another few years as a consultant in the Vancouver office. During his career, Switzer helped to organize over eighty credit unions. He instructed and mentored many credit union treasurers and directors. He wrote pamphlets with tips on basic accounting and prepared tables for calculating interest. Credit union officers who sought additional instruction in general bookkeeping could enroll in courses offered by the High School Correspondence Branch of the provincial Department of Education, and attend weekend courses organized by the Extension Department at UBC. Credit union managers and directors could also call on staff members and field representatives at the Credit Union League. As noted earlier, the League originated with an association formed by credit unions and co-operatives in May 1939. It was officially incorporated as the British Columbia Credit Union League in 1940. From its offices in Vancouver, it provided credit unions with practical advice on operational matters and guidance on administrative and governance issues, along with supplies such as pass books, adding machines, and advertising logos. The League published a monthly magazine, the B.C. Credit Unionist, from 1941 to
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1967, which is continued today as Enterprise magazine. The League employed outreach workers called fieldsmen, who provided advice and instruction to Supervisory Committees in credit unions around the province. In the early days, the League helped fledgling credit unions with their annual general meetings and awarded prizes for the best-conducted meetings. It offered achievement awards for credit unions that demonstrated leadership in several categories. It also offered an annual trophy—in the form of a large, handsome shield—for the provincial credit union that demonstrated the best all-round performance. The B.C. Credit Union League was affiliated with an organization in the United States known as the Credit Union National Association [CUNA]. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, it represented the highest echelon of credit unions in North America. An overseas department, CUNA International, was formed in 1964; it became part of the World Council of Credit Unions in 1971. Credit unions offered many benefits that were sorely missing from the lives of working people in the 1930s and 1940s. From CUNA and an affiliated organization in British Columbia called CU & C [an abbreviation for credit union & co-operative] Health Services Society, credit union members could purchase health insurance. This was a good incentive to join a credit union since universal health care was not then available. Credit union members also received insurance benefits on their savings and loan accounts. They could apply for consumer loans, which were not generally available from chartered banks, and pay less interest than finance companies charged for the same service. Credit unions offered loans that were repayable over a year and charged monthly interest on a diminishing balance. What’s more, credit union members would receive a refund on a portion of the interest they paid on their loans—a bonus known as a ‘patronage dividend’. Of no little importance, credit union members were eligible for mortgage loans. Credit unions had to compete with trust companies for mortgages, but until revisions to the federal Bank Act were made in the late 1960s, chartered banks were not very active in the residential mortgage market. Accordingly, credit unions played an
The Extension Department of UBC offered weekend workshops for credit union directors. Volunteers from St. Patrick’s and Stry Credit Unions pose in this 1955 workshop photo. Photo by Jean Archibald. Image courtesy Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
22 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Tom Switzer, the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions, addresses a crowd at an international credit union picnic near Peace Arch Park in July 1953. The woman standing behind him is Flo Gladu, the Credit Union League’s Education Convenor. She facilitated the League’s school savings programs. Image courtesy Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
important role in the post-war housing boom. If you wanted to borrow money to build or buy a house, the credit union was your best bet. Likewise, if you wanted to borrow money for a car, your credit union was your friend. There were many good financial reasons to join a credit union, and because of the services they offered to members, credit unions proliferated. By the end of 1944, there were sixty provincial credit unions, with over half of them located in Greater Vancouver. In 1950, there were 175 credit unions and Greater Vancouver accounted for eighty-five of them. By 1960, there were over three hundred credit unions in the province; approximately a third of them were in the Lower Mainland. In those days, credit unions were more than financial co-operatives providing benefits to members in the form of savings, loans, and insurance. They were social and recreational organizations. Prof. MacPherson evoked the spirit that prevailed in the 1950s in his history of the British Columbia credit union movement: “There was a kind of amateur enthusiasm that pervaded most of the credit unions at this time. Essentially, they were made up of neighbours or members of groups joining together to help each other. Most of them had monthly meetings, usually held in the evenings, and those meetings were as much given over to social activities as they were to discussions of lending policies.” In the Lower Mainland, credit unions were affiliated with two regional ‘chapters’ of the B.C. Credit Union League. The Vancouver Chapter and New Westminster Chapter often held picnics and dinner dances. The avuncular and congenial inspector, Tom Switzer, was frequently a guest at these social events. Many credit unions sponsored a bowling team and some outfits had several teams. In 1954, the Vancouver Chapter Bowling League had fifteen divisions, with twelve teams in each division! The teams competed two or three times a week. Competitions were reported in the monthly B.C. Credit Unionist magazine in a column entitled “Down the Alley.” Flo Gladu, the League’s Education Officer in the 1950s, said the bowling alley was an ideal place to meet people from other credit unions, to form friendships with them, and to
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learn about their credit unions. And so it was. The annual conventions of provincial credit unions were very sociable. The two principal organizations—the Credit Union League and B.C. Central Credit Union—held back-to-back conventions. Until the end of the Second World War, the conventions were held in Vancouver; thereafter, the annual meetings alternated between the metropolis and other towns and cities. While there was unity, there was also diversity in the credit union movement. The diversity was determined to some degree by the Credit Unions Act, particularly through its stipulation that provincial credit unions had to have a common bond. The largest category of credit unions consisted of organizations with a ‘community’ or ‘geographical’ common bond. Powell River Credit Union is an example of a credit union incorporated with a community common bond. The smallest category comprised credit unions with an ‘associational’ common bond: many of these were established soon after the end of the Second World War and were affiliated with branches of the Royal Canadian Legion in British Columbia. The legislation also provided for credit unions that had ‘religious’, ‘occupational’, and ‘ethnic’ common bonds. The twenty antecedent credit unions that became part of GVC Credit Union were organized under each of these common bond categories. In the chapters that follow, we’ll consider the history of these co-operatives as they formed and grew, beginning with predecessors that were incorporated with a religious common bond.
A regular column in the B.C. Credit Unionist magazine featured reports on bowling competitions. Image courtesy Central 1 Credit Union.
This building at 56 East Broadway and Quebec Street was the epicentre of the credit union system from the 1950s to the 1970s. It was the headquarters of the BC Credit Union League. An adjacent Co-op Coffee Shop was a credit unionist haunt. Image courtesy Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
24 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
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Credit unions incorporated with a religious common bond were typically established by members of a church congregation or parish. The Christian community in British Columbia comprised Roman Catholics and Protestants, the latter being affiliated with various denominations. In 1925, an alliance of Methodists, Congregationalists, and some Presbyterians formed the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant church in the province. Members of the Anglican Church of Canada constituted the second largest Protestant group in the province. Protestants were keen on credit unions and some denominational groups drew upon the traditions of Christian socialism and the social gospel movement. For the most part, however, Protestants preferred to join workplace or community credit unions. In Vancouver, just three credit unions were affiliated with the United Church, although there were many United Church congregations in the city and nearby places. Likewise, while there were scores of Anglican Churches in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster, only four credit unions were linked to Anglican parishes there. The Roman Catholic Church connected to the credit union movement in a different way. Roman Catholics were enjoined to organize parish-based credit unions, and the Archbishop of Vancouver,
Vancouver looking east, c. 1940, from the Hotel Vancouver, with Holy Rosary Cathedral in foreground. The two-storey building with a flat roof in the lower right of the picture is Rosary Hall. In 1940, Rosary Credit Union was incorporated here. Photographer: Leonard Frank. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, VPL 7976.
William Duke, hoped that every Roman Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Vancouver would establish a credit union. His desire to see Catholic credit unions was part of a larger desire to ensure a distinctive Catholic presence in a province that was predominantly Protestant and, it seemed, increasingly secular. Thus, Archbishop Duke encouraged the formation of many faith-based organizations: the Catholic Women’s Institute, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Children’s Aid Society, Catholic Seamen’s Mission, Catholic Immigration Office, Catholic Youth Organization, as well as Catholic schools and colleges. Catholic credit unions were part of a wider mission. That said, Archbishop Duke and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church also regarded the credit union movement as a benefit to society at large. During Archbishop Duke’s episcopacy, sixteen parish-based Roman Catholic credit unions were established in Greater Vancouver. Half of them were antecedents of GVC Credit Union, and while a detailed history of each parochial credit union is beyond the scope of this book, we can account for them by considering the origins and development of the two largest and most successful—Rosary Credit Union and St. Patrick’s Credit Union. These two financial co-operatives, which had contrasting personalities, were prominent components in Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, the predecessor of GVC Credit Union. I. Rosary Credit Union Rosary Credit Union was incorporated on June 5, 1940 with Charter No. 21. It had an impressive pedigree: it could trace its origins to the Pacific Co-operative Institute that Archbishop Duke established in 1938 and to a parish founded half a century earlier.
26 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Father John Miles, the first president of Rosary Credit Union. He was also a founding member of Vernon & District Credit Union (Charter No. 126, 1944), which is now part of VantageOne. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
Alphonse Bruyneel in 1965. A founding member of the Pacific Co-operative Institute, he was treasurer and president of Rosary Credit Union in the 1940s. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
The Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was established in 1885, a year before the City of Vancouver was incorporated. A parish church was built in 1887 and enlarged two years later. The magnificent Gothic stone and brick building opened in 1900, and still stands today in downtown Vancouver. It can accommodate over one thousand people and is regarded as one of the finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in western Canada. In 1916, the church was declared a Cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The Archbishop’s Palace was completed in 1935 and Rosary Hall at 650 Richards Street was opened in 1939. An organizational meeting for the proposed credit union was held in Rosary Hall on Monday evening, April 22, 1940. After further meetings, an application for incorporation was submitted to the Inspector of Credit Unions in Victoria on May 31st. The application identified thirty-seven charter members and included some of the founding directors of Rosary Credit Union—John Miles, Mary O’Dougherty, Cecelia Merrett, and Alphonse Bruyneel. The Rev. Father Miles was the inaugural president. He was the rector of Holy Rosary Cathedral, having succeeded Fr. Leo Hobson, who had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a military chaplain at the start of the Second World War. Miles, who came from Durham, England, was ordained by Archbishop Duke in 1936. Like his mentor and predecessor, Fr. Miles was an ardent credit unionist. He played a leading part in study clubs organized under the auspices of the Pacific Co-operative Institute. The vice-president, Mary O’ Dougherty, was employed as a stenographer by the federal Department of Labour. She stepped down temporarily as a director of Rosary Credit Union in 1942 in order to devote more time to her work on the editorial board of the B.C. Credit Unionist magazine. Miss O’Dougherty rejoined the Rosary Credit Union board of directors a few years later and in 1947 was elected president. Cecelia Merrett was a pioneer in the credit union movement in Vancouver and a founding member of the British Columbia Credit Union League. She succeeded Fr. Miles as president of Rosary
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Credit Union in 1943, when he was promoted in the Church and transferred to a parish in Vernon, B.C. (Characteristically, Monsignor Miles organized a credit union there soon after he arrived.) Mrs. Merrett later served on the executive of the provincial Credit Union League’s Vancouver Chapter and helped to organize several provincial conventions. Alphonse Bruyneel, the first treasurer, was the honorary financial secretary of the Archdiocese of Vancouver and represented the Pacific Co-operative Institute at the founding meeting of the provincial credit union association in 1939. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, he came to British Columbia as a young man just before the outbreak of the First World War. After the war, he worked as a bookkeeper at lumber mills in the Interior of the province before moving to Vancouver, where he established an accounting business. Bruyneel prepared the paperwork necessary to incorporate Rosary Credit Union and served as its treasurer from 1940 to 1942. In 1948 he was elected president of its Board of Directors. Under the terms of its common bond, Rosary Credit Union was established to serve “Catholics of Vancouver and District.” However, Rosary Credit Union’s initial focus was more limited. The organizers were intent on serving Roman Catholic families in Holy Rosary parish. At that time, the parish extended from Burrard Inlet on the north to False Creek on the south; it extended to Carrall Street on the east and Stanley Park on the west. In their application for incorporation, the founding directors estimated that Rosary Credit Union would start with a base of between seventy-five and one hundred, and might increase in size until it reached a “potential membership” of between 200 and 250 members. At the first annual general meeting of Rosary Credit Union in February 1941, Fr. Miles described the practical benefits of the new financial co-operative: “There is no doubt that the service which the Credit Union gives us as a savings society is invaluable; there is no doubt either, that the loaning facilities afforded to members are of incalculable value.” He emphasized its service to “the Roman Catholic community of Vancouver.” Over the next decade, Rosary Credit Union followed a steady course. By 1945 it had grown to about 120
members, with assets of around $11,000. It surpassed its potential membership benchmark five years later, when it had enrolled about three hundred members and acquired assets of more than $50,000. The growth was encouraging, but executive members were disappointed that ordinary members weren’t participating more actively with the Credit Union. Participation was measured by attendance at monthly meetings, which were held on the first Monday of the month at Rosary Hall from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. On these occasions, members were encouraged to contribute to their share savings accounts. The meetings served educational purposes, with guest speakers invited to discuss co-operativism and credit union principles. They were also intended to promote a sense of identity and fellowship. In her annual report for 1947, president O’Dougherty contrasted the dedication of the executive with the apparent indifference of ordinary members: “Your directors have been most faithful in their attendance at both monthly and directors’ meetings and, as chairman, I am deeply grateful for their interest and support. The same, unfortunately, does not hold true for the members generally.” Her successor also lamented the preponderance of “silent” members. “I cannot impress upon you too strongly that your attendance [at monthly meetings] is important,” Bruyneel said in his report for 1949. “Your suggestions, your constructive criticism, and most of all your practical cooperation in the management, are vitally necessary if our Credit Union is to thrive and grow as it should in the interest and for the welfare of our members.” On one occasion, an exasperated executive sent form letters to recalcitrant members. The letters declared “that unless a member take an active interest in our Credit Union, it would be preferable for him to withdraw.” The strident tone of the letter may have bothered Credit Union members who didn’t share the directors’ zeal. Other members who simply did not have much time to devote to the organization may also have been perplexed by the heavy-handed letter. In any case, the executive soon realized the advantages of adding entertainment to the monthly meetings. Bingo was a popular incentive for some members, especially when Rosary Credit Union moved its
28 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Members of the Vancouver Chapter of the British Columbia Credit Union League, 1949. Mrs. Cecelia Merrett, representing Rosary Credit Union, is in the front row. Other leading figures are A.L. Nicholas (front row, 4th from left); H.G. (Harry) Pocock (front, 2nd from right); J.R. (â€œRipâ€?) Robinson (middle row, far right); Farley Dickinson (back row, far left); and J.W. (Jack) Burns (back row, 2nd from right). Image courtesy of Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
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monthly meetings from the cathedral precinct downtown to the new (1948) Guardian Angels’ Hall at Broughton Street and Davie Street in the West End. After business items on the agenda were concluded, members could enjoy a few hours of bingo—at five cents a card, with a potential jackpot of two dollars! Rosary Credit Union maintained a tradition of monthly meetings until the 1960s. Thereafter, quarterly meetings were convened occasionally, but the principal event for ordinary members was the credit union’s annual general meeting. Bowling became another way of fostering camaraderie and credit union fellowship. It was a very popular pastime in Vancouver and some credit unionists embraced it with an enthusiasm that verged on passion. Several credit unions, including Rosary Credit Union, fielded more than one team. Former president Mary O’Dougherty was convenor of the Rosary Credit Union bowling committee; and the treasurer of Rosary Credit Union, Frank Filgiano, was a leading figure in the Vancouver Chapter Bowling League. Bowling prowess aside, Filgiano is best remembered for his managerial skills. He served as treasurer and general manager of Rosary Credit Union and its successor, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, for thirty years, from 1945 until his death in 1975. Filgiano was born in New Westminster and lived with his wife and daughters in West Vancouver. He operated a commercial printing company, Pacific Business Services, in downtown Vancouver, which began as a small press in Rosary Hall on Richards Street where he printed brochures and pamphlets for the Archdiocese. In 1950, he expanded his operations and moved to a unit in a large office block at 423 Hamilton Street, near East Hastings Street and Victory Square. Vancouver Federal Employees (also known as VanFed) Credit Union operated from the same building. Although much of the credit union’s business was conducted during the monthly meetings at Guardian Angels’ Hall, transactions could also be made, by appointment, at Filgiano’s premises, Unit 6-423 Hamilton Street. Filgiano kept the Rosary Credit Union account books there and received a monthly stipend of fifteen dollars for his services. In 1953, Filgiano relocated his business and the Ros-
Guardian Angels School and Hall at Davie Street and Broughton Street, c. 1950. Today this is the site of a multi-story retirement home operated by the Knights of Columbus. Image courtesy of Archdiocese of Vancouver Archives.
Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union celebrates its 25th anniversary in 1965. Left to right, Stan Stonier, president of the B.C. Credit Union League; John Duffie, GV Catholic Credit Union president; Frank Filgiano, general manager; Ray Deptuck, CUNA Mutual Insurance Society representative; and Ian Strang, a director of B.C. Central Credit Union. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
30 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
ary Credit Union office a short distance north to 305 Cambie Street, close to Woodward’s department store. A few years earlier, Rosary Credit Union had acquired a stencil from CUNA of the ‘Little Man under the Umbrella’ logo. Using the stencil, Filgiano created a sign that incorporated the name of Rosary Credit Union. It was displayed in the Cambie Street premises. Gradually, more of Rosary Credit Union’s business was conducted in Filgiano’s shop and in 1953 Mary O’Dougherty was hired as his assistant. In October that year, Rosary Credit Union garnered some good publicity in an article entitled “A Credit Union and Ingenuity,” published in the B.C. Credit Unionist magazine. It recounted the story of Bernard (Barney) Worley, a member of Rosary Credit Union, and his remarkable concrete house in North Burnaby. “Having previously worked on machinery designed to manufacture a recently-invented concrete brick, he had, in his spare time, perfected and patented a hand machine to do the same job,” the magazine reported. Rebuffed by the banks, he turned to Rosary Credit Union for a loan that enabled him to build a family home with his novel, custom-made concrete bricks. “He laid his cards on the table and won. Not only did he convince the Credit Committee of his ability to shoulder a loan, he also sold them on the cheapness and permanence of the concrete block construction.” In 1957, Filgiano moved his printing business and Rosary Credit Union’s registered office to the other side of False Creek, to 2412 Granville Street. The office was located on the east side of the street, between West Broadway and West 8th Avenue, on the approach to the new (1954) Granville Street Bridge. Hungarian Credit Union, which would become part of GVC Credit Union thirty years later, had its office a few blocks away. Filgiano was designated as the Credit Union’s office manager, rather than treasurer, in 1959. From then on, he was paid an appropriate salary instead of a modest stipend. The business hours of Rosary Credit Union were set as Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In addition, Filgiano continued to run his printing business from this location.
The arrangement continued in 1961 when Filgiano moved his business and the Rosary Credit Union office across the street to 2423 Granville Street. The office was on the ground floor of a commercial and residential block erected in 1912. Remarkably, the block still stands amidst modern commercial buildings in this busy part of Granville Street. In 1961, Rosary Credit Union had over $200,000 in assets and over seven hundred members. Its business increased steadily, as it absorbed other parochial credit unions. St. Joseph’s Savings Credit Union was the first Catholic parish financial co-operative to join Rosary Credit Union. Incorporated on October 28, 1948 with Charter No. 186, it was chartered with a religious common bond that defined its membership as the Roman Catholic parish of St. Joseph in the East Vancouver neighbourhood of Cedar Cottage. The parish had been established in 1911; the parish church was located in the 1600 block of East 18th Avenue, west of Commercial Drive. The founding president, William Monk, had also organized St. Helen’s Credit Union in Burnaby and a credit union for employees of the B.C. Sugar Refinery; but unlike the other credit unions Monk had a hand in, St. Joseph’s Savings Credit Union grew very slowly. After three years it had just over forty members and about $800 in assets. In June 1951, St. Joseph’s Savings Credit Union was dissolved and its former members were welcomed to Rosary Credit Union. Monk served on the board of directors of Rosary Credit Union the following year. The parishes of Holy Rosary and St. Joseph were closely tied through family and pastoral connections. The cathedral and the parish of St. Andrew were linked in the same way. The parish had been created in 1912 to serve Catholic families who lived south of St. Patrick Parish. The parish of St. Andrew extended from East 28th Avenue to the Fraser River; on the west it was bounded by Ontario Street and on the east by Knight Street. A former priest from Holy Rosary Cathedral, the Rev. Father Peter Smeets, was appointed to the parish in 1941 and, with support from Archbishop Duke, he revitalized it. The parish hall on East 45th Avenue near Fraser Street was the social centre of the community and the home of St. Andrew’s Parish Credit Union. It was incorporated on July 10, 1945
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with Charter No. 142. However, despite the enthusiasm of its founders, including Fr. Smeets, it did not grow as anticipated. Rather, it demonstrated and confirmed the uncomfortable fact that some parochial credit unions, with their geographically-limited closed bonds, were simply too small to be viable. As early as 1950, its directors were discussing amalgamation with Rosary Credit Union, although the formalities were not concluded until January 1956, when St. Andrew’s Credit Parish Union was dissolved. By that time, most of the former members had joined the older organization. The Board of Directors of Rosary Credit Union was increased in size from five to seven members to provide representation for the new members. In 1958, Rosary Credit Union began printing a slogan on its newsletters: A Catholic Credit Union for all Catholics resident in Greater Vancouver. In 1960, it began using a new motto on its letterhead: Vancouver’s Original Catholic Credit Union. By asserting its common bond and seniority, it was pursuing a strategy that would pave the way for amalgamations with other parochial credit unions. The next milestone on that route occurred in 1965 when it purchased St. Francis de Sales Credit Union. Established to serve the members of St. Francis de Sales Parish in the neighbourhood of Edmonds in South Burnaby, St. Francis de Sales Credit Union was incorporated on April 7, 1955 with Charter No. 324. The credit union was organized with the help of Alfred (Alf ) Corra, a founding member of St. Patrick’s Credit Union and a dynamic figure in the provincial credit union movement. It was mentored by its successful neighbour, South Burnaby Credit Union. The secular financial co-operative—which traced its roots to the original Common Good Credit Unit and C.G. Credit Union (1939)—welcomed St. Francis de Sales Credit Union into the New Westminster Chapter of the British Columbia Credit Union League in 1956. Unfortunately, St. Francis de Sales Credit Union did not meet expectations. By the early 1960s, the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions was expressing concern over its inadequate financial records and its high ratio of delinquent loans. In an effort to help, the general manager of the British Columbia Credit Union League
asked the manager of South Burnaby Credit Union, Reg Robinson, along with the chairman of the New Westminster Chapter to meet with the directors of St. Francis de Sales, to offer practical advice and suggestions. In 1963 they prepared an action plan for the credit union, indicating methods for improving its financial operations and services to members. They also indicated an option of merging with another, more successful credit union—and this was the option taken. Don McDonough, representing St. Francis de Sales Credit Union, opened discussions with Rosary Credit Union’s directors. The sale was concluded in March 1965 and St. Francis de Sales Credit Union was dissolved. The following year, McDonough was elected to the board of Rosary Credit Union where he served the membership as a director, and as a president, for many years. In 1966, Rosary Credit Union changed its name to Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. The organization had considered a change of name as early as 1954, but the issue was repeatedly deferred because of opposition from other parochial credit unions and out of respect to Archbishop Duke, who preferred the original name. But when the archbishop retired in 1964, some of Rosary Credit Union’s directors made the issue a priority. At a special meeting held in December 1965, members endorsed the name change, and the Inspector of Credit Unions approved the request for a new name six months later. Effective July 1, 1966 Rosary Credit Union became Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. John Duffie was the driving force in the campaign to change Rosary Credit Union’s name. He believed that a more inclusive name would facilitate growth. Like Archbishop Duke, who held different views on the subject, Duffie was born in New Brunswick. He attended the University of New Brunswick and taught in a Catholic boys’ school in Fredericton. He subsequently earned post-graduate degrees in Mathematics and Physics from the Catholic University of America. He came to Vancouver in 1957 and was employed as an accountant for various Catholic organizations. He also owned and managed a number of rental properties. A cerebral figure who relished precise language and procedures, Duffie joined Rosary Credit Union in 1958 and chaired its Credit Committee for many years. He
32 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
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was president of the organization from 1964 to 1969 and vice-president from 1976 to 1982. At the time of his death in December 1983, he had served on the board for almost twenty years. A scholarship in his name, tenable at The University of British Columbia, commemorates his service. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union moved from 2423 Granville Street to 1340 West Broadway in July 1966. Its new office was located in a small, leased building on the south side of Broadway, a few blocks east of Granville Street, between Birch Street and Hemlock Street. One of Vancouver’s largest car dealerships, Dueck on Broadway Ltd., was across the street. Having sold his printing business, Filgiano was able to concentrate on his work for the credit union. In June 1967, the directors reported: “Our new office set-up has proven to be a good move. Our expanded services have been received by the members with some measure of success, and our growth, while not spectacular, is steady and encouraging.” The office was open to members on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and on Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to noon. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was certainly growing. In 1966, it had about nine hundred members and over $350,000 in assets. That year, members received a 5 percent dividend. It had excellent prospects, but it also had some blemishes. In the past, it had occasionally been reprimanded by the Inspector of Credit Unions for submitting incomplete financial reports. The provincial inspectors were also concerned about the high ratio of delinquent loans. Under provincial legislation, credit unions were penalized if delinquent loans constituted more than 10 percent of their outstanding loans. In such cases, they were ‘estopped’—that is, prevented from paying any dividends to their members until the inspector was satisfied that they had reduced delinquent loans to an acceptable level. Rosary Credit Union was estopped more than once. George Sheppard, a lawyer who served as a director and chairman of Rosary Credit Union’s Delinquent Loans Committee in the 1960s, expressed impatience and disappointment with the defaulters:
Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union moved to this location at 1340 West Broadway in 1966. Image courtesy of Central 1 Credit Union Archives.
34 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
From 1957 to 1961, Rosary Credit Union operated from Frank Filgiano’s print shop at 2412 Granville Street, located in the middle block of this 1966 photo. The print shop and the credit union moved across the road to 2423 Granville Street in 1961. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, VPL 43387. One of the failings of our Credit Union is the fact that being Catholics and Christians we are always prone to listen to a hard-luck story, thinking and saying to ourselves, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” However, there is another side to this story; your Board of Directors has a serious responsibility.... They must look to the other side of the picture and see that the person who put that money up [for a loan] is probably just as much in need of it as you are and can ill-afford to lose it or even to wait indefinitely.
“Unfortunately,” Sheppard remarked, “delinquents like the poor seem to be always with us.” In every provincial credit union, the annual general meeting was an important event. The meetings were then, and are still today, mandated by provincial legislation. The annual general meetings of Rosary Credit Union weren’t usually gala events and didn’t often feature distinguished guest speakers. But the meeting in March 1967 was an exception. It was the first assembly convened under the organization’s new name, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. Rod Glen, a major figure in the provincial credit union movement, was the keynote speaker. Glen was a driving force in
successful credit unions in Powell River, Nanaimo, and his hometown, Ladysmith. He was president of the British Columbia Credit Union League, president of the National Association of Canadian Credit Unions, and was the first non-American to lead CUNA International. Glen was the president of the international credit union body when he was invited by John Duffie to the annual general meeting of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union in Canada’s centennial year. On this occasion, Glen gave a memorable speech entitled “The Challenging Future of Credit Unions.” He enumerated several challenges, including the allure of television and other leisure activities that diminished public engagement in community-building activities, such as meetings of local credit unions. He talked about the challenge of future growth. Young people, he said, were not interested in hearing about the ‘bad old days’ of the Depression; they would need other incentives to join a credit union. He noted, presciently, that the rising generation was more interested in borrowing than saving money, and that young people in the late 1960s
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were renting apartments rather than purchasing houses. He pointed to the growth of credit cards, which undermined traditional credit union objectives of promoting thrift and savings. However, he concluded his speech on an uplifting note. He commended Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union for its personal service and was confident that it could achieve substantial assets to endow community benefits in the future. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union increased its members and assets in 1967 when it absorbed Immaculate Conception Credit Union. The parish of Immaculate Conception was established in 1924. The parish church was located on the 3700 block of West 28th Avenue, two blocks west of Dunbar Street. The Rev. Father Clarence Hinphy was the pastor of the parish when Immaculate Conception Credit Union was incorporated on March 28, 1960 with Charter No. 398. As usual, the common bond was defined as members of the parish and their immediate families. But as sometimes happened, the initial enthusiasm for the organization fizzled. The directors had difficulty finding volunteers to serve on the Credit and Supervisory Committees, despite the fact that committee duties were very light. The duties weren’t demanding because very few members ever applied for loans, and in September 1967, the directors decided to wind up their operations and affiliate with a larger Catholic credit union. Offers were received from St. Patrick’s Credit Union and Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. The directors recommended a merger with the former, which they believed was financially the stronger of the two. But in the end, the members voted to join Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, which was more conveniently located. The arrangements were completed in November 1967. Further growth occurred in 1970, when Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union purchased the second oldest parochial credit union in the region, St. Helen’s Credit Union in North Burnaby. Incorporated on October 9, 1940 with Charter No. 29, it was chronologically a close relation to Rosary Credit Union. It began in a similar manner, with a study club organized by the Holy Name Society and sponsored by the pastor of the parish. Monsignor Daniel Carey
was a former editor of the British Columbia Catholic newspaper and associate of the Pacific Co-operative Institute at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The common bond of St. Helen’s Credit Union coincided with the boundaries of St. Helen Parish, established in 1912 for Catholic families in the neighbourhood of Vancouver Heights. St. Helen’s Credit Union operated from St. Helen’s church hall on Pandora Street, two blocks east of Boundary Road and a few blocks north of Hastings Street. It began with sixteen charter members—a small group that included Dr. Margaret McDevitt, a physician at St. Paul’s Hospital, and William Monk, who later served as president of the organization. In 1945, St. Helen’s Credit Union had over one hundred members; but despite its promising start, it was experiencing financial difficulties. When it received a commemorative scroll from the British Columbia Credit Union League in 1965, acknowledging twenty-five years of service, it was struggling. Over the next few years, the directors considered a number of options, including a purchase offer from Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. With a nudge from the provincial regulator, the members of St. Helen’s Credit Union voted in 1969 to sell the business to the larger organization. St. Helen’s Credit Union had about $30,000 in assets and eighty members when the sale was completed in early 1970. In discussing a possible merger with Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, St. Helen’s Credit Union directors were concerned that the membership might “lose our identity in Burnaby.” They need not have worried. In fact, over the next few years, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union provided more services to its members in Burnaby than had ever been available under the banner of St. Helen’s Credit Union. Some of these services were the result of an agreement with another parochial credit union, St. Mary’s Credit Union. The parish of St. Mary was established in 1923 to serve Catholic families in the Collingwood area of East Vancouver and Burnaby. Central Park is located in the middle of the parish, which extends west near Killarney Street and east near Willingdon Avenue. Its northern boundary is East 29th Avenue; the southern boundary is the Fraser River. The original parish church was on Joyce Street,
36 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
north of Kingsway and west of Boundary Road. During the pastorate of the Rev. Father John Teague, a new church was built in 1948 on Euclid Street near Joyce Street. Fr. Teague also raised funds for a church hall, which accommodated meetings of the Holy Name Society and, emanating from that group, St. Mary’s Credit Union. It was incorporated on April 12, 1956 with Charter No. 350. In 1967, St. Mary’s Credit Union established an office at 5108 Joyce Street, on property it leased from Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. St. Mary’s Credit Union was a going concern: in the early 1970s it had about four hundred members and $170,000 in assets. By 1976 it had over $270,000 in assets. However, the Credit Union’s growth was limited by its common bond, which coincided with its parish boundaries. Also, its directors realized that they couldn’t provide the kind of products and services available to members of larger credit unions. Amalgamation with Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was a logical move and in August 1978 the members of St. Mary’s Credit Union voted unanimously in favour of it. The office was relocated nearby to 5166 Joyce Street, where it could also serve former members of St. Helen’s Credit Union. By this time, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union had moved its main office to 1344 Broadway. The new location, only a few doors away from its previous address, was opened in October 1974. The staff at the time consisted of the general manager, Frank Filgiano; a teller, Shirley Graham; an assistant teller, Chita Anonuevo; and an accounts manager, Richard Rochard. Mrs. Graham had been employed by the Credit Union since 1968. She succeeded Mary O’Dougherty and was the Credit Union’s second full-time employee. Anna Terrana, who had recently emigrated from Italy, joined the staff as the office assistant in 1969. She had previously worked for the Archdiocese of Vancouver in a department that assisted new immigrants. When she resigned in order to attend Simon Fraser University, Chita Anonouevo was hired as the office assistant in July 1971. She had come to Vancouver a year before to join members of her family who had emigrated from the Philippines. She met Filgiano and his wife at a reception in the Philippine Consulate General. Initially, Ms. Anonouevo worked part-
time in Mrs. Filgiano’s millinery boutique and part-time as a secretary for Pacific Business Services. She trained under Mrs. Graham and came to know nearly every facet of the Credit Union in a career that spanned over thirty years. Richard Rochard came to Vancouver via Montréal from Trinidad, where he had worked as an accounts clerk in a large company. His duties included handling loans of various sizes. He upgraded his credentials in Montréal, but was not enamoured with the climate. After visiting his brother in Vancouver, he knew where he wanted to settle. His wife, Jeanette, was invited to an interview for a position at B.C. Central Credit Union, he recalled. “While waiting for her, Fred Waters [a personnel officer at B.C. Central] and I began chatting and, after learning of my work experience, he recommended that I contact Frank Filgiano. I had an interview and Frank hired me.” Rochard began work in March 1974 in the office at 1340 Broadway. “I always considered that Frank gave me a real break when he hired me. At the time, I never expected it would turn into such an interesting and satisfying vocation.” He served GVC Credit Union as a manager in many different branches over a period of nearly forty years. Filgiano, unfortunately, was suffering from ill health and died in September 1975. He was remembered for his sense of humour, conscientiousness, and good counsel. Enterprise magazine remarked that “Mr. Filgiano contributed not only to the Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, but to the credit union movement as well…. He was interested in the philosophical roots of the co-operative movement in British Columbia.” In honour of his many years of dedicated service, the Credit Union endowed the Frank Filgiano Memorial scholarship. Douglas Williams was appointed treasurer-manager in February 1976. His tenure was short and on July 1, 1976 J. Philip Moore was appointed general manager of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. Born and raised in Skegness, Lincolnshire in England, Moore attended college in Blackpool before immigrating to Canada in 1966. After arriving in Vancouver, he worked in the hotel industry for a short time. He entered the financial services industry as a trainee with a chartered bank before joining the Credit Union Develop-
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ment Department at B.C. Central Credit Union in 1973. He earned a Master of Business Administration [MBA] degree from Simon Fraser University in 1975. Moore would enjoy a long and distinguished career with GVC Credit Union and contribute significantly to the provincial credit union movement. One of Moore’s first challenges as general manager of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was to accommodate the members and integrate the financial operations of St. Patrick’s Credit Union. That illustrious organization had been purchased six months earlier, following negotiations that had engaged John Duffie and Richard Rochard. Although the ‘ink was dry’ on the merger contract when Moore became general manager, the financial and operational arrangements were still unresolved. II. St. Patrick’s Credit Union St. Patrick’s Credit Union, located in Mount Pleasant on the east side of Vancouver, was incorporated on June 20, 1941 with Charter No. 61. It was a dynamic organization and at one time was the largest parochial credit union in British Columbia; but for a number of reasons, it ran into difficulties in the 1970s. Phil Moore and the Board of Directors at Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union wanted to improve and modernize St. Patrick’s financial operations, while maintaining its loyal membership and honouring its historical traditions. It was a formidable challenge, but one that was successfully met. St. Patrick’s Credit Union, like its cathedral-based sister organization, developed out of a parochial study club. But it had a different personality—one that was shaped by the complexion of the parish it served. St. Patrick Parish was established in 1910 and its domain originally extended over a great swath of Vancouver’s east side. Following the advent of several newer parishes, the boundaries of St. Patrick Parish were redefined in 1938. The parish then extended from 1st Avenue on the north to East 30th Avenue on the south. St. Catharine’s Street formed its eastern boundary, while Oak Street demarked the western side of the parish. In the 1940s, the congregation of St. Patrick’s Church was made up of families
St. Patrick’s office at 2922 Main Street, c. 1970. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
Interior of St. Patrick’s Credit Union office at 2922 Main Street. Office manager Mary Frehlick is at her desk. Image courtesy of University of Victoria Library, Special Collections.
38 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Postal Station C on Main Street and East 16th was not far from St. Patrick’s Church. Many postal workers were active in the credit union movement. The former post office is now Heritage Hall. Photo by Patrick Dunae.
from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe. St. Patrick’s Credit Union appealed to them. The pastor of the church, Monsignor Louis Forget, was a remarkable man. The Belgian-born priest came to St. Patrick Parish in 1917, after pastoral duties in Oregon and Alberta. He transformed a rather moribund parish into an energetic community that supported a convent, a Catholic elementary school, a modern high school, plus an auditorium and gymnasium. The parish hall on East 16th Avenue near Main Street was the dynamic centre of the neighbourhood. Msgr. Forget sponsored St. Patrick’s Holy Name Study Club, which evolved into the credit union. Its common bond stipulated that it was open to members of St. Patrick Parish and their immediate families, and to Catholics in neighbouring parishes where credit unions had not been established. The members of St. Patrick’s Credit Union included men and women who were prominent in provincial credit union circles. Michael Bach, a director and president of St. Patrick’s Credit Union in the early 1940s, was an executive member of the British Columbia Credit Union League and founding member of Edelweiss Credit Union. Jean Archibald Haynes, who served as a secretary, director, and president of St. Patrick’s Credit Union, was admired as “one of the steadiest workers in the Credit Union movement.” She was the associate editor of B.C. Credit Unionist magazine from 1946 to 1951 and its principal editor until 1965. She wrote and delivered broadcasts about credit unions on radio station CKNW and represented the British Columbia Credit Union League at international conferences. Charter member Alfred (Alf ) Corra helped to organize several other parochial credit unions in Greater Vancouver. He was also involved with a very successful workplace financial co-operative, Vancouver Safeway Employees Credit Union, which he managed from 1955 until his retirement in 1970. He served as treasurer of St. Patrick’s Credit Union in the 1950s, and was later a director and served as president in the 1960s. In many respects, he epitomized St. Patrick Parish. His parents had immigrated to Vancouver from Italy before the First World War. He was born and grew up in the parish and
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had attended St. Patrick’s Elementary School. He enjoyed friendships with Msgr. Forget and assistant priests such as Fr. Thomas Reidy, who also supported the parish credit union. For many years, St. Patrick’s Credit Union transacted business over the kitchen table in the Corra family home at 728 West 22nd Avenue. Corra was a letter carrier for the Post Office when St. Patrick’s Credit Union was founded. Vancouver postal employees, as noted earlier, were in the vanguard of the provincial credit union movement. Two leading figures in the British Columbia Credit Union League—A. L. Nicholas and Harry Pocock—worked in the main branch of the Vancouver post office. Founding members of VanFed Credit Union, they were guests at the first annual general meeting of St. Patrick’s Credit Union. St. Patrick’s Credit Union drew members from employees at Postal Station ‘C’, located at 3102 Main Street and East 15th Avenue. The landmark post office building, now known as Heritage Hall, was very close to St. Patrick Parish Hall, where members of St. Patrick’s Credit Union used to congregate. It’s easy to imagine a co-operative, credit union synergy in this part of Vancouver. During the war, members of St. Patrick’s Credit Union would get together at the Parish Hall to watch newsreels and documentary movies from the National Film Board of Canada. The films helped to maintain a home-front spirit and encouraged members to buy war bonds. St. Patrick’s Credit Union also looked forward to the end of the war. An article about St. Patrick’s Credit Union, which appeared in the British Columbia Catholic newspaper (July 1944), asked: “What do you intend to do when the boys come home? Are you going to add to your house, build a new one? Or will the returning soldier go ahead with his education?” “In any of these cases, more money is indicated,” it declared. “This is where your Credit Union stands behind you.” St. Patrick’s Credit Union directors Michael Bach and Bridget Corrigan anticipated B.C. Central Credit Union in 1943 when they suggested a consortium of credit unions that could pool its resources and provide larger loans to consortium members. That was one of B.C. Central Credit Union’s objectives when it was incorporated
St. Patrick’s Credit Union celebrates its 25th anniversary in 1966. Mary Frehlick (standing beside the unidentified man, centre), was the daughter of John Roscow, a charter member and former treasurer of the credit union. She had participated in B.C. Credit Union League workshops at UBC (see p. 21) and was a receptionist at the B.C. Credit Union League office on East Broadway. Later, she was the office manager of St. Patrick’s Credit Union on Main Street. Alfred (Alf) Corra, standing on the right, was a founding director and later president of St. Patrick’s Credit Union. He helped to establish St. Francis de Sales Credit Union in Burnaby and Catholic parish credit unions in Surrey and White Rock. He was manager of Vancouver Safeway Employees Credit Union from 1955 until he retired in 1970. Subsequently, he was a volunteer at the Italian Cultural Centre in East Vancouver. Image courtesy of University of Victoria Library, Special Collections.
40 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
the following year in 1944. The headquarters of B.C. Central Credit Union was at 96 East Broadway, on the corner of Quebec Street, in a building it shared with the British Columbia Credit Union League and CU & C Services, the health insurance agency for provincial credit unions and co-operatives. Several other credit unions had offices in this building. This was the heart of the credit union community in Vancouver and St. Patrick’s Credit Union was geographically and spiritually very close to it. Stry Credit Union, one of the largest financial co-operatives in the city, was located nearby. It was organized by Vancouver streetcar drivers and conductors who worked for the B.C. Electric Company. Incorporated in April 1940 with Charter No. 17, its name was an abbreviation of street railway. In 1950, Stry Credit Union erected a handsome new building on East 8th Avenue near the corner of Main Street. The building contained meeting rooms available to other organizations and the directors of St. Patrick’s Credit Union often met there. The building also contained a coffee shop and a multi-lane, state-of-the-art bowling alley! The Stry Co-op Bowladrome was a Mount Pleasant landmark for many years—and the font of a credit union esprit de corps in the neighbourhood. The directors of St. Patrick’s and Stry Credit Unions were partners in many credit union movement events—such as the International Credit Union picnics held in July at the Peace Arch Park south of White Rock. They collaborated on events to celebrate Credit Union Day, which fell on the third Thursday in October. These events—organized under the auspices of the Vancouver Chapter of the British Columbia Credit Union League—would be an occasion for a dinner and dance at the Gai Paree Restaurant in Burnaby, with friends from the New Westminster Chapter. In 1953, nearly 150 people attended a Credit Union Day function at the Gai Paree, when celebrants formed a conga dance line that snaked around the restaurant and out to the parking lot! In 1954, St. Patrick’s Credit Union received a certificate of merit from the British Columbia Credit Union League for “outstanding growth.” The year before, a St. Pat’s parishioner had enrolled more than one hundred new members in the Credit Union. In 1955,
St. Patrick’s received the League’s highest accolade, when it was awarded a trophy for achieving the best “all round performance” of a credit union in the province. Archbishop Duke sent his “sincere congratulations” to the organization for its “great work.” St. Patrick’s Credit Union moved its business operations out of Alf Corra’s kitchen and into a dedicated office at 3219 Main Street in 1956. Two years later, it moved to larger premises one block north, on the east side of Main Street. The office at 2950 Main Street was open in the afternoon, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., from Tuesday to Saturday; and on Friday evening, from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Charter member William (Bill) Tonner combined the duties of treasurer and office attendant. In 1961, twenty years after its launch, St. Patrick’s Credit Union had about five hundred members and $225,000 in assets. It generated a surplus of over $17,000 and paid high dividends to its members that year. St. Patrick’s Credit Union had already commenced a junior savings program in parochial schools, but it was also looking to even younger members. The St. Patrick’s Credit Union newsletter for January 1962 included an item with the header: The Babies of Today—The Bill Payers of Tomorrow! “Children should be taught to save, not once in a while, but regularly. They must have a goal and a pride in their share account,” the newsletter said. “Why not enroll children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews in the credit union and give them a chance to save?” Alf Corra, who had recently completed a term as president, would have endorsed that message—and he may even have penned it. He had enrolled his newborn daughter, Judith [Judi] Rochelle Corra, in St. Patrick’s Credit Union even before he registered her birth with the Department of Vital Statistics! Alf Corra was uneasy about the ambitions of Rosary Credit Union. Although he was pleased for its success as a parochial financial co-operative, he did not endorse its bid to be the dominant Roman Catholic credit union in the region. He expressed his concerns in 1959 to Archbishop Duke, when he learned that Rosary Credit Union was thinking of changing its name to Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. He objected to a name that might privilege Rosary Credit Union and marginalize other Catholic credit unions in the
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city. And he was fundamentally opposed to the idea of creating “one large Catholic Credit Union” from smaller parochial units. The Catholic presence in the provincial movement, he said, would be diminished by amalgamations. He elaborated on his concerns in a letter to Duke’s successor, Archbishop Martin Johnson, in 1966: “In the [British Columbia] Credit Union League, each credit union has one vote. If these credit unions amalgamate, they will only have one vote instead of four or five or more.” Proponents of amalgamation, he said, “are injuring the Catholic vote.” St. Patrick’s Credit Union continued to enjoy success in the parish and respect within the credit union movement. The B.C. Credit Unionist magazine observed that annual general meetings of St. Patrick’s Credit Union routinely involved more participants than many other credit unions in the province. The turnout for the 25th annual general meeting in 1966 was particularly gratifying. The meeting was held at St. Patrick Parish Auditorium (East 11th Avenue and Quebec Street) to accommodate the crowd. In November that year, St. Patrick’s Credit Union celebrated its Silver Jubilee Anniversary with a dinner and dance at the Coconut Grove Cabaret in Burnaby. Over 250 members and guests—including luminaries from the provincial Credit Union League and B.C. Central—attended the gala event. This was an opportunity to salute the growing business of St. Patrick’s Credit Union office, which had recently moved to 2922 Main Street. The office was open Tuesday through Thursday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Mary Frehlick, the daughter of charter member John Roscow and a former president of the Credit Union, was the office manager. Like many credit unions in the province, St. Patrick’s had been using the image of the ‘Little Man under the Umbrella’ on its letterhead and passbooks. In 1967, with the creative assistance of Betty Sommerville—staff artist at the British Columbia Credit Union League and layout editor of the new Enterprise magazine—St. Patrick’s adopted a stylish new logo featuring an Irish shamrock. A green and gold coloured banner adorned the Credit Union’s letter-
head and annual reports. St. Patrick’s Credit Union was nearing its pinnacle. It’s difficult to determine exactly when the Credit Union peaked, but it was probably around 1970 when it had close to $500,000 of assets on the books and about seven hundred members on its register. The figures were impressive for a parochial credit union, but they were misleading. The profit margins were very thin and the number of active members was declining, as elderly members retired from business, sold their homes, and moved away from the neighbourhood. Moreover, older members tended to use the Credit Union as a long-term savings depository; they didn’t borrow money and therefore didn’t generate loan interest earnings for the Credit Union. The changing character of the neighbourhood was also a problem for St. Patrick’s Credit Union. The neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, historically associated with long-term residents and single-family homes, was in transition. Many of the neighbourhood’s Edwardian-era houses were being demolished and replaced with apartment blocks. The tenants who rented the apartments did not, as a rule, have children and were not active in the parish. Indeed, the number of families registered with St. Patrick Parish declined significantly between 1960 and 1980. While parish memberships declined, crime rates were increasing. St. Patrick’s Credit Union office was a favourite target for robbers. The Main Street office was held up twice in 1973 and four times in 1974. In 1975, it suffered six hold-ups or attempted hold-ups in a six week period! Vancouver City Police admitted, in discussions with distraught Credit Union directors, that this stretch of Main Street was a problem area and anticipated it would be many years before the situation improved. Understandably, Credit Union employees were fearful and the turn-over rate among temporary office staff was high. In an effort to rejuvenate business, the directors of St. Patrick’s Credit Union sought to expand its base by amalgamating with a couple of smaller credit unions: St. Mary’s Ukrainian Credit Union in 1973 and Shingle Weaver’s Credit Union in 1974. The two credit unions had close ties to St. Patrick’s Credit Union, but the amalgam-
42 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, c. 1970, at 1344 West Broadway. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
ations did not improve the business. It was increasingly evident that St. Patrick’s Credit Union no longer had adequate capital or sufficient earnings to ensure its viability as a financial institution. In January 1975, it required a grant-in-aid from the provincial Credit Union Reserve Board; but this was only a temporary lifeline. A financial examiner from the Reserve Board advised that St. Patrick’s Credit Union “will never make a net income enough to cover dividends on its present asset base.” “This Credit Union,” he reported in August 1975, “will have to increase its assets by at least $400,000 in order to break even.” St. Patrick’s Credit Union was unable to do so. With the assistance of the Reserve Board’s Earl Tucker, the president of St. Patrick’s Credit Union (Trudi Ferrier) and several directors commenced a series of meetings with John Duffie and other representatives of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. They negotiated a merger and on January 31, 1976 the parochial credit union on Main Street became part of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. Soon after Phil Moore took over as general manager of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, he devised a plan, with input from Richard Rochard and members of the board, to integrate St. Patrick’s accounts into the newly-expanded organization. In October 1976 he moved the St. Patrick’s Credit Union office from 2922 Main Street, where it was vulnerable to robberies and business was slack, to 3917 Knight Street near Kingsway. Kathie Sawle was appointed branch manager. She had worked previously at St. Patrick’s Credit Union and had additional experience working at B.C. Central Credit Union. The branch flourished in its new location, under the direction of its energetic manager. During its first month of operation, deposits increased by $150,000. By the end of the following year—December 1977—the Knight Street branch had attracted over $1 million in deposits. Within two years, the deposits had tripled. To accommodate continued growth, in October 1979 the branch moved to larger premises nearby at 4007 Knight Street. The office moved again in July 1983, to new quarters in the Sunshine Plaza at 1675 Kingsway. It was situated on the north side of
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Kingsway, a few blocks east of the intersection of East King Edward Avenue. Older members still referred to it as the St. Patrick’s branch, even though it was some distance away from the old neighbourhood. However, GVC Credit Union did return to the old neighbourhood a few decades later when it opened a branch in the Kingsgate Mall at 370 East Broadway. St. Patrick’s Church and the St. Patrick Parish hall were only a few blocks away. When St. Mary’s Credit Union became part of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union in 1978, the evolution of the region’s pioneer Catholic financial co-operative was nearly complete. But its evolution as a community enterprise gained momentum when credit unions not affiliated with Catholic parishes joined the organization. The diversity and aspirations of the organization were expressed in April 1984 at the annual general meeting of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. On that occasion, members endorsed a special resolution “changing the common bond of the credit union to include all persons in the Greater Vancouver Regional District.” A new name—Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union—was adopted. Under that name, GVC Credit Union welcomed members of credit unions which had been incorporated with ‘occupational’ and ‘ethnic’ common bonds. Those antecedent credit unions represent an important part of GVC Credit Union’s heritage, and will be explored further in the pages that follow.
Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, c. 1980, at 4007 Knight Street. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
44 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Occupational Bonds 45
As Vancouver climbed out of the Great Depression, its economic base broadened. Business firms of all descriptions increased and the work force expanded. The process was accelerated with the outbreak of war and the advent of wartime industries. From 1941 to 1951, the number of employers in Vancouver increased by 60 percent, and the workforce grew correspondingly. In 1940 there was a sharp rise in wartime production workers, but even after the war a prosperous economy ensured a steady increase in the number of wage-earners. These conditions were ideal for credit unions which proliferated in newly established or recently enlarged companies. Province-wide, credit unions defined by their members’ occupation or place of employment—that is, credit unions incorporated with an ‘occupational’ common bond—increased in number from less than a dozen in 1940 to over sixty in 1950. Ten years later, there were at least seventy-five credit unions with occupational common bonds, the majority of which were located in Greater Vancouver. All manner of occupations and workplaces supported credit unions. There were credit unions for post office workers, telephone company employees, firefighters, policemen, tailors, teachers, hairMovie theatres on Granville Street, looking south from Robson Street, 1951. Members of B.C. Projectionists Credit Union, and several other credit unions, are represented in this photo. At this time, there were credit unions for White Lunch employees, Vancouver taxi drivers, and hotel workers. Vancouver District Credit Union (Vancity) was five years old and flourishing when this picture was taken. Image courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives, COV-S505-2-: CVA 772-9.
dressers, hospital attendants, taxi drivers, newspaper reporters, and city hall clerks. In the skilled trades, there were credit unions for plumbers, steamfitters, and electricians. Grocery store workers employed by Safeway and Shop Easy had their own credit unions, as did employees of restaurant chains, such as White Lunch and White Spot. There were credit unions for hotel workers, apartment and rooming house operators, and theatre employees. There was even a credit union for people who owned or operated bowling alleys! Nine occupational bond credit unions eventually became part of Greater Vancouver Credit Union. The oldest of these was B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union, which was incorporated in 1940. Part of an industry that has changed dramatically over the last seventy years, the early financial co-operative represented an employees’ organization that has now disappeared. The youngest of these nine antecedent credit unions was incorporated in 1956. It was called Shell Employees Credit Union and evokes an historical era in Greater Vancouver when attitudes towards certain kinds of industrial development were different than they are today. When that credit union was organized, oil refineries on Burrard Inlet and pipelines in Burnaby were generally well-regarded. This chapter provides historical sketches of each of the antecedent credit unions, beginning with a credit union that had an intriguing, archaic name: Shingle Weavers’ Credit Union. It was the first credit union with an occupational, rather than religious, common bond to join Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. Shingle Weavers derived its name from highly-skilled woodworkers who produced the cedar shingles that were used extensively for roofing and cladding houses and other wood-frame structures
46 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
in Vancouver. The workers were so named because they originally worked with sharp saws and were paid on a piece-rate basis. They worked at such a frenetic pace that they reminded observers of weavers who worked steam-driven looms in cotton mills. They continued to be known as shingle weavers even after methods of production were automated. Shingle weavers in British Columbia were affiliated with the International Shingle Weavers’ Union. A former president of the union was head of the powerful District Council No. 1 of the International Woodworkers’ Association [I.W.A.] for British Columbia in the early 1940s. A decade later, after a tumultuous period within the labour movement, shingle weavers represented a cadre of skilled, wellpaid millworkers. They could have joined fellow woodworkers in New Westminster, who had founded I.W.A. Credit Union in 1944; but instead, they formed their own financial co-operative known as Shingle Weavers Credit Union. It was incorporated on February 18, 1954 with Charter No. 286. It was formed with the help of a prominent and popular credit unionist, Richard (Dick) Monrufet. He began his career with Stry Credit Union, served as managing director of the British Columbia Credit Union League and later worked for the provincial government as Superintendent of Credit Unions. Monrufet was on hand when the organizational meeting of Shingle Weavers was held in February 1954. At a follow-up meeting, the organizers defined the common bond of their credit union: it would include “Members of Local 2802 [of the International Shingle Weavers’ Union] and their immediate families, and any employees of shingle plants where Local 2802 had bargaining rights of certification, and their immediate families.” The founders of this credit union worked for the Huntting-Merritt Shingle Company. The company started in 1914 and in 1948 was integrated into a new consortium, Canadian Forest Products Ltd., also known as CanFor. The Huntting-Merritt manufacturing plant was located on Milton Street, off South West Marine Drive on the north arm of the Fraser River. The Arthur Laing Bridge straddles the site today. Annual meetings of the Shingle Weavers’ Credit Union were held in the lunchroom of the plant, while monthly meetings
alternated between the lunchroom, when they were held in the morning, and the home of a credit union officer, when they were held in the evening. This arrangement accommodated members who worked different shifts at the plant. The mill managers supported the Credit Union by providing a meeting room and allowing office staff to provide clerical assistance. Louis M. Cummings, who worked as a sawyer at the mill, was a charter member of the Credit Union. He initially served on its Credit Committee, but from 1958 onwards he was the Credit Union treasurer. He became an accomplished bookkeeper and was highly regarded in the Vancouver Chapter of the British Columbia Credit Union League. Contemporary minute books indicate that Shingle Weavers’ Credit Union grew steadily. Between 1954 and 1964, the number of members increased from 40 to 140. During the same period, assets climbed to over $100,000. By 1971, assets exceeded $150,000, with retained earnings of over $7,000. However, when CanFor announced plans to shut down the Huntting-Merritt operation and dispose of the mill site, the employees’ financial co-operative was shaken. Both the membership and financial base of the Credit Union contracted. As it happened, Cummings was a member of St. Patrick Parish and had served as treasurer of St. Patrick’s Credit Union. With assistance from Dick Monrufet, who was then Superintendent of Credit Unions, Shingle Weavers’ Credit Union was amalgamated with St. Patrick’s Credit Union in July 1974. Cummings was subsequently hired as the manager and loans officer of the combined organization. He retired when St. Patrick’s was purchased by Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union in 1976. He is remembered for his financial acumen and for helping to bring a closed bond credit union, with an intriguing name, into the fold of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union and ultimately GVC Credit Union. A few years later, members of two other credit unions, which had been incorporated with occupational common bonds, were welcomed into Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. Kenworth Employees Credit Union joined the larger organization in April 1982 and was followed, a month later, by Bakovan Credit Union.
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Founded in 1949, Kenworth Employees Credit Union was originally called Wil-Fer Credit Union. It was organized by the employees of William J. Ferguson, a Vancouver truck manufacturer, car dealer, and heavy equipment supplier. Ferguson ran a number of his companies from a property at 2015 Main Street near East 4th Avenue. He also owned an automobile garage and car dealership at 905 Burrard St., between Barclay Street and Smithe Street. He conducted that business under the name Willys Distributors (B.C.) Ltd. The name of the credit union was apparently an abbreviation of Willys and Ferguson—hence Wil-Fer Credit Union. It was incorporated on February 7, 1949 with Charter No. 192. The registered office was at 2015 Main Street, and George J. Read, Ferguson’s accountant, served as the secretary-treasurer of the credit union. It was a small but enthusiastic operation. In 1952 Wil-Fer Credit Union earned an Honorable Mention from the British Columbia Credit Union League in the category of Growth and Performance among provincial credit unions. Ferguson’s business dealt with both rugged and refined vehicles. At his truck shop on Main Street, he built trailers and other equipment for logging trucks. His firm specialized in fitting out Kenworth, Leyland, and Diamond T trucks for the forest industry. Ferguson’s garage on Burrard Street sold and serviced Willys Overland Wagons, a rugged commercial vehicle based on the wartime Jeep and, incongruously, exotic European cars. Vancouverites who fancied Fiats, Renaults, and Citroens could purchase them here. Ferguson sold his truck and trailer business to the Kenworth Motor Truck Company of Seattle in 1954. A Canadian subsidiary was incorporated and in 1955 Canadian Kenworth Ltd. opened a truck manufacturing plant on Kitchener Street, near Boundary Road, in Burnaby. Ferguson’s son, William Ferguson, Junior, was vice-president and sales manager of the new company. The automobile garage and dealership on Burrard Street was sold, but Ferguson held on to his property on Main Street. He established a new company, West Coast Tires Ltd., at that location. In light of these changes, the employees’ credit union was renamed: On February 13, 1956 it became Kenworth Employees
The 900 block of Burrard Street in 1953. Members of Wil-Fer Credit Union (1949) worked here. Photograph by Artray. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, Acc. 82061.
The Kenworth Truck plant in Burnaby, c. 1971, with newly-built LW900 model trucks. Kenworth Employees Credit Union was based here. Image courtesy of Kenworth Truck Company.
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Credit Union. It retained its charter, but the registered office moved to 3750 Kitchener Street in Burnaby. The credit union members included office staff and production workers. The Burnaby plant manufactured between sixty and one hundred trucks a year. It built a famous truck known as model 849RFD—reputedly, the largest logging truck ever produced. But the leviathan logging truck was exceptional. Most of the logging trucks were smaller and built to handle rugged, off-highway logging conditions in the Interior of the province. The Burnaby plant also made trucks and trailers for hauling freight on regular roads and highways. By the 1960s, Canadian Kenworth trucks—which sported a distinctive emblem on the hood of the cab—commanded around 30 percent of the market. As the company prospered, so, too, did Kenworth Employees Credit Union. It had over two hundred members and assets of over $200,000 in 1975. Five years later, it counted more than three hundred members and over $300,000 in assets. But the financial recession of the early 1980s, labour disputes, and a new business plan from Kenworth’s head office in the United States led to the demise of the Burnaby plant and difficulties for the Kenworth Employees Credit Union. Kenworth retained a manufacturing plant in Québec for its market in central and eastern Canada, but its western Canadian market would be supplied from Seattle. The Burnaby plant closed in 1982. Members of the Kenworth Employees Credit Union realized their financial co-operative was vulnerable and had been considering contingency plans even before the plant shut down. The directors recommended a merger with Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, which was well-known in Burnaby. Employees at the Kenworth factory, who remembered the Ferguson works on Main Street in East Vancouver, would also have known St. Patrick’s Credit Union, which was located nearby. Despite their different historical common bonds, the two organizations had much in common. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union acquired the assets and welcomed the members of Kenworth Employees Credit Union in March 1982. In May that year, Les Hausch, who had previously been
president of Kenworth Employees Credit Union, was elected to the Board of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. He continued his service when the organization was renamed in 1984 and has served on the Board of Directors of GVC Credit Union ever since. During his tenure, he served with a former director of Bakovan Credit Union. Bakovan Credit Union was organized by unionized bakery and confectionery workers in Vancouver, who registered their financial co-operative under the name Bakovan—as in, Bakers of Vancouver. It was incorporated on February 15, 1950 and received Charter No. 210. It started with less than thirty members, but by the end of the decade it boasted more than one hundred members. Monthly meetings were held in the business office of the Bakery & Confectionary Workers’ Union, Local 468. The office was located in the Vancouver Labor Temple Building at 307 West Broadway. It was a convenient location for bakery workers: Weston’s Bakery was a few blocks away on East 8th Avenue near Main Street, while other large commercial bakeries—notably Mother Hubbard and McGavin Ltd.—were further along West Broadway. Canadian Bakeries, which produced Toastmaster Bread, was not far away on West 10th Avenue. The commercial baking industry in Vancouver was consolidated in the early 1970s and one large company, McGavin Toastmaster, dominated the market. At that time, Bakovan Credit Union had about 150 members and assets of around $150,000. In July 1973, the directors of Bakovan Credit Union negotiated an arrangement to share office space with Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union at 1340 West Broadway. Frank Filgiano, the Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union treasurer, received a stipend to look after the Bakovan books. As GVC Credit Union historian Clarence Morin noted in 1990: The arrangement with GV Catholic [Credit Union] enabled [Bakovan Credit Union] to enjoy substantial growth. By 1979 assets had climbed to $263,580 and membership had reached 195. However, with its very restricted common bond and potential primary membership of barely 500 people scattered throughout the entire lower mainland, it became apparent that future growth would be exceedingly slow and autonomy difficult to attain.
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After receiving an endorsement from its membership, Bakovan Credit Union amalgamated with Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union on April 24, 1982. It was a very easy merger since the two organizations had already been working together for an extended period of time. Hans Beyer, the last president of Bakovan Credit Union, was subsequently appointed to the Board of Directors of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. He was a director when Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union became GVC Credit Union in 1984. Beyer, who learned the baker’s craft in his native Germany, came to Canada in 1951. He worked as a baker at the McGavin’s bakery in Vancouver and was an active member of his union, Local 468. A co-worker at McGavin’s bakery, Jack Nagy, was the treasurer of Hungarian Credit Union. When Hungarian Credit Union merged with Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union in 1985, Nagy joined Beyer on the Board of Directors. The two bakery workers provided distinguished service to members of GVC Credit Union for many years. In December 1985, Shell Employees Credit Union was the next financial co-operative with an occupational common bond to join GVC Credit Union. Shell Employees Credit Union was chartered thirty years earlier, but its occupational roots go back to 1932 when the Shell Oil Company established its Shellburn refinery on Burrard Inlet in North Burnaby. The company’s distribution terminal was located on a dock at the end of Kensington Avenue, where oil tankers were loaded with bulk fuel for export. From other nearby facilities, tanker trucks hauled fuel oil to commercial and residential customers. In 1954, Shell employees who worked at a variety of jobs across the company—from oil tanker crewmen, pipeline maintenance workers, truck deliverymen, refinery operators, and clerical staff members—organized a credit union. It was incorporated as Shell Employees Credit Union on April 27, 1955 with Charter No. 326. The organization began with gusto, and within a year Shell Employees Credit Union had enrolled sixty-two members and had several thousand dollars in assets. But within a few years, it had lost its momentum. In 1960, the Inspector of Credit Unions remarked
on its unsatisfactory state of affairs. Its Credit Committee did not hold monthly meetings, as required by the Credit Unions Act, and its Supervisory Committee was apparently lax, as evident by the high ratio of delinquent loans. The Credit Union officers managed to restore the business to a solid footing by implementing more rigorous lending policies, and inspirational speakers from the British Columbia Credit Union League were invited to annual meetings, in order to revitalize the organization. The efforts were successful, at least in the short term: In 1978, Shell Employees Credit Union reported ninety members, assets of about $75,000, and retained earnings of nearly $3,500. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, the Shell Employees Credit Union declined. On December 1, 1985 its members voted to join GVC Credit Union. The GVC Credit Union newsletter remarked, in a historical vignette printed a few years later, “While the Vancouver Shell Employees Credit Union never attained phenomenal success, it did over the years contribute substantially to the well-being of its members.” GVC Credit Union welcomed members of Western Canada Steel Employees Credit Union three years later. That financial co-operative was incorporated on October 23, 1952 with Charter No. 252. It was organized by employees of the Pacific Bolt Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of Western Canada Steel Company. Located on Granville Island (when Granville Island was a hub of heavy industry, not fashionable boutiques and gourmet food markets), the Pacific Bolt Company made steel rivets for constructing bridges and barges. The plant paymaster, Leo C. Cunningham, was a founding director and long-time treasurer of this credit union. Western Canada Steel Employees Credit Union was a low-profile operation: it received very little attention in contemporary credit union publications and elicited few comments from the provincial Inspector’s Office. In 1972, Western Canada Steel Employees Credit Union reported assets of nearly $280,000 and about two hundred members. Ten years later, in 1982, it had assets of about $660,000 and over three hundred members. During the next five years, however, the asset base, membership, and retained earnings of the Credit Union declined. The decline was blamed on a labour
50 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
A display of products from the B.C. Sugar Refinery, c. 1948. That year, refinery employees formed a credit union. It merged with GVC Credit Union in 1998. Image courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives, AM1184-S1-: CVA 1184-1762.
dispute. The directors of the Credit Union were not confident about its future and contemplated a merger with a larger, viable organization. At their annual general meeting held on August 26, 1988 at the Blue Boy Motor Hotel, members of Western Canada Steel Employees Credit Union voted unanimously to merge with GVC Credit Union. The merger became effective on August 31, 1988. Members’ accounts were subsequently transferred to the GVC Credit Union branch on West Broadway. Ten years later, in 1998, GVC Credit Union amalgamated with financial co-operatives connected to a famous sugar refinery, a large forest company, and the golden age of the cinema! Specifically, GVC Credit Union welcomed members from B.C. Sugar Refinery (Rogers Sugar), Al-Pine, and B.C. Projectionists’ credit unions. These three organizations, with their very different historical foundations, added to the cosmopolitan character of GVC Credit Union. Generations of British Columbians have enjoyed Rogers’ Golden Syrup and Rogers’ refined sugar. These sweet comestibles, along with brown sugar and icing sugar, are made by the B.C. Sugar Refining Company. The company was created by a young entrepreneur, Benjamin T. Rogers, and incorporated in 1890. It was initially capitalized by financiers who were involved with the Canadian Pacific Railway [CPR]. The refinery and the CPR were closely connected for many years. Raw sugar from the Philippines was carried across the Pacific Ocean by CPR steamships, refined in Vancouver, and sent to markets across Canada in CPR freight trains. The B.C. Sugar Refinery is a landmark on the Vancouver waterfront, while the Rogers’ family home, Gabriola (1901), is arguably the most beautiful heritage building in Vancouver’s West End. The mansion stands on the northwest corner of Davie Street and Nicola Street. It’s not far from the site of the former Guardian Angels’ Hall, where Rosary Credit Union used to hold its monthly meetings. A credit union for the employees of the sugar refinery was incorporated on March 30, 1948 with Charter No. 148. Its official title was B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union. William J. Dew, the assistant personnel manager at the refinery, was a founding director. He served as secretary-treasurer and later president of the Credit
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Union. William Monk, a company foreman, was another founding director. Monk might have sported a CUNA Credit Union Founders’ Pin on his lapel, because he was also instrumental in starting two of GVC Credit Union’s antecedents—St. Helen’s Parish Credit Union (1940) and St. Joseph’s Savings Credit Union (1948). He lived in Burnaby, as did many other Rogers’ Sugar Refinery employees, including John Merrett, who was the secretary-treasurer of B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union in the 1950s. Merrett worked in the accounts department and, with permission from the company owners, transacted credit union business there. The B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union was a well-run organization. Certainly the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions, Tom Switzer, was pleased with the way it conducted its business. In 1956, when the Refinery Savings Credit Union had built up nearly $100,000 in assets, Switzer recommended that the directors hire a chartered accountant to audit the Credit Union books, instead of relying solely on its Supervisory Committee. He acknowledged that this would entail an additional expense, but said it would be worthwhile in many respects. In a letter to the Credit Union president, William (Bill) Banks, he noted that professional accountants could bring “business experience” to a credit union. “That experience can readily pay you in savings… with the consequent result that yours would be a well-oiled and smoother running machine.” The historical records do not indicate if Banks and his directors acted on Switzer’s advice, but in the 1960s amendments to the provincial Credit Unions Act required that all credit unions with assets of $100,000 or more submit an annual financial statement from a certified accountant. The Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union achieved a membership of around 280 in the early 1970s, a number that held steady over the next few decades. In 1970, it had just over $300,000 in assets; ten years later, its financial base had more than doubled. When Phil Beal, a refinery machinist, joined the Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union in 1986, it had assets of about $800,000 and 283 members. Beal was elected to the Credit Union’s Board of Directors in 1992. By that time, it was evident the Credit Union needed to expand its
base, if it was to provide more services and retain its members. Accordingly, Beal and his fellow directors began discussions with their counterparts at GVC Credit Union. Since GVC Credit Union had a strong presence in Burnaby, it was attractive to Rogers’ refinery credit unionists who lived in the community. An arrangement was concluded in January 1998, when B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union merged with GVC Credit Union. Under the terms of the agreement, the accounts of refinery workers were transferred to the GVC Credit Union branch at Cameron Street in Burnaby. This branch became a ‘satellite office’ for Rogers Sugar employees. Following the amalgamation, Beal was offered a seat at the GVC Credit Union directors’ table, where he could assist with the integration of the two organizations. He was elected to the GVC Credit Union board in his own right in 1999 and continued to serve as a director until 2008. In June 1998, a few months after GVC Credit Union welcomed members from the sugar refinery, it purchased a closed-bond credit union that had been established by one of the province’s largest forest companies—Alaska Pine and Cellulose, later known as Rayonier Canada Ltd. Al-Pine Credit Union was not a large outfit at this time and its parent companies were no longer in business. But Al-Pine Credit Union members were very welcome and they enhanced the historical pedigree and cosmopolitan character of GVC Credit Union. Alaska Pine and Cellulose was founded by the Koerner brothers (Leon, Otto, Theo, and Walter), who came to Canada from Europe just before the Second World War. The Koerner family had been involved with the forest industry in their native Czechoslovakia and drew upon their experience when they started a company to market western hemlock in 1939. Western hemlock is a prolific species of softwood, but it had little export value because it tended to warp during shipment. The Koerner brothers devised a way of drying it in kilns, and when it was marketed as ‘Alaska pine’ it proved to be very profitable. The Koerners started with an old saw mill at New Westminster; later, they built a modern mill that operated as Universal Lumber & Box Company in Marpole, South Vancouver. After
52 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Employees of Alaska Pine and Cellulose had a bowling team and a credit union (Al-Pine, 1954). Bowling and credit unions went hand-in-hand in the 1950s. Photograph by Artray. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library, Acc. 820068B.
the Second World War, through a complicated sequence of corporate partnerships and acquisitions, Alaska Pine became the Alaska Pine and Cellulose Company. It operated pulp and paper mills at Port Alice on Vancouver Island and Woodfibre, north of Vancouver. Through subsidiary companies, it operated sawmills on Vancouver Island and the Mainland. It was purchased by Rayonier Inc. of New York in 1954 and renamed Rayonier Canada in 1959. Al-Pine Credit Union was incorporated on October 7, 1954 with Charter No. 302. Its common bond was defined as “all employees of Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd. residing in Vancouver and district.” Its members were thus drawn from the company’s head office at 1111 West Georgia Street; employees at the saw mill divisions in New Westminster and Marpole; and employees at a research and development laboratory, also in Marpole. The laboratory was then working on a product called Rayflo. Derived from hemlock residuals, Rayflo was used in oil drilling rigs, where it helped to control the chemical and physical properties of mud from the drills. Like many large employers, Alaska Pine sponsored a bowling team for its employees. In Vancouver in the 1950s, where there was a bowling team, a credit union was probably close by! Alaska Pine supported its employees’ credit union by providing clerical assistance and meeting space in the head office. Of great value, the company also offered a payroll deduction plan for employees who received loans from the Credit Union. Under this plan, loan repayments were deducted once a month from a member’s paycheque. It was a convenient plan for members and a boon to the Credit Union, since it virtually eliminated delinquent loans. In 1960, the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions, Milton Culbert, commended Al-Pine Credit Union for its “neat and orderly” financial records and “well-managed” operations. Al-Pine Credit Union was always a modest operation, and because of its common bond the membership was never large. The organization would peak in 1979, when it counted 165 members and just over $200,000 in assets. Thereafter, the assets and membership of the Credit Union declined, as the company that employed its members struggled financially in an industry-wide recession. In 1983,
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Rayonier Canada was purchased by Western Forest Products and the company’s operations were scaled back. Production workers were laid off and head office administration staff fell from 160 to 70 employees. The company’s workforce in the Vancouver area was further reduced as older employees retired. When Al-Pine Credit Union was invited to join GVC Credit Union in 1997, it had assets of less than $180,000 and only ninety members. But by joining GVC Credit Union, members could share a much larger pool of resources and draw on an extensive range of financial services. A merger was duly authorized by the membership and in June 1998 Al-Pine Credit Union became part of GVC Credit Union. Al-Pine accounts were administered at GVC Credit Union’s Lougheed Plaza Branch on Cameron Street in Burnaby. A former director of Al-Pine Credit Union, Herb Gill, would later serve as the GVC Credit Union’s board chairman. The last occupational bond credit union to join GVC Credit Union was one of the earliest chartered credit unions in the province. B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union was incorporated in 1940, only a few months after Rosary Credit Union was chartered. Officers of the two credit unions served together on the boards of the British Columbia Credit Union League and B.C. Central Credit Union. The founding treasurers of both organizations helped to launch Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, known as Vancity today. B.C. Projectionists Credit Union received Charter No. 33 when it was incorporated on November 26, 1940. The Projectionists’ Credit Union originated with Local 348 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage and Motion Picture Machine Operators. This component of the international, New York-based labour organization was called the British Columbia Projectionists’ Union. The common bond of the Credit Union was defined as: “Members of B.C. Projectionists Local #348 and their immediate families residing in British Columbia.” Most of the projectionists who joined this credit union worked in Vancouver-area movie houses. In those days, projectionists earned good money because their work was highly skilled and exacting. They operated complex equipment, projecting movies onto a large screen using 35 mm
films which they cut and spliced with speed and dexterity. Thanks to them, movie-goers could enjoy an uninterrupted sequence of cartoons, newsreels, travelogues and feature films. In addition to operating large film projectors, members of Local 348 operated lighting equipment and sound systems. Moreover, since film was highly flammable until the 1950s, they were also responsible for the safety of movie house patrons. The guild of projectionists was undermined by new technology—in the form of video, projection automation and, eventually, digital cinema. As one industry analyst remarked, the job description of a motion picture projectionist changed from hardware handler to software operator. The unionized projectionists were affected when small independent movie houses were closed and replaced by cinemas owned by large national and international theatre chains. Increasingly, the large operators hired non-union projectionists. The British Columbia Projectionists’ Union was also undermined by labour disputes, the last of which occurred in 2002, when unionized projectionists were compelled to accept a buyout package that involved the decertification of Local 348. The demise of the union was unforeseen in 1940. This was the golden age of cinema: scores of theatres were in business at the time, all of them single-screen facilities. Multiplex theatres, so common today, did not exist. There were nearly a dozen theatres on Vancouver’s fabled ‘theatre row’ in the 800 and 900 blocks of Granville Street, plus a dozen movie theatres on Hastings Street, Main Street, and Broadway. Movie theatres were also located in many Vancouver neighborhoods, such as Dunbar and Kerrisdale. In the 1940s, feature films changed every three days and many people ‘went to the movies’ two or three times a week. There was no shortage of work for motion picture projectionists. George Thrift was one of the founding members. The aptly-named credit unionist served as president of the organization for many years. Another charter member, E. S. [Ewart Stanway] Scanlon, served as secretary-treasurer. Scanlon was active in the British Columbia Credit Union League and helped to organize a number of other credit unions, including Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (1946).
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According to reports in the B.C. Credit Unionist magazine, directors and committee members of the Projectionists’ Credit Union used to meet at the Melrose Café at 715 West Hastings, near Granville Street. They would get together around midnight “for steaks and coffee and credit union business.” In prose that brings to mind Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting, Nighthawks, the magazine noted: “While Vancouver sleeps, the Projectionists hold their Credit Union meetings after the movie houses close.” These nocturnal meetings did not hamper the operations of the organization. By 1944, the Projectionists’ Credit Union had over one hundred members and nearly $20,000 in assets. It had made nearly three hundred loans totalling close to $25,000. It was one of the best-run credit unions in the city and the provincial Inspector of Credit Unions often complimented the directors on their work. The Projectionists’ Credit Union provided many innovative financial products and services to its members. One of these was an endowed savings and pension plan, where members contributed $5 a month over a set number of years. They earned dividends on their contributions and, at the end of the contributory period, were able to make monthly withdrawals until their pool of savings was depleted. Or they could retain their accumulated savings and continue to earn annual dividends. The Projectionists’ Credit Union, meanwhile, accumulated capital that it utilized for mortgage loans. In 1942, it developed an innovative mortgage package that provided borrowers with low interest loans at a fixed rate. The directors of the Projectionists’ Credit Union described the package to Tom Switzer, who was then Deputy Inspector of provincial credit unions, as follows: New Westminster glamour, c. 1960. Lorraine Murison, fashion columnist for The Columbian newspaper, approaches a theatre on Columbia Street, to show off the latest look from Europe. Newspaper journalists, like theatre projectionists, had their own credit union. Thirty Credit Union served members of the Fourth Estate. Employees of Cunningham’s Drug Stores also had their own credit union. Image courtesy of the City of Burnaby Archives, Photo ID 480-738.
Repayments will be made monthly at a fixed amount which will take care of the interest, taxes and be applied on the principal in such a way that eventually the mortgage will be paid off. It will not be necessary to renew the mortgage from time to time. Taxes and local improvements on the property will be paid annually by the Credit Union in order to secure the maximum rebate for the member.
Under this plan, the directors explained, “a member will not have to worry each year to find money for his taxes.” Mortgage loans up
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to $2,000 were insured against death or permanent disability and, most notably, the mortgage term was completely open. “Additional payment of any amount may be made at any time, thereby reducing the time of the mortgage and saving interest. Also, the whole of the balance outstanding may be paid off at any time without payment of any premium interest.” The B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union mortgage plan was a trailblazer! It predated by nearly twenty years the open mortgage plan devised by Vancity in 1959. Indeed, the Projectionists could challenge Vancity’s claim to be “the first financial institution in Canada to offer open mortgages.” Vancity’s additional claim to be “the first financial institution to provide mortgages to people living east of Cambie [Street] in Vancouver’s working-class east end” is also questionable since members of the Projectionists’ Credit Union lived and worked on that side of the city. The B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union enjoyed steady growth in the decades that followed. In 1991, it had assets of over $400,000 and about 135 members. But the credit union suffered when the projectionists’ trade union struggled. The trade union’s membership base was eroded as unionized employees were replaced with non-unionized workers. The trade union suffered a major setback in a dispute in 1998, when a strike by projectionists was met with a lock-out by employers. Local 348 was not supported by the international union in this dispute. Members of Local 348 were compelled to accept a contract that stipulated reduced hours of employment and a substantial cut in wages. In these circumstances, it was difficult to sustain a financial co-operative and in September 1998 the B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union merged with GVC Credit Union. In 1999, just a year after the B.C. Projectionists joined GVC Credit Union, another long-established and widely-respected financial co-operative, Polish Credit Union, joined GVC Credit Union. Polish Credit Union had been chartered with an ‘ethnic’ common bond, rather than an ‘occupational’ common bond. It is one of four ethnic credit unions, examined in the next chapter, that adorn GVC Credit Union’s diverse family tree and enhance its organization.
Burnaby’s prize-winning float in the 1955 PNE parade. The community was called the “Suburb of Happy Homes” in the 1940s. Now it was “B.C.’s Garden of Eden.” Many occupational bond credit unions were located in Burnaby. Image courtesy of the City of Burnaby Archives, Photo ID 486-003.
56 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
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Until the 1970s, Canadian immigration policy favoured immigrants from Great Britain and Continental Europe. Many European immigrants who came to British Columbia settled in Vancouver. While integrating successfully with their host communities, some immigrants sought to affirm their national origins through cultural associations, and religious congregations—and credit unions. The provincial Credit Unions Act recognized ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial’ affiliations as a common bond and several financial co-operatives in Vancouver were organized along these lines. The first of these was the Vancouver & District Danish Credit Union, incorporated on October 2, 1940 with Charter No. 28. The Danish community in Vancouver drew upon Denmark’s long history of co-operativism when organizing its credit union. Edelweiss Credit Union was the second credit union with an ethnic common bond. Established to serve Vancouver’s German community, it was organized by Michael Bach, who was a director and later president of St. Patrick’s Credit Union. Edelweiss Credit Union was incorporated on March 27, 1943 with Charter No. 107. Encouraged by the success of the Danish and German credit unions, other European immigrant communities in Vancouver organized closed bond credit unions in the 1950s. Four of these were antecedents of GVC Credit Union. They represented a portion of The northeast corner of Cambie Street and East Hastings Street, c. 1955. Rosary Credit Union operated from Frank Filgiano’s print shop on Cambie, very close to this busy intersection, from 1953-1957. Photograph by Vic Spooner, Artray Studio; image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, Acc. No. 82829.
Vancouver’s Dutch, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Polish communities. Immigration from the Netherlands to Canada soared after the Second World War. Many of the Dutch families who came to British Columbia engaged in agriculture; the prosperous farms they established are still evident in the Fraser Valley. Immigrants from Holland were also drawn to Vancouver and the city’s Dutch population nearly doubled between 1946 and 1951. The population continued to grow at an impressive rate during the next decade. Historically, the Netherlands was divided along religious lines, with Protestants predominant in the north and Roman Catholics concentrated in the south. To some extent, the Dutch credit unions in Greater Vancouver were also divided in this manner. Holland Credit Union, incorporated in January 1955 with Charter No. 308, was founded to serve Protestant members of the Dutch community in Vancouver. Saint Willebrord Credit Union – an antecedent of GVC Credit Union – was a Roman Catholic organization, incorporated on September 18, 1956 with Charter No. 360. It was named after a parish in the municipality of Ruchphen in southeast Holland, where some of Holland’s first co-operative and mutual aid societies were established in the 1840s. Saint Willebrord Credit Union was thus associated with a tradition of co-operativism and fraternalism, as well as Dutch Catholicism. Saint Willebrord Credit Union was sponsored by the Catholic Netherlands Organization [CNO], an association formed for new immigrants at Rosary Hall in October 1954. In announcing the organization, the British Columbia Catholic newspaper reported that the CNO had been “officially recognized” by Archbishop Duke. “Dutch Catholics want to become Canadians as much as possible,” the newspaper
58 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Burnaby couples enjoying a night at the Gai Paree, c. 1950. Burnaby supported more credit unions than any other regional municipality. Walter Peters (front centre) was a welder with Finning Tractor and likely a member of Finning Employees Credit Union. Other happy people in this photo are (left to right): Jack Stiglish, Frank Pietrasko, Irene Pietrasko, Euda Peters, and Helen Stiglish. Photo courtesy of the City of Burnaby Archives, Image 549—068.
noted; “however, they feel [that] a link among themselves will keep them in strong observance of [their] Catholic duties.” On the application for incorporation, the CNO sponsors of Saint Willebrord Credit Union indicated a potential strength of between six hundred and one thousand members. The goal was realistic, considering the extent of the Dutch Catholic community in Vancouver, but it was never attained. Despite the best efforts of the president, Albert Van der Sande, and the treasurer, John Bierman, the membership of Saint Willebrord Credit Union was never large. But Saint Willebrord Credit Union began with confidence and optimism. Its first annual general meeting was held at Rosary Hall in March 1957, when the president reported a membership of nearly seventy. The following year, when the annual general meeting convened at St. Andrew’s Parish Hall on East 47th Avenue, the Saint Willebrord Credit Union boasted more than one hundred members. The membership continued to grow and was approaching the two hundred mark in 1959, when the annual general meeting was held at Mount Pleasant Community Hall on East 7th Avenue. Monthly meetings, when business of the Credit Union was transacted, alternated between the president’s home in East Vancouver and the treasurer’s home in North Burnaby. It was a convenient arrangement, since the majority of the Saint Willebrord Credit Union members resided in those areas. But within a few years, interest in the Credit Union had waned. Annual meetings, which were then held at the Co-operative Coffee Shop at 56 East Broadway, barely achieved a quorum of members. The apparent apathy of Saint Willebrord’s members is puzzling, as is the relatively high ratio of delinquent loans; but the two issues may have been connected. In his treasurer’s report for 1962, Bierman remarked on “the lack of contact between delinquent members and the Credit Union.” He appealed to members who were behind on their loan payments to engage with the organization and use its resources to alleviate their financial difficulties. “Help can be given in an understanding and non-critical manner by keeping in touch with your Credit Union,” he said. “I stress that members in this category can receive help if they help me to help them.”
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Saint Willebrord was one of several small, urban-based, closed bond credit unions struggling at this time. (St. Francis de Sales Credit Union in Burnaby was among them.) The British Columbia Credit Union League was concerned about these faltering outfits and offered its expertise to assist them. In 1964 the League carried out a thorough evaluation of Saint Willebrord Credit Union. The League’s field representative, William McKeown, who made the survey, scrutinized the Credit Union’s accounts and interviewed its directors. The report he submitted in 1965 was not encouraging. By that time, Saint Willebrord Credit Union had less than sixty members. It had reined in its delinquent loans, but it was not a viable operation. The Board of Directors declined an invitation to join Holland Credit Union, on religious grounds, but at the urging of the provincial regulator they accepted an offer from Vancouver’s first Roman Catholic credit union. On June 6, 1966 Saint Willebrord Credit Union was sold to Rosary Credit Union. The purchase involved assets of about $10,000. It was not a major acquisition in financial terms, but the transaction strengthened the position of Rosary Credit Union within the Catholic credit union community in East Vancouver and Burnaby. Coincidentally, on the same day that the sale of Saint Willebrord Credit Union closed, Rosary Credit Union received permission to change its name to Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. An application to change Rosary’s name had been submitted to the provincial regulator some months earlier and the Inspector of Credit Unions approved the change on June 6, 1966. Nearly ten years later, St. Patrick’s Credit Union would become part of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, bringing with it the members of another ethnic common bond organization, St. Mary’s Ukrainian Credit Union. St. Mary’s Ukrainian Credit Union and St. Patrick’s Credit Union were related historically through their respective parishes. St. Mary’s Ukrainian parish was established in 1936 with the help of Msgr. Forget of St. Patrick Parish. The congregation of St. Mary’s Ukrainian first worshipped in a hall on Fraser Street; then in 1944 it purchased a former Lutheran church building on the corner of Princess Avenue and East Pender Street. This building in Vancouver’s
Strathcona neighbourhood was extensively renovated. Its basement was developed as a church hall and community centre. The congregation also invested in a property on the corner of Quebec Street and 7th Avenue in Mount Pleasant, not far from St. Patrick’s Church. In the 1960s, the congregation sold its properties in Mount Pleasant and Strathcona and purchased a parcel of land in the Fairview neighbourhood. A handsome new church at 550 West 14th Avenue, west of Cambie Street, was opened in 1968. A few years earlier, the Ukrainian Catholic congregation built a community hall on Ash Street, between West 14th Avenue and West 16th Avenue. Located at 3150 Ash Street, St. Mary’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre (also known as the Ukrainian Catholic Centre) was opened in November 1962. A credit union was organized there a few months later. St. Mary’s Ukrainian Credit Union was incorporated on March 12, 1963 with Charter No. 417. It eventually built up assets of nearly $20,000, but its membership was not large, comprising fewer than sixty members in 1972. Accordingly, the directors were happy to accept an invitation to merge with St. Patrick’s Credit Union in 1973. When Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union purchased St. Patrick’s Credit Union in 1976, it created a financial co-operative with strong connections to Vancouver’s Irish, Italian, Dutch and Slavic communities. The cosmopolitan character of GVC Credit Union was further enhanced when it welcomed members from Vancouver’s Hungarian and Polish immigrant communities. The Hungarian community in Vancouver increased by over 50 percent between 1946 and 1951, and it more than doubled in numbers over the next decade through immigration. Some of the newcomers came as a result of the political uprising in Hungary in 1956. Immigrants from Hungary who professed the Roman Catholic faith could join a prosperous, self-confident Catholic congregation, Our Lady of Hungary, established by the Rev. Father Albert Zsigmong in 1951. At first, Sunday masses were held in the German Holy Name parish church, but in 1958 the Archdiocese of Vancouver created a new parish for Hungarian Catholics and parishioners erected their own church. The new church was located
60 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Rosary Credit Union was located at 2433 Granville from 1961 to 1966. It was in the tall Edwardian-era building seen on the right in this early 1950s photo. Photograph by Artray. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, VPL 81345A.
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at 1810 East 7th Avenue, between Commercial Drive and Victoria Drive. Hungarian Credit Union was closely, but not officially, connected to the parish church. The concept of a credit union was familiar to Hungarian parishioners. In the Old Country, a leading member of the Hungarian community recalled, “[our] local post office commonly provided savings, loans, and chequing services. Loans were approved by a credit committee composed of one’s friends and neighbours that functioned much like those of credit unions in Canada.” Hungarian Credit Union was incorporated on March 19, 1951 with charter No. 228. Charter members included a doctor, an accountant, and several merchants, including John Gercsak who provided counter-space for transactions in his shoe store at 2277 Granville Street. (A few years later, Rosary Credit Union would establish its office a couple of blocks away on Granville Street.) Monthly meetings were held at the Hungarian Social Club on West 4th Avenue. A representative of the British Columbia Credit Union League attended one of the meetings in 1952: he was unable to understand the proceedings, since they were conducted in Hungarian, but reported that “the atmosphere was excellent.” By 1958 the organization was using its own letterhead, with the heading Magyar Hitel Szovetkezet—Hungarian Credit Union. Inspectors’ reports for the period show that this was a well-managed credit union. Quarterly financial statements were always submitted on time; treasurers and directors followed up promptly on the inspectors’ suggestions for efficiencies. The ongoing strength of the organization was due in part to the financial acumen of Geza (Jack) Nagy, its long-time treasurer. Nagy emigrated from Hungary in 1956 and started working for McGavin Foods in Edmonton. He was transferred to McGavin’s commercial bakery in Vancouver in 1961. At the time, Bakovan Credit Union counted a number of McGavin’s employees at the West Broadway bakery as members. However, although Nagy worked for McGavin’s for many years, he joined Hungarian Credit Union after he settled in Vancouver. In 1965 he was appointed treasurer of Hungarian Credit Union, a position he held for nearly thirty years.
In the pre-digital age, credit union treasurers relied on adding machines like this one. Artifact from the GVC Credit Union collection.
Newer technology for accounting, in the form of an electric adding machine. Artifact from the GVC Credit Union collection.
62 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
A new home and nice car in a new suburb of Greater Vancouver in 1960. Credit unions took the lead in offering residential mortgages and consumer loans during this period. Photograph by Charles S. Jones, Vancouver Province. Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library, Acc. 44583.
In the early 1960s, Hungarian Credit Union had assets of $134,000 and about 250 members. In 1970 it had assets of over $200,000. Ten years later, it counted over 400 members and its assets were hovering around $800,000. This was the pinnacle of Hungarian Credit Union. As Nagy later recalled, Hungarian Credit Union members liked to save but were not inclined to borrow money: “The members were drawing few loans as most of their small businesses were successful. How can you run a credit union when all the members want to do is save?” Hungarian Credit Union was not only hampered by its lean loan portfolio. It was constrained by technology, since it did not have the resources to provide electronic financial services to its members. “Soon, we had to look around for a credit union to merge with that operated with similar principles as us but had the size to provide more services,” Nagy said. Hungarian Credit Union also required an ally that would help it weather the economic downturn of the early 1980s. GVC Credit Union was an ideal partner and protector. The two organizations shared a Catholic patrimony and in the 1950s they had been neighbours. In May, 1985, Hungarian Credit Union merged with GVC Credit Union. Nagy was elected to the Board of Directors for the expanded operation and served as a director until his retirement in May 1992. During his years with GVC Credit Union, he often assisted members of Hungarian extraction. “People would stop me in the mall and say, ‘Geza, I have $200,000 to put away. Is it safe in the credit union?’ But even now [after his retirement from the board], former members of Hungarian Credit Union who’ve sold their homes come up and ask me where they should deposit their money. I tell them Greater Vancouver Community!” Polish Credit Union was larger than its Hungarian counterpart, but it developed in a similar fashion. It was incorporated on October 19, 1951 with Charter No. 236 during a period when Polish immigration to Canada was increasing. In Vancouver, the population of ethnic Poles more than doubled between 1946 and 1951. It increased by over 30 percent during the next decade, and by the 1980s Polish people comprised the fifth largest ethnic group in the city. Like Hungarian Credit Union, the Polish financial services co-opera-
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tive was closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Vancouver created the parish of St. Casimir (named after the patron saint of Poland) in 1945. In September 1948, Archbishop Duke blessed a new parish church at 1187 East 27th Avenue. Several Polish institutions and organizations developed out of the church, including an elementary school, a folk club, and a credit union. The credit union was organized by the pastor, the Rev. Father Franciszek Kosakiewicz—popularly known as Father Frank. He was encouraged by a colleague who had established a successful credit union for Polish residents in Toronto. Polish Credit Union in Vancouver grew steadily over the next half century. It was guided for many years by Stefan Faliszewski, who served as president from 1955 to 1980. Thanks to the stewardship of Alojzy (Alex) Wojcik, who became treasurer in 1958, its assets were carefully nurtured, while delinquent loans were monitored closely and kept to a minimum. In 1960, it had assets of over $100,000 and nearly three hundred members. A decade later, it boasted nearly $500,000 in assets. In 1977, it attained $1 million in assets and had about 550 members. For most of the preceding years, Polish Credit Union business was transacted in the basement of St. Casimir parish hall on East 27th Avenue, on Wednesday and Friday evenings. In 1978 Polish Credit Union acquired dedicated office space at 4155 Fraser Street and set new office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to noon. Wojcik received a modest salary as office manager. By the end of the decade, business having increased, an office assistant was employed. In 1987 Polish Credit Union moved to new premises at 4017 Fraser Street, in the Polish Friendship Zgoda Society building. The Credit Union then employed Wojcik, as treasurer-manager, plus two tellers and an office assistant. The office was subsequently moved to 3979 Fraser Street at 24th Avenue in East Vancouver. Polish Credit Union continued to grow at a steady rate, and by the late 1990s it counted over one thousand members and $4 million in assets. However, the organization was not competitive in terms
of its financial products, and it could only provide a limited range of services to its members. The Board of Directors consequently requested and received a mandate from the members to amalgamate with a larger entity—one that would provide additional expertise and resources while respecting the distinctive character of the Polish financial co-operative. The directors considered several potential partners, but ultimately favoured a merger with GVC Credit Union. The merger was completed in April 1999. The office at 3979 Fraser Street was renovated and re-opened as the St. Casimir Branch of GVC Credit Union. The ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 31, 1999 was performed by long-time former Polish Credit Union treasurer-manager, Alex Wojcik, and the new branch was blessed by a priest from St. Casimir’s Church. As the decade of the 1990s closed, members of GVC Credit Union could look back with satisfaction on sustained growth over the past fifty years. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, eight parochial credit unions, most of which had very limited geographical bounds, were consolidated in a successful Catholic financial co-operative, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. The co-operative was enlarged and strengthened with the amalgamation of nine credit unions founded with occupational common bonds, and with three credit unions originally incorporated with ethnic common bonds. GVC Credit Union, drawing upon the characteristics of these diverse organizations, was one of the most cosmopolitan credit unions in the province. GVC Credit Union would enjoy considerable success in the decades that followed, as it matured and developed as a third generation financial services co-operative. In response to changing demographic and economic trends in the region, the Credit Union opened new branch offices and repositioned other services to its members. But before describing the Credit Union’s recent activities, it may be helpful to consider events in the 1970s and 1980s, when the credit union movement in British Columbia evolved into an important financial industry.
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The 1970s began on an optimistic note for residents of Greater Vancouver and the credit unions that served them. The population of Vancouver City in 1971 was nearly 430,000, while the population of Greater Vancouver was about one million. The census of 1971 indicated a significant change in the relative population of the metropolis and neighbouring communities. Twenty years earlier, the population of the City of Vancouver accounted for over 60 percent of the regional population. But in 1971, residents of Vancouver City made up only 43 percent of the regional population. The census indicated a trend that would become more pronounced in the decades to come, as suburban communities became increasingly prominent in the region. Surrey, for example, experienced substantial growth after the Port Mann Bridge opened in 1964. Between 1961 and 1971, Surreyâ€™s population increased by 36 percent, from about 70,000 to nearly 97,000. Demographic growth was reflected in commercial growth and suburban shopping centres like Guildford Mall in Surrey (1965) and Lougheed Mall in Burnaby (1969). Not surprisingly, the credit unions in Greater Vancouver closely followed these demographic and economic developments. The provincial credit union system was flourishing. In 1970, there were about 220 credit unions in the province. The overall number
Aerial view of Vancouver, showing the downtown commercial centre, the West End, and industrial activities in Yaletown, along with the train marshalling yard and railway roundhouse on False Creek, c. 1975. Image courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 515-9, photographer Gordon Sayle.
had declined from the high-water mark in 1961, when the province supported over three hundred independent credit unions. But affirmative consolidation was underway and it was most evident in Vancouver. Between 1970 and 1975, over forty small credit unions in the metropolis were dissolved and merged with larger organizations. The overall strength of the system was apparent in the growth of membership and assets. By 1970, the system had evolved from a loose confederation of savings and loans co-operatives into a modern, competitive, and expansive financial industry. Provincial credit union assets of $346 million in 1970 would burgeon to $1 billion in 1974 and $4 billion in 1978. Over the same period, membership in provincial credit unions increased from 350,000 to over 900,000. The industry gathered momentum when the British Columbia Credit Union League and B.C. Central Credit Union merged in March 1970. The arrangement brought the support and supply services of the League together with the financial and legislative services of B.C. Central. The new organization continued to operate as B.C. Central Credit Union, but it was enlarged and offered a range of new services, including support and development assistance for small credit unions. George May, Centralâ€™s dynamic Chief Executive Officer, created a Development Office for small credit unions in 1973 and Philip Moore was hired to manage it. As other programs were implemented, B.C. Central required more space for its staff and operations. Ample accommodation was provided when the new Credit Union Centre opened in 1978 on the south side of False Creek. The attractive, nine-storey building on Creekside Drive overlooked a newly redeveloped Granville Island, with its public market, craft brewery, boutiques, and restaurants.
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Granville Island quickly became one of the most popular places in the city. After 1978, everyone who visited the place or lived nearby would notice the symbol of the international credit union movement displayed in an ornamental, gold-coloured relief on top of the Credit Union Centre. The Credit Union Foundation of British Columbia had a mailbox in the new building. It had been incorporated in 1958 under the Societies Act to provide financial assistance to “needy and worthy” high school graduates who aspired to further studies in academic, technical, or vocational fields. It originated with credit union pioneer Farley Dickinson, a founding member of Stry Credit Union and the British Columbia Credit Union League. After Dickinson’s death in 1961, the Foundation was managed by Lucille Sutherland, who served as its secretary-treasurer for many years. The Foundation was one of the many philanthropic arms of the credit union industry. All provincial credit unions contributed to it through a small annual levy, calculated on the number of contributors’ members, and through other donations and bequests commemorating individual credit union members. The philanthropic organization was originally called the Westcu Foundation—as in Western Canadian credit union—because provincial legislation precluded the use of the term “credit union” in any organization other than a financial co-operative. In 1975, revisions to the Credit Unions Act allowed the society to declare its affiliation with the credit union system and the Westcu Foundation was renamed the Credit Union Foundation of British Columbia. The industry reaped other benefits when the Credit Unions Act was revised in 1975. One of the amendments allowed credit unions to set their own interest rates. Until that time, credit unions had to apply to the Inspector of Credit Unions for permission to revise their rates. It was a cumbersome process and the Inspector did not always accede to their requests. With the 1975 amendments to the legislation, credit unions had much more freedom and were able to devise loan and deposit rates for their specific marketplaces. The amendments were also appreciated by the provincial regulator who, after 1975, was known as the Superintendent of Credit Unions.
Technological innovations for data processing and computer-enhanced banking operations advanced in the 1970s. Notable innovations were developed by Central Data Systems [CDS], an organization established by B.C. Central, and some of the largest credit unions in the province to provide an integrated computer service for the industry. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union joined the service in 1973. CDS became CUE Datawest Ltd., an independent company that provided data-processing services to many credit unions. The company subsequently adopted the Geac real-time, multi-branch online banking system. This fast, flexible, and efficient system was designed by the Geac Computer Corporation and developed in conjunction with Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity) in 1974. Vancity also created another very innovative product, the daily interest savings account. Known as Plan 24, it was initiated in 1967 and adopted by most provincial credit unions as they became computerized in the 1970s. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union adopted it in 1976. Plan 24 was a boon to the credit union movement and Vancity was applauded deservedly for sharing it freely. However, Vancity was also a source of consternation for some credit unions because of its assertive policy of opening new branches and desire to expand beyond its geographical common bond, viz. the corporate boundaries of the City of Vancouver. This ambitious and successful credit union was conceived in 1946, following a convention of the British Columbia Credit Union League in Powell River. Convention delegates endorsed a health insurance plan for members of affiliated credit unions and co-operatives. In order to extend the benefits to Vancouverites who were not members of one of the city’s many closed bond credit unions, several League members (including representatives of Rosary Credit Union and B.C. Projectionists’ Credit Union) advocated a new organization—one that would be open to anyone who resided in the City of Vancouver. The new financial co-operative was incorporated as Vancouver City Savings Credit Union on October 11, 1946 with Charter No. 161.
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Twenty years later, Vancity was the largest credit union in the province. It had grown by enrolling new members and by purchasing and absorbing smaller credit unions in the metropolis. By 1970, it had acquired no less than thirty credit unions. The mergers and amalgamations were facilitated by the British Columbia Credit Union League and B.C. Central Credit Union, and were approved by the Inspector of Credit Unions. In several cases, the mergers resulted in new branch offices for Vancity. But George McCulloch, who was the chief inspector in the 1960s and early 1970s, would not permit Vancity to operate beyond the geographic area defined in its 1946 charter. McCulloch believed he was acting in the best interests of the credit union movement by insisting that Vancity adhere to the letter of the Credit Unions Act. Some of the directors of B.C. Central, and many of the organizations they represented, supported the inspector’s stance. Directors and managers of Vancity, however, felt that they were being restrained unreasonably by an archaic coda of pre-war legislation. They wanted to expand their operations into the city’s growing suburbs and neighbouring communities. In February 1973, they challenged and contravened the common bond regulations by opening a new branch in the 4300 block of Hastings Street in North Burnaby. The provocative move was intended to secure new business and changes in the legislation. It succeeded on both scores. Under the revised Credit Unions Act of 1975, a credit union was allowed to admit anyone “who, in the opinion of the directors, may be conveniently served by the credit union.” By extension to this amendment, a credit union was permitted to operate in any location where, in the opinion of its directors, it might serve its members. The statute revision in 1975 was a milestone because it eliminated the geographical common bond. Large organizations like Surrey Credit Union and Richmond Savings, which wanted to extend their operations, welcomed the changes; but several smaller organizations were apprehensive. Indeed, some industry analysts wondered if small, urban-based credit unions had any future in the new era of expansionistic and relatively unfettered credit unions.
Phil Moore was optimistic. In June 1976, just before he took over the reins of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, he was asked about the prospects of smaller credit unions in a story in Enterprise magazine. At the time of the interview, he was the manager of credit union development at B.C. Central Credit Union. “I would be very unhappy to see the smaller credit unions disappear,” he said. “They show where credit unions in general came from and I think we need to maintain this quality.” Questioned further, he declared his faith “in the future of smaller credit unions” within the provincial credit union system. A few years later, Moore was elected to the Board of Directors of B.C. Central Credit Union. He served as a director of the umbrella organization (later known as Central Credit Union of British Columbia and Central 1 Credit Union) for twenty-six years. Throughout his tenure, he was a champion of smaller credit unions, although his perspective was not misted by nostalgia. Rather, he envisaged a place for smaller credit unions, located in urban and suburban regions like Greater Vancouver, as long as the organizations were well-managed and attuned to the needs of their members. He would later describe these credit unions as “niche players” in the provincial credit union system. “We work with small segments of the population that prefer to deal with us and we tailor our products and services to their unique needs, which often aren’t being met by the larger organizations,” he said. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was proud of its heritage as a financial services co-operative. The organization’s historical connection to parochial credit unions was acknowledged in a “Statement of Purpose” adopted by the Board of Directors in 1977. But the mandate statement was also pragmatic and looked to the future: The purpose of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union is to provide our members with a full range of savings and loan facilities at competitive rates and in such a manner to be able to deal personally with each individual member, and to assist each member to manage his affairs in a prudent and provident manner.
68 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union Our objective is to achieve the above purpose while paying competitive dividends, providing good quality working conditions, salaries and benefits to employees and earning a sufficient surplus to provide for statutory reserves and other reserves as might be deemed prudent.
The Credit Union Centre on Creekside Drive on the south side of False Creek opened in November 1978. It is still the ‘headquarters’ of the credit union system in B.C. Photograph by Emily Ingram, Central 1 Credit Union.
The hands and globe logo was originally designed in 1966 by CUNA International, later called the World Council of Credit Unions. The logo was officially adopted by B.C. Central (now known as Central 1 Credit Union) in 1978, although some provincial credit unions were displaying it years earlier.
In 1977, a new system of data processing improved office transactions and provided more efficient services to members. By the end of the year, the Credit Union had nearly $6.5 million in assets. Two years later, it had assets of almost $12 million and over 2,500 members. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was then (1979) operating three branches: 1344 West Broadway (the main office) and 4007 Knight Street in Vancouver, and 5166 Joyce Street in Burnaby. The Credit Union was in good shape. Its strength, resilience, and exceptional leadership enabled it to survive the economic recession of the 1980s and the tumult of the residential mortgage market. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, economic prosperity, population growth, and relatively low interest rates sustained a housing boom in most parts of Canada. In Vancouver, the postwar housing boom was evident in Renfrew Heights, Fraserview, and Champlain Heights. Burnaby – described by the Vancouver Sun as the “suburb of happy homes” – also saw substantial residential development. During this period, conditions were opportune for credit unions since they didn’t have much competition from chartered banks in the residential mortgage market. The federal Bank Act had restricted chartered banks from loans secured by real estate and constrained them to a 6 percent interest ceiling. In 1954, with the introduction of a National Housing Act (NHA) and revisions to the Bank Act, chartered banks were allowed to make mortgage loans, although they were still not permitted to charge more than 6 percent interest. In the mid-1950s, when the interest rate for mortgages insured by the Central (later Canada) Mortgage and Housing Corporation was only 5 ¼ percent, the chartered banks entered the mortgage market. By 1958, they held about 33 percent of NHA mortgages. But when the Bank of Canada permitted the interest rate to rise above 6 percent, the banks turned away from residential mortgages. In
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1962, the chartered banks occupied less than 1 percent of the market. Other financial institutions—notably trust and mortgage companies, finance companies, caisse populaires and credit unions— were the principal lenders in that market, at least for a while. Significant revisions to the Bank Act were made in 1967 and in the process the 6 percent ceiling rate was removed. According to the history of one of Canada’s largest chartered banks, the 1967 revision “positioned the banks to stage a counter-attack” on financial institutions which allegedly had enjoyed an advantage since the Second World War “in the unevenly regulated world of Canadian finance.” Of course, this was not how the credit union movement saw the situation! During the next few years, credit unions endeavoured to forestall the chartered banks by increasing their mortgage loan portfolios. While credit unions continued to offer consumer loans, the ratio of mortgages rose substantially. By 1976, some of the larger credit unions had apportioned 70 percent of their loans to residential mortgages. The mortgage interest rate was 11 percent at the time, but within five years interest rates had more than doubled. Interest rates are usually tied to the prime rate of the Bank of Canada. In an effort to combat inflation and control the money supply, and to keep in step with the Federal Reserve Board of the United States, the Bank of Canada had increased its prime rate. The bank rate rose from 11 percent in 1978 to 14 percent in 1979 and 21 percent in 1980. Residential mortgage rates climbed accordingly. In 1980, the average rate for a five-year mortgage was 17 percent. A year later, it was nearly 23 percent. Homeowners with existing mortgages faced monthly payment increases of up to 40 percent. At the same time, house prices in Vancouver doubled. This created a dire situation for young families entering the real estate market for the first time. Phil Moore described the situation in a credit union newsletter in March 1981. He compared average house prices, family incomes, and mortgage payments from 1971 and 1981 to determine the relative “affordability of purchasing a house in Vancouver.” The comparison is summarized in Figure 1.
The article concluded, ruefully, that “the dream of owning a home for the average Vancouver family, who does not already own a home” would be difficult to realize for many residents. But in spite of the risks involved, many aspiring homeowners, fearing that interest rates and house prices would keep climbing, pursued the dream, albeit at considerable cost. Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union assisted its members by pricing mortgages at the lower end of the market and providing flexible repayment plans in one-year and three-year mortgages, at a time when banks were insisting on fiveyear closed mortgages. The high interest rates on mortgages also put pressure on the interest that credit unions were able to pay on deposit accounts.
70 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Staff at the Knight Street branch in 1981. Back row, left to right: Gill Holwill and Theresa Van Grol. Front row, left to right: Kathie Sawle, Tracy Sparkes, Susan Williams, and Balbir Bains. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
During this unnerving period in the 1980s, many credit unions were faced with a ‘mismatch’ between the interest rates they earned on mortgage loans and the interest they paid out on term deposit accounts. The chartered banks didn’t have the same problem, because most of their loans were demand loans that were pegged to the prime rate. They were also less susceptible to discrepancies between liability expenses and asset yields—i. e. mismatches—because bank deposit rates were tied to their lending rates. Amendments to the Bank Act in 1980 also benefitted chartered banks in the mortgage marketplace. In the early 1980s, Canada’s economy plummeted into the worst recession since the Great Depression. British Columbia’s economy, which was based largely on resource industries, fared badly with the collapse of export markets and high rates of unemployment. During these difficult years, many credit unions faltered. Some organizations struggled because of interest mismatches, some because they had an excessive number of default loans, and some because they did not achieve enough retained earnings to meet their regulated capital requirements. Credit unions that struggled under these categories were placed ‘under supervision’ by a regulatory agency known as the Credit Union Reserve Board. The Reserve Board had been created in 1958 by the British Columbia Credit Union League, B.C. Central Credit Union, and the provincial government. It functioned as both a safety net and watchdog for the industry, by maintaining a fund that guaranteed the deposits of credit union members and by providing guidance for credit unions that were experiencing difficulties. A credit union that was under supervision was monitored closely by the provincial regulator and its operations were contingent on the Reserve Board’s approval. Between 1980 and 1984, about thirty credit unions—including some of the largest in the province—were under supervision. In 1985, the Reserve Board was renamed the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation [CUDIC] and its powers of supervision were increased. Under CUDIC’s direction, small, struggling credit unions were instructed to amalgamate with larger ones. Consequently, while some credit unions faltered during this difficult decade, none of them failed.
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Thanks to good governance, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was able to avoid problems that beset other credit unions. In fact, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union managed to grow at a very respectable rate in the early 1980s. In 1982, it expanded its membership and financial base with the addition of Kenworth Employees’ Credit Union and Bakovan Credit Union. Also in 1982, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union expanded its operations by opening a new office at 9626 Cameron Street in the Lougheed Plaza in Burnaby. Describing the new branch, the Credit Union newsletter (October 1982) noted: “The location will be of benefit to up to 500 of our existing members and almost 80 have already indicated a desire to relocate their accounts. In addition, we hope to offer our services to the substantial number of potential members living in the East Burnaby/Coquitlam area.” At the same time, the Credit Union moved its head office to the new premises, thus freeing up space in the office at 1344 West Broadway. In April 1983, the Knight Street branch was relocated two blocks east to 1675 Kingsway in the newly built Sunshine Plaza. Karen Chan was the branch manager. The Knight Street branch traced its lineage back to St. Patrick’s Credit Union on Main Street. At the official opening of the new branch in Sunshine Plaza on August 20, 1983, the historical connection of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union to earlier parochial credit unions was acknowledged reverently. The pastor of St. Joseph Parish blessed the new premises and Nora Kelly, who had joined St. Patrick’s Credit Union in 1941, cut the ceremonial ribbon. By this time, Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union was serving a larger public than the Roman Catholic community. Accordingly, the Board of Directors recommended a Special Resolution for the 1984 annual general meeting—a resolution that would expand the Credit Union’s common bond to include all residents of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. The Special Resolution, which was adopted by the membership, also changed the name of the organization to Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union [GVC Credit Union]. In their 1984 annual report to members, the executive described the outcome of a recent operational review they had undertaken
with the Credit Union’s management team: “During this process, we reviewed our statement of purpose and agreed that we should continue our current policy of stressing personal service, orientated to family members. It is our belief that the future of our credit union lies in providing a personal service alternative to persons living in the Greater Vancouver area.” In September 1984, the members endorsed a proposal to increase the base capital of GVC Credit Union through equity shares. The concept of equity shares was developed within the industry when it was evident that credit unions could not rely solely on income and retained earnings to build up equity. Equity shares were authorized by the Credit Unions Act of 1981. By purchasing non-voting, non-guaranteed equity shares, members contributed substantially to the reserves of their credit unions. In exchange, members received a fixed rate of return that was greater than interest paid on ordinary share accounts. GVC Credit Union was among the first credit unions in British Columbia to establish equity share accounts. It later added patronage equity shares which, as the name implies, are given to members based on their patronage or use of services, such as chequing accounts. In 1986 the City of Vancouver celebrated its centennial and hosted an exceptionally successful world’s fair. Expo ’86 was opened in May by Prince Charles and Princess Diana and attracted fourteen million visitors before it closed six months later. It had, a Vancouver historian observed, a “lasting impact on the city’s development and self-confidence.” Regional growth was also spurred by SkyTrain which began operating that year. The SkyTrain route from Vancouver to New Westminster followed part of the former B.C. Electric Railway interurban tram line. The advent of rapid transit in 1986 led to new residential and commercial development in South Vancouver and Burnaby, neighbourhoods served by GVC Credit Union. The Credit Union added ATM [automated teller machine] service at this time and introduced the CUE automated banking machine access card and the MasterCard transaction card for its members. A few years later, new MemberCards were introduced for the Interac
72 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
The Knight Street office relocated to the Sunshine Plaza at 1675 Kingsway in July 1983. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
West Broadway office in 1982 with new signage and a stylized GVC logo. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
Cash Machines. GVC Credit Union was the first financial co-operative in Canada to use these MemberCards. During this period, GVC Credit Union relocated and consolidated some of its offices. In December 1984, the Joyce Street office in Burnaby merged with the Sunshine Plaza office on Kingsway. The merger strengthened operations of the enlarged branch and effected cost savings. In December 1985, the Broadway office moved one block west to larger premises at 1402 West Broadway. In 1991, the services of the West Broadway branch and the Sunshine Plaza branch were amalgamated in a new, spacious and highly-visible location near the corner of Cambie Street and West 25th Avenue. The new branch at 4088 Cambie Street was officially opened by Mrs. Ethel Wheeldon in July 1991. She had participated in the Pacific Co-operative Institute study club at Rosary Hall in 1938 and had been a member of Rosary Credit Union since it was incorporated in June 1940. The pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish attended the opening and offered a benediction for the new facility. Within three months, it had generated more than $3 million in business. In addition to providing retail products and services to its members, the Cambie Street branch also specialized in commercial mortgages. Richard Rochard was the branch manager. In the meantime, GVC Credit Union had established a presence in Surrey, one of the fastest growing communities in the province. Its population grew by nearly 25 percent between 1981 and 1986 and by a whopping 35 percent over the next half decade. The Surrey office opened in August 1989 in a small commercial mall called Impact Plaza. Located on the east side of 152nd Street, between 100 Avenue and 101 Avenue, Surrey, it was conveniently close to one of the largest shopping complexes in the region, Guildford Town Centre. GVC Credit Union celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1990 by holding a picnic for members and employees and their families on the grounds of the Burnaby Village Museum. To acknowledge the occasion and its connection to the community, GVC Credit Union donated funds to the Burnaby heritage centre for the restoration of an historical railway hand car.
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The Golden Jubilee was also commemorated in a special 50th Anniversary supplementary edition of the GVC Credit Union News, published in May 1990. It was prepared by journalist and historian Clarence Morin, and the Credit Union’s general manager. In a postscript entitled “Of Generations Past and the Outlook for the Future,” Phil Moore remarked on how the industry had changed over a period of fifty years, spanning two generations, and the challenges that smaller organizations, like GVC Credit Union, might face in the next generation. As ever, he was optimistic: “In spite of our size, we still enjoy differences that make us unique [from chartered banks and large regional credit unions]. Our head office is local and our boards of directors are elected by, and from, those we serve….We are co-operatives with control of our operations vested in those we serve….By working together and perfecting the basic co-operative principles on which we are founded, we believe we will meet these challenges successfully and in such a way as to continue to play a vital role in the lives of our member owners.” The Golden Jubilee celebrations were organized with the assistance of staff at the Credit Union’s administration department. At that time, the administrative offices, along with the Credit Union’s Burnaby branch, were located at 9626 Cameron Street in the Lougheed Plaza. In 1992, both the branch and the head office moved to another location within the plaza. The new location at 9608 Cameron Street was more spacious than the previous one and more prominently situated. The GVC Credit Union executive at this time included Don McDonough, president; Les Hausch, first vice-president; and Carl Schretlen, second vice-president. The three officers had devoted many years of dedicated service to the credit union movement. Don McDonough had been a director and president of St. Francis de Sales Credit Union in Burnaby and negotiated its merger with Rosary Credit Union in 1965. He served on the Board of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union from 1966 onwards, and began his first term as president in 1977. He served as president until 1992 and as a director until he retired from the Board in 1996. Les Hausch was then the operations manager of an international
distribution company. A former director and president of Kenworth Employees Credit Union, he had joined the Board of Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union in 1982. The following year, he was elected second vice-president. The position of second vice-president on the Board was created in 1979 and Judi Corra, Alf Corra’s daughter, was the first incumbent. An accountant and former manager of the Credit Union’s Joyce Street branch, she rejoined the Board of Directors in 1996. Ms. Corra and Mr. Hausch continue their service as GVC Credit Union directors today. Carl Schretlen’s association with the credit union movement began after the Second World War when he owned a coffee shop at 138 Water Street in Vancouver’s Gastown and counted Frank Filgiano as a favourite customer. He joined Rosary Credit Union in 1948 and was elected to its Board of Directors ten years later. He retired in 1972, when he moved to Port Alberni to start a new business; on returning to Vancouver in 1982, he was re-elected to the Board. He was an executive director at the time of his death in December 1996. In a tribute, Phil Moore noted appreciatively that “he provided a link to the days when credit unions were young…to the days when credit unions were run primarily by volunteers. Carl Schretlen embodied the spirit of those early pioneers and brought that enthusiasm to our Board and Credit Union.” A bursary with the Credit Union Foundation was established to commemorate his service and perpetuate his memory. The other members of the Board of Directors at this time included Gary MacDonald, who was first elected as a director in 1966, and Johannes (Jo) Mulder, a federal government employee who joined the Board in 1984. Geza (Jack) Nagy, the former treasurer of Hungarian Credit Union, was elected to the Board in 1985 and served until 1992. Glenn McLaughlin, a City of Richmond employee, was a relative newcomer. He was first elected to the Board in 1987, although he had been a member of the Credit Union for some time. The novice directors in 1990 were Ken Sherwood, a chartered accountant, and Gilles Deschenes, who worked for Canada Post. Messrs. McLaughlin, Sherwood, and Deschenes have continued to provide leadership as directors of GVC Credit Union to the present day.
74 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
In 1990, the Board of Directors had recently adopted new by-laws and a new committee structure. The Credit Committee was responsible for lending activities, although most of the ordinary loans were made by branch loans officers under the direction of Phil Moore. A Finance Committee monitored the credit union’s financial affairs, while an Audit Committee liaised with external auditors and provincial government inspectors to ensure compliance with the Credit Unions Act. A Membership Committee looked after membership programs and meetings. About this time, the Board of Directors also developed a Mission Statement to augment the Statement of Purpose issued in 1977. The new Mission Statement was formally articulated in 1993. The preamble stated that “GVC Credit Union is a member-owned financial co-operative which was formed in 1940 by members joining together to help one another.” The purpose of the Credit Union was four-fold:
Staff at 1344 West Broadway in 1982. Back row, left to right: Phil Moore, Maria Kwong, Madeleine Wong, Michele Hudson, Richard Rochard. Front row, left to right: Siobhain Finn, Maita Ronquillo, Chita Anonuevo, Moira Keogh, Mary Van Someran, Rita Derkson. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
• To offer savings and loan facilities oriented to the needs of individuals and families in Greater Vancouver. • To provide members with financial services at competitive rates and in such a manner as to be able to deal personally with each individual member. • To assist members in prudently managing their financial affairs by providing timely and appropriate financial information and personal loans and deposit counselling. • To offer other financial services if (in the opinion of the policy makers) they provide a member benefit.
The 1993 Mission Statement reiterated the objective of the Credit Union, which was to pay competitive dividends for members and provide good working conditions for employees, while meeting its statutory obligations. Members of GVC Credit Union in the mid-1990s were served in four branches and by four very capable branch managers. Richard Rochard, having launched the Credit Union’s Surrey office, became the manager of the Cambie Street branch when it opened in 1991. His successor as branch manager in Surrey was Robert (Bob) Hattrick. Balbir Bains had recently (1989) been appointed as manager of the Broadway branch, while Karen Chan managed the Burnaby branch in Lougheed Plaza.
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As the twentieth century drew to a close, GVC Credit Union was securely placed within the provincial credit union system: it served over six thousand members and had assets of around $90 million. But as GVC Credit Union directors and managers anticipated, the last decade of the century was characterized by more changes and challenges within the industry. Some of the changes came from B.C. Central Credit Union which, in 1996, was renamed Central Credit Union of British Columbia. A few years earlier—in response to demands from the province’s largest credit unions—the umbrella organization had introduced a system of proportional representation, which replaced the traditional Rochdale co-operative practice of ‘one member, one vote’ for decision-making. Adopted on a trial basis in 1984 in a protocol known as the Nanoose Accord, the system was implemented fully in 1991. Thereafter, a credit union’s vote at provincial conventions was proportionally based on the size of its membership. In a related move, Central’s Board was adjusted to ensure regional representation from the North, the Kootenays, the Okanagan, Vancouver Island, and the Lower Mainland. Each of the regions was associated with a Peer Group in Central’s governance structure. Credit Unions in the Lower Mainland were further divided into two Peer Groups: one (Group Five), consisting of large credit unions, the other (Group Six) consisting of small regional credit unions, including GVC Credit Union. [See Appendix 3]. Other changes came from the provincial government. In 1990, the Credit Unions Act was replaced by new legislation, the Credit Union Incorporation Act and the Financial Institutions Act. A new organization, Stabilization Central Credit Union of British Columbia, was established to monitor the industry, along with a new regulatory agency, the Financial Institutions Commission [FICOM]. The new legislation and statutory agencies were established in response to the financial difficulties of the previous decade, with advice from the industry. Phil Moore chaired the B.C. Central Legislative Committee that advised the Ministry of Finance on the new legislation, and he subsequently served on the Board of Directors of ‘Stab Central’, as the monitor is known in the industry. While the
new legislation strengthened the system, it added another layer of complexity to the governance of credit unions. The industry also changed in the closing decades of the last century because of mergers and amalgamations among credit unions. Enterprise magazine referred to the 1980s as a decade of “merger mania,” when dozens of credit unions of all sizes and bonds merged, amalgamated, or purchased each other. Using a nuptial analogy, Enterprise remarked: “Some [mergers] were marriages of convenience, some were actively encouraged by CUDIC and a few were resisted by a significant number of their members. In some cases the partners were previously cohabitating, more often they were in direct competition.” Most of the mergers in the 1980s involved credit unions in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. More than thirty such transactions occurred during this decade, with GVC Credit Union accounting for six of them. The pace accelerated in the 1990s. When the decade opened, there were 108 credit unions in the province; when the decade closed, there were only seventy-two—although the industry was larger than ever, in terms of financial assets and number of members. The consolidation of the industry presented new challenges to small, urban-based organizations like GVC Credit Union. However, it also provided new opportunities. By emphasizing personal service and developing products tailored specifically for its members, GVC Credit Union was able to remain competitive with chartered banks and its larger, regional credit union cousins. Moreover, by looking closely at census data and other detailed, demographic records, the directors and managers were able to identity new places where GVC Credit Union could operate profitably and build on its success as a niche market player. In this manner, GVC Credit Union entered the new millennium with confidence.
76 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
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The new millennium really began on the first day of 2001, but it was universally celebrated a year before. While revellers eagerly anticipated midnight celebrations on the last night of 1999, financial industry executives waited with trepidation. Financiers, along with business and government leaders in many parts of the world, were worried about a data-storage problem known as Y2K (an abbreviation for the Year 2000) and potential problems in electronic time formatting and computing because of a so-called Millennium Bug. Substantial resources were invested in re-programming computers and in other remediation measures. In the event, when the digital clocks clicked over from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000, very few problems ensued. The Wall Street Journal later described Y2K as “the hoax of the century.” But at the time, the anxieties were keenly felt and Central Credit Union of B.C. was applauded by its members for being proactive in its efforts to provide a digital bulwark for the industry. At GVC Credit Union, managers and directors focussed on business plans for the new century. Using census data from 1996 and 2001, the Credit Union executive could discern demographic and financial trends that were helpful in developing products and services and placing branch offices. Operational records from existing branches were analyzed closely in order to ensure efficiencies and benefits for members. Regrettably, business at the St. Casimir
The administrative office and Brentwood branch of GVC Credit Union in 2015, with the international credit union symbol of ‘helping hands in many lands’. Photo by Patrick Dunae.
branch on Fraser Street, which opened in 1999 when GVC Credit Union purchased Polish Credit Union, did not develop as the directors had hoped. The branch was closed early in 2001 and members’ accounts were transferred to the nearby Cambie Street branch. The Loughheed Plaza branch in Burnaby was operating efficiently, but residents in other Burnaby neighbourhoods were not well served by credit unions. Accordingly, in November 2000 a new branch was opened at 1801 Willingdon Avenue, across from Brentwood Town Centre. The Credit Union’s administrative offices were transferred from Cameron Street to Willingdon Avenue at this time, where they remain today. Across the Fraser River, the Credit Union’s business in Surrey was growing, just as the community itself was growing. Surrey grew by nearly 14 percent between 1996 and 2001, and by 2006 Surrey would account for nearly 20 percent of Greater Vancouver’s population. The Impact Plaza office was too small to handle the growing volume of business, and in 2004 the Surrey branch was relocated to larger premises in the Towngate Shopping Centre at 9989 152nd Street. In 2004, the GVC Credit Union’s newsletter—always one of the best in the industry—was published online in full colour. Beginning in 2006, the Credit Union’s newsletters and website sported a new slogan: “For Real People.” The slogan was adopted after meetings with a communications consultant who asked the executive to describe the Credit Union’s target market. The reply was “real people”—a phrase that denoted everyday people of modest means. It’s an apt slogan and to historically-minded members evokes the founding spirit of the credit union movement.
78 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
The foyer of the Brentwood and Administrative Office at 1801 Willingdon Avenue, Burnaby. The distinctive floor tiles, with the ‘helping hands’ logo, were originally designed for the former Cambie Street branch. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
With information from the 2006 census and a mountain of other data, the GVC Credit Union executive identified a neighbourhood in New Westminster that supported a population of over twenty thousand residents but had few financial institutions. Acting on the opportunity, in September 2007 GVC Credit Union opened a new branch in the Royal Square Mall at McBride Boulevard and 8th Avenue in New Westminster. The GVC newsletter reported that the new branch was “an excellent fit with our two existing Burnaby branches and our North Surrey Branch. It is almost exactly midpoint between these branches and we anticipate it will provide extra convenience to over 300 members who live in the immediate area.” Greta Munro, previously based at the Cambie Street branch, was the manager of the New Westminster office. The strong showing of the Royal Square Branch contributed to GVC’s solid performance in 2007, when it grew by nearly 10 percent. The increase in net earnings for that year—along with good management and characteristic prudence—helped the Credit Union survive the global financial crisis of 2008/2009. The crisis was caused by a number of complicated economic issues and financial activities: These included financial imbalances in Asian, American, and European markets and a failure in market-conduct regulation in the United States and Europe. A speculative housing bubble in the United States, imprudent mortgage lending practices by some major financial institutions, and the misuse of financial instruments known as Asset Based Commercial Paper all combined to form complex chains of risk and debt. The links in the chains ultimately proved to be fragile and when they broke financial confidence dissolved. In an effort to rectify the situation, central banks dropped interest rates to unprecedented levels. The prime rate of the Bank of Canada declined from 6.25 percent in January to 3.5 percent in December 2008. The prime rate fell to less than 1 percent the next year—the lowest it had ever been since the Bank of Canada was founded seventy years before. Once again, credit unions were faced with a mismatch between liability expenses and asset yields. Fortunately, Canada’s financial institutions were better placed than their counterparts in the United States and Eur-
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ope. Canada’s chartered banks and most of its other financial institutions survived the crisis of 2008/2009. The credit union industry in British Columbia was shaken by the crisis; however, the consequences were not as dire as they had been during the recession of the early 1980s. While the housing market in B.C. declined in late 2008, it rebounded in early 2009 and credit unions came through the crisis in good health. In July 2008, the system had increased its diversification when Central Credit Union of British Columbia purchased its counterpart in Ontario to create Central 1 Credit Union. GVC Credit Union general manager Phil Moore served on the board of the new organization. A priority was to assure the public that credit unions were safe and stable financial institutions. As Moore recalled, credit unions suffered a problem of ‘guilt by association’ during the financial crisis. Some credit union members who worried about the consequences of the financial crisis started to transfer their savings to the big five chartered banks on the assumption that the federal government would backstop the chartered banks at any cost. The assumption was based on a notion that Canada’s largest banks were too big to fail. Prior to the crisis, B.C. credit union leaders had suggested to the provincial regulator, the Financial Institutions Commission [FICOM], that deposit insurance coverage be increased to $250,000 per depositor. The suggestion was made in order to lessen the disparity between the insurance scheme in British Columbia, which guaranteed funds up to $100,000, and Alberta, which provided unlimited deposit insurance. At the time, the governments of British Columbia and Alberta wanted to combine the two provincial financial markets under the TILMA [Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement] initiative. That initiative ground to a halt around the time of the financial crisis. In order to ensure public confidence following the crisis, the British Columbia government (which has fiduciary responsibility for the provincial credit union system) arbitrarily amended the Financial Institutions Act in November 2008 to provide unlimited deposit insurance. “We did not request [an] unlimited [guarantee]
as we were concerned that it could lead to moral hazard,” Moore said. In this context, the term ‘moral hazard’ refers to a financial management problem, where an agent acting on behalf of other principals or parties undertakes a course of action that may not be in the best interests of the subordinate entities. While the advent of unlimited deposit insurance undoubtedly generated goodwill and confidence for the credit union system in British Columbia, it also brought increased government regulation and administrative costs. The very large credit unions were able to absorb the costs of administrating new operating requirements easily, but for smaller credit unions the post-2008 compliance regimen was burdensome. Even so, GVC Credit Union managed to grow during this tumultuous period. Its growth (9.3 percent) was not as robust as the year before, but it was gratifying, nonetheless. As Moore noted in his yearend report to members, “in 2008 we were only modestly affected by the deteriorating economy and rapidly declining interest rates.” He explained that GVC Credit Union did not own Asset Backed Commercial Paper and “thus was insulated from the direct impact of the financial market turmoil that hit the major banks worldwide during 2008.” He also noted that “a number of our management team were with GVC back in the 1980s when B.C. experienced its last recession, [and] thus we can draw on that experience to help guide us through any troubled waters that may lie ahead.” Team members who had guided the GVC Credit Union ship through the heavy seas of the early 1980s included managers Moore and Rochard, and directors Les Hausch and Judi Corra. The 2008 storm was weathered with the leadership of the Board chair, Glenn McLaughlin, and with guidance from directors Ken Sherwood and Gilles Deschenes, who had joined the Board in the late 1980s, and Herb Gill, who joined the Board in 2003. In June 2008, two newly elected directors joined the Board: Rick Orford, an entrepreneur with experience in electronic communications; and John Schretlen, a commercial airline pilot who had a lifelong relationship with the Credit Union. Encouraged by his father, long-time GVC director and former board president Carl Schretlen, he opened a savings account when he was a schoolboy and Rosary Credit Union
80 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
A springtime view of the New Westminster Office in Royal Square on McBride Avenue. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
was operating from a cubby hole in Frank Filgiano’s printing business on Granville Street. The economic seas in 2009 were heavy but not as bad as they had been the year before. In 2009, GVC Credit Union’s assets grew by almost 6 percent or nearly $11 million. Moreover, the Credit Union benefitted for a short time due to the cost of money falling faster than the yield on loans. Under those circumstances, GVC Credit Union was able to build up its reserves (retained earnings) in anticipation of tougher times ahead. The local economy was still weak, but it was recovering. Vancouver house prices, for example, which had fallen by 15 percent during the second half of 2008, were on the rise again and would recoup their previous levels by the end of 2009. Anticipating further growth in its operations, GVC Credit Union invested in a new banking system, which replaced one designed many years earlier. The Credit Union recorded strong earnings the next year (2010), and with continued growth in the years that followed, GVC Credit Union was able to add to its retained earnings and strengthen its capital base. It was enjoying sustained growth in 2012 when Shaun Olafson, a self-employed entrepreneur, joined the Board of Directors. In the meantime, GVC Credit Union had opened a new branch in the Kingsgate Mall at 370 East Broadway, near the intersection of Kingsway and Main Street. With the September 2010 opening of its Kingsgate Branch, GVC Credit Union returned to Mount Pleasant where its antecedent, St. Patrick’s Credit Union, began nearly sixty years before. The directors and senior managers of the Credit Union had been following the rejuvenation of this area for some time. As noted earlier, this part of East Vancouver was economically depressed and afflicted by crime in the 1970s and 1980s; but over a generation Mount Pleasant was revitalized and acquired a considerable caché. The new residents, who refurbished the neighbourhood’s Edwardian-era houses and enjoy the hipster culture of Main Street, augment an older but well-established community whose residents held firm while Mount Pleasant was in transition. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, honoured guests included Anna Terrana, one of the Credit Union’s first employees and a for-
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mer Member of Parliament for Vancouver East. Another honoured guest, Tom O’Flynn, was a long-time resident of Mount Pleasant and a former director of St. Patrick’s Credit Union and Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union. The new branch was blessed by the Rev. Father Vincent Hawkswell, the pastor of St. Patrick’s Church. Nick Wong, former assistant manager at the Cambie office, was the Kingsgate branch manager. The Kingsgate Branch is bright, attractive, and vibrant. But it’s quite small. In terms of physical space, it is one of the smallest member service branches in the GVC Credit Union system. Its modest size is indicative of a new kind of relationship banking. As the GVC Credit Union directors noted in their 2012 Annual Report, “Our business is changing, perhaps more so than in any time since we were founded in 1940. Members are now serving themselves electronically, instead of visiting their branch weekly to arrange their day-to-day financial matters….Rather than seeing the branch as a high traffic location…the branch is becoming a touch point where members can see their credit union staff on those relatively rare occasions [when] they feel a need to visit the office.” For GVC Credit Union, the reduced foot traffic in its branches prompted a re-evaluation of the physical space required to provide member services. It didn’t make sense, therefore, to renew the lease on the Cambie Street branch in June 2011. Rather, members’ accounts were transferred to either the new Kingsgate branch or the Willingdon branch. Richard Rochard and the commercial loans office also transferred to the Willingdon branch at this time. A reduction in member visits prompted the Board to relocate the Surrey branch from the Towngate Shopping Centre to smaller premises in the Impact Plaza in April 2014. The Board appreciated, however, that members still wanted “brick and mortar branches where they can go and visit ‘the voice at the end of the phone’ for those more important transactions, such as mortgages and term deposits.” Although the decline in walk-in transactions is an industry-wide phenomenon, it’s a worrisome trend for credit unions that pride themselves on personalized services. A recent Ipsos Customer Service Index (CSI) survey indicated that credit unions ranked well
ahead of banks and other financial institutions in overall quality of service. The CSI survey also indicated that people who belong to credit unions appreciate “good customer service more highly than bank customers.” Credit union members put high value on being “treated as individuals by friendly staff.” In contrast, bank customers tend “to place more value on attributes such as number of branches, rewards programs, and number of available ATMs when choosing their financial institutions.” In organizations like GVC Credit Union, management and staff like to greet members by name and establish a rapport with them. But with fewer members walking through the door and transacting business with an affable assistant, personal relationships are muted. The decline in visits also impacts the industry’s way of doing business. As the importance of in-person visits has been reduced, banks across the country have been consolidating their branches in order to lower branch delivery costs. This allows the banks to offer better interest rates for depositors and borrowers, thus putting pressure on GVC and other credit unions to follow suit. The reduction in foot traffic points to another trend within the credit union industry – a decline in member participation in governance. This trend can be expressed as a corollary: as financial co-operatives increase in size, active participation by ordinary members decreases. With the exception of single-branch credit unions in small towns or villages, annual general meetings do not ordinarily generate too much interest among credit unionists. Member apathy is vexatious for the directors of many urban-based credit unions; but GVC Credit Union’s directors haven’t been anxious on this score, since annual general meetings—held in recent years at the Executive Inn in Burnaby—have been well attended. The early practice of holding monthly membership meetings, even with a rousing game of bingo as an incentive, seems incredible today. Yet while member participation has declined, the engagement of credit unions with their respective communities has increased notably in recent years. In the 1940s, credit unions concentrated on providing service to their members, but today the system has affirmed and reasserted its social mandate. All credit
82 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
An interior view of the Surrey Branch in the Impact Plaza at 101 Avenue. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
The exterior of the Kingsgate Mall Office on East Broadway in Mount Pleasant. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
unions contribute in various ways to the public good and their social commitment is another factor that sets financial co-operatives apart from chartered banks. GVC Credit Union supports several community organizations, including the Marguerite Dixon Society, which provides transitional housing and counselling services for women and children affected by domestic violence; L’Arche Vancouver Society, which helps people with developmental disabilities; and Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, which provides an array of social activities and services for people in the community. Each year, the Credit Union sponsors youths in a summertime, co-operative leadership program known as YES [Youth Excellence Society] Camp. In addition, the organization sponsors a soccer school for boys and girls, and provides bursaries in memory of Frank Filgiano to students in Catholic elementary schools. Every year since 1987, GVC Credit Union has raised money for a Christmas Hamper program that distributes baskets of delicious and nourishing food to families in need. GVC Credit Union has been closely associated with the Credit Union Foundation of British Columbia for decades. Phil Moore served on its Board of Trustees for nearly thirty years, while his beloved wife, Rose Moore, was the Foundation’s administrator for nearly as long. Mrs. Moore passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in September 2014. In a tribute from the Foundation’s Board she was extolled for her diligence and dedication: “Her constant reminder to all Trustees about the value of credit unions in this day and age was so often the basis of her deliberation on any matter. It was that reminder that kept us on the path and purpose of what we were all doing together, helping people who needed financial assistance in acquiring further education….She will be missed in so many ways by the Trustees, BC credit unions and the many, many students who she helped throughout the years.” Outside the province, GVC Credit Union contributes to the education and social responsibility programs of Canada’s national trade associate for credit unions, Credit Union Central of Canada. It also contributes to the World Council of Credit Unions, which supports credit unions in developing countries. The GVC Credit Union has
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earned kudos from many provincial, national, and international cooperative bodies because of its outreach activities. Those myriad activities contribute to GVC Credit Union’s reputation within the industry as an organization that ‘punches above its weight’. The analogy is apt in other ways and is a reminder that the financial industry is very competitive. And for GVC Credit Union, the competition is very close. Within a few blocks of the Willingdon office, Canada’s largest credit union (Vancity) has established an outlet. The main office of British Columbia’s second largest credit union (Coast Capital) is located a few blocks from GVC Credit Union’s Surrey branch. Other large credit unions operate near GVC Credit Union branches at Kingsgate Mall in Vancouver and Royal Square in New Westminster. The chartered banks are competing for the same business, in the same locations. In this kind of competitive arena, it is a challenge to stay standing. Yet GVC Credit Union stood strongly in 2014. It had assets of over $200 million and net (retained) earnings of $11 million. Its six thousand members earned a good dividend on their equity shares and life insured share savings. In relative size, it was positioned securely in the middle ranks of the industry league table. Various performance measurements confirmed that it was a profitable and relatively efficient enterprise. GVC Credit Union continues to meet the objectives of its mission statement. It offers savings and loans facilities tailored specifically for individuals and families in the market it serves. It provides services at competitive rates to members and, as far as possible, engages personally with individual members. The Credit Union advises members on the best ways to manage their financial affairs, not only in accumulating wealth but also in handling personal debts. Richard Rochard, who retired in March 2013, commented that one of the most satisfying aspects of his work was to provide counsel and practical help to members who were struggling financially. Some of these members had been turned away by banks and larger credit unions when they applied for loans. Sometimes they were slow in repaying the loans they received from GVC Credit Union, but they did not often default. Hence, the Credit Union’s ‘impaired loan ratio’
(another performance measure) was comparable to other financial institutions. If a compassion quotient was a recognized benchmark, GVC Credit Union’s performance would exceed industry standards. In its mission statement, the Credit Union also addressed the needs of its employees, by committing to provide good quality working conditions, salaries, and benefits. The Credit Union’s personnel policies now encourage entry-level employees, who gain valuable workplace experience and training in this sector of the financial services industry. Members of the Credit Union have also benefitted from the experience of several long-term employees, such as Theresa van Grol, Mary van Someren, Tracy Sparkes, Cindy Candusso, and Colleen Colonna. Balbir Bains, the Credit Union’s recently appointed general manager, commenced her career as an entry-level teller with the organization. Having earned a diploma in accounting, she joined the branch at Knight Street and Kingsway in 1981. She was promoted as manager of the Broadway branch in 1989, and then progressed to positions of increasing responsibility, as a loans manager, regional manager, and (from 2006) as operations manager at the Willingdon Avenue head office. She succeeded Phil Moore, who retired as general manager, in June 2015. In announcing his retirement, the GVC Credit Union Newsletter (January 2015) praised Moore as “a true credit union man” who was steadfast in his belief in the “co-operative principles of working together.” The Newsletter enumerated some of the many organizations that Moore had served within the credit union system. His involvement with B.C. Central and Central 1 Credit Union was particularly important. As a Central 1 senior vice-president (recently retired) observed, “Serving on the board of Central placed Phil at the centre of all issues that touched upon B.C. credit unions for three and a half decades. The knowledge and insights that he gained with respect to emerging issues and the thinking of others, especially managers of credit unions of greater asset size or operating in regions far from the Lower Mainland factored into his thinking and the advice and counsel that he was able to provide to the board of GVC Credit Union.” Conversely, he brought his practical experience
84 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
The Lougheed Office at 9608 Cameron Street in Burnaby. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
as general manager of GVC Credit Union to the highest echelons of the credit union system. “Phil always kept the interests and the operational realities facing smaller and mid-sized credit unions front and centre in any discussion or policy development,” the executive emeritus declared. Under Moore’s watch, GVC Credit Union enjoyed “stable and steady growth.” As the Newsletter indicated, when he joined the organization in 1976, it had two branches and ten employees, 2,400 members, and just over $4 million in assets. When he retired, the Credit Union operated with a staff of over forty employees, served over six thousand members, and had nearly $215 million in assets under administration. With retained earnings of about $11 million, GVC Credit Union was well placed as it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee and developed plans for the future. Its ongoing success would depend on many factors, including its ability to respond to new challenges within the credit union system. The social and financial landscape of British Columbia has changed substantially since the credit union system was founded. The market that credit unions aspire to serve is not as clearly defined today as it was in the past. In 1940, 90 percent of the people in Canada did not have any relationship with a financial institution. Credit unions were established for, and appealed to, members of that large, demographic cohort. The credit union system flourished as ‘unbanked’ people from mainly working-class and lower-middle-class households became members. Canadian society is not as stratified as it was in the past; and today, nearly everyone is connected to a financial institution of one sort or another. Although more than one third of British Columbians belong to credit unions, the chartered banks have a much larger customer base and now dominate the consumer and mortgage markets that were initially served by credit unions. Today, credit unions must also compete with supermarket chains that provide banking services and contend with ‘ghost’ financial institutions that operate a variety of online payment systems. The need to stay competitive within an increasingly competitive and complicated marketplace has accounted for several mer-
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gers within the credit union system in recent years. From 1995 to 2015, the system contracted from around one hundred to about forty independent credit unions. But during those two decades, the industry also grew substantially. Membership in provincial credit unions nearly doubled to about two million; total assets grew from $17 billion to $65 billion. Clearly, the process of amalgamation was beneficial to the industry overall. However, the benefits have been unevenly distributed and have had some unexpected repercussions. The trend towards amalgamation in the industry has resulted in a concentration of assets at the top of the table. In 2015, the two largest credit unions in British Columbia controlled slightly more than 50 percent of the assets in this financial sector. Consolidation within the system and the concentration of assets have created challenges for small and mid-sized credit unions. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the provincial regulator devised new rules to mitigate risks within the industry, intended to guarantee the well-being of the largest credit unions, where risks were most concentrated. But regulations devised for the ‘near banks’ were imposed throughout the system. As a result, smaller organizations—notably the ‘classic credit unions’ which had always relied on their directors and managers to evaluate and mitigate risks—were compelled to implement management and governance practices that were disproportionate to their operations. As one analyst remarked, smaller classic credit unions were compelled to conform to the strictures of the near banks. These regulatory requirements foster a corporate culture, which traditional credit unionists dislike. The new requirements also constrain the lending services that smaller credit unions can offer to members and prospective members. Loans officers across the entire system must now apply formulaic calculations—called gross debt service ratios (GDS) and total debt service ratios (TDS)—under all circumstances when evaluating loan applications. The rigid imposition of these debt service ratios has hampered smaller credit unions that previously operated prudently but within guidelines determined by conditions specific to their members and communities. Fortunately, GVC Credit Union has been able to retain much
of its traditional flexibility, and still considers a person’s character and special circumstances when assessing loan applications. In this way, it is able to serve its core membership much as it always has. As Balbir Bains recently explained, “Our success as a financial organization depends on our ability to serve our niche market. By providing that service, we are helping our community in an important way.” Indeed, by assisting people with modest incomes and limited financial resources, GVC Credit Union offers a societal benefit as well as a financial service. By offering loans on reasonable terms to ‘real people’, it curtails the reach of payday loan companies and grasp of predatory lenders. Glenn McLaughlin, president of the Credit Union’s Board of Directors, has identified idealism and compassion as vital ingredients in the fuel that propels the organization forward. “In a small organization like GVC Credit Union,” he said, “you can actually sustain the early idealism and passion of the credit union pioneers.” And without question the ideals that animated earlier directors such as Frank Filgiano, Jean Archibald Haynes, Alf Corra, Don McDonaugh, and Carl Schretlen are evident on the board today. A tradition of long service on the board has helped maintain these ideals; and similar principles are shared by newer members of the board, who have brought a youthful energy and perspective to the organization. The younger directors have helped the organization connect to a new generation of potential members and possibly a new niche market. GVC Credit Union can anticipate continued success—thanks to its governance structure, character, and size. It’s an organization where directors empathize with the membership, where management and staff reflect the cultural diversity of their customers and are committed to personal service even in the digital age. A relatively small outfit, GVC Credit Union is also a very nimble operation. Unlike larger organizations, it can turn on a dime and respond quickly to changing circumstances in the market. Its local focus, impeccable co-operative credentials, and the small footprint of its neighbourhood branches are also assets. In an era when consumers— particularly young people—valorize local endeavours, support co-operative initiatives, and prefer to patronize community-based
86 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
enterprises rather than globalized companies, an organization like GVC Credit Union is very well positioned. It has an enviable lineage and a name that clearly identifies its purpose. It is called Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union for good reason.
A skills-building session for youngsters in the Credit Union’s Goalgetters Summer Soccer Camp at Mercer Stadium in New Westminster, August 2012. The camp provides an affordable sport alternative for families. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
The GVC Credit Union kiosk at a Sapperton Day Street Festival in New Westminster, June 2014. The annual festival raises funds for the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
GVC Credit Union is a remarkable organization. It traces its roots to a very early advocate of the credit union movement, the Pacific Co-operative Institute, and to one of the first de facto credit unions in British Columbia. Its antecedent, Rosary Credit Union (1940), was one of the first chartered credit unions in the province. The organization grew as St. Patrick’s Credit Union (1941) and other parochial credit unions joined with Rosary to form a major financial co-operative for Roman Catholics in the Lower Mainland. The faith-based organization added a secular component and expanded with credit unions founded by theatre projectionists (1940), sugar refinery workers (1948), truck builders (1949), commercial bakers (1950), steel fabricators (1952), shingle makers (1954) and oil company employees (1956). It expanded further with credit unions established by immigrants from Hungary and Poland (1951), Holland (1956), and the Ukraine (1963). Historically, GVC Credit Union may be one of the most diverse credit unions in the province. The organization developed as credit unions with different common bonds were integrated into a financial services co-operative sharing one larger common bond. Yet, while its pedigree and lineage are unique, GVC Credit Union shares a heritage with other organizations in the British Columbia credit union system. Credit unions in the same Central 1 category (Peer Group Six) were organized by immigrants, police officers, firefighters, and social activists. One of GVC Credit Union’s peers traces its history to credit unions founded by woodworkers, longshoremen, operating engineers, distillery employees, and federal civil servants. The larger organizations that make up Peer Group Five trace their origins to credit unions of restaurant workers, taxi drivers, boarding house operators, and provincial government employees. Credit unions that are affiliated with Central 1 peer groups from other regions of the province have an equally rich and varied
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history. They have many things in common: All of them were established for people of modest means who were not being served by existing financial institutions. As financial co-operatives, their purpose was to meet the needs of their members, ensure democratic control, and promote the well-being of the communities they served. Some of the organizations have grown very large since they were founded. Some now have a regional reach instead of a local focus; others no longer use the term ‘credit union’ in their business or trading names. But they are credit unions, nonetheless, and so enjoy a distinction within the financial marketplace. Their distinction derives not only from the fact that they were incorporated as credit unions. It derives from their service and ability to generate social capital. A century ago, the co-operative movement used a motto that proclaimed: “Not for profit, not for charity, but for service.” The motto is somewhat ambiguous, but the early co-operators were signalling that their primary purpose was to provide a service to their communities. They sought to do this by accumulating a ‘surplus’, a portion of which they could return as dividends to their members. Guided by the principles of the Rochdale Pioneers, co-operatives also directed a portion of any surplus to the community. Today we use the term ‘retained earnings’ to describe a surplus—a term interchangeable with ‘profit’. So, credit unions, like the chartered banks they compete with, are in business to make a profit. But the underlying imperatives of banks and credit unions are different. As Phil Moore neatly put it, “Banks provide a service in order to generate profits for their shareholders; credit unions use their profits in order to provide a service.” While credit unions aspire to increase their assets and build equity with financial capital, they also provide a benefit by accumulating and distributing social capital. Social capital is a concept that is not as widely used as financial capital, but it is easy to understand and appreciate. An associate at the Burnaby-based Community Economic Development Centre described the concept in this way: “Unlike conventional capital, social capital is a public good; that is, it is not the private property of those who benefit from it. Social capital is
created when organizations, and the individuals that comprise the organizations, work co-operatively. Social capital generates benefits for a broad community, rather than narrow, self-interest groups. Social capital dwindles when it is not used, but expands every time it is invested.” Another feature of social capital that makes it significantly different from other forms of capital is its infinite capacity. “Social capital is not limited to material scarcity, meaning that its creative capacity is limited only to imagination.” In the credit union system, social capital accrues in myriad ways, from the construction of large, integrated, sustainable community projects to the support of a Little League team. Every credit union generates social capital and the province is richer for it. Today, credit unions compete on behalf of their members in a crowded market. In the process of doing business, credit unions have adopted many of the mannerisms and practices of other financial institutions, in the form and function of their websites, in the tone of their advertisements for products and services, and in the design and décor of their branches. Not surprisingly, credit unions are often perceived by the general public to be the same as chartered banks. Credit unions, however, trace their origins to co-operatives and not to counting houses. They originated with groups, associations, and movements that had a higher purpose than the bottom line. Credit unions are different from banks because of their historical foundations and social convictions. Those differences are important. As the chief executive of the World Council of Credit Unions urged a few years ago, credit union leaders should work hard at retaining and explaining their organizational differences. To that end, they should resist attempts by regulators to make credit unions clones of other financial institutions. They should celebrate the contributions of their founders and volunteers, and promote among their employees and members a sense of pride in their organizations. Ultimately, they should convey a larger message to the public about the distinctive character and advantages of the credit union system. The executive of GVC Credit Union had those objectives in mind with this book.
88 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Afterword By Phil Moore, General Manager 1976 - 2015 After 75 years the collective memory of why we were formed fades. It was to sharpen that memory that we commissioned this history of our credit union. We were formed as a vehicle whereby ordinary people could provide each other financial help and thus provide the opportunity for a better life for all. In 1990, on the occasion of our 50th anniversary, we published “A History of Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union” which charted the first two generations of our credit union. This history looks back to those times and moves us forward 25 years. In the 1940’s people paid cash for services. Few had bank accounts. Mortgages to help purchase a home were hard to find. Credit unions were formed by ordinary people to fill this need. Members acted in the spirit of self-help and formed their own “people’s banks.” This was not a government initiative to help the less well off. Albeit government played a supportive role in helping the fledgling credit unions become established and learn the intricacies of bookkeeping and banking. Credit unions are co-operatives, owned by the people they serve, with each owner having equal rights in the governance of their credit union. Co-operatives are perhaps the oldest form of joint endeavour known to mankind. Ironically today they are overshadowed by the capitalist economy that began to emerge in the 17th Century. Capitalism separates ownership from those that use the products and services of the company. In co-operatives they are one and the same. Credit unions have banded together in the co-operative manner to provide services and support activities individual credit unions were/are too small to effectively do themselves. The first were the Credit Union League that provided operational and legislative help. Then came B.C. Central Credit Union that pooled the financial resources of the credit unions and provided liquidity support. Credit unions supported the Credit Union and Co-operative health services society (now part of Blue Cross) that was formed to provide
health and dental insurance to ordinary Canadians that were not covered elsewhere. Later credit unions recognized the need for deposit assurance guarantees and initiated the Credit Union Reserve Board that provided the deposit protection guarantee to credit union members until it was merged into the government run Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1988. While there are a few large and well known co-operatives, such as the Mountain Equipment Co-operative, most are smaller and local. In fact one of the distinguishing events of this generation of British Columbia (B.C.) credit unions has been the growth of large multi-million dollar credit unions both in B.C. and across Canada. Today B.C. has around 40 credit unions ranging in asset size from around $12 million to $18 billion dollars. In people terms they range from 1,400 members to over 500,000. Our founders from 1940 can be justifiably proud of the success of the idea that they gave form too. However I suspect they would wonder how such large entities could fit all the members into the meeting hall for the members’ annual and regular monthly meetings! Patrick Dunae’s excellent hist-
ory charts the slow erosion of member involvement that has taken place over the last 75 years. This trend is not unique to B.C. credit unions or to Canada. In the United Kingdom building societies were created in the mid to late 1800’s by ordinary people to help them save to buy a home. Once enough money was saved to buy/build a home they drew lots as to who would receive the benefit and then got working on saving for the next home. Over the next 100 years these building societies grew to pass the U.K. banks in savings and rival them in their place in the economy. In the 1980’s they were still member owned. Then, starting with Abbey National Building Society, all but one of the large building societies de-mutualised and became banks. The last was the Northern Rock Building Society, which had been originally formed in 1865, when de-mutualised in 1997. Co-operatives are different than joint stock companies. A co-operative is founded on mutual self-help. Owners join for the services while providing capital to the co-operative in the form of shares and by leaving the profits in the co-operative to fund future growth and services. Joint stock companies separate out the ownership and business functions and are in business to make a profit for their shareholders. These differences result in very different management cultures. Every building society that de-mutualised in the UK in the 1980’s had failed, or been taken over by a bank by 2009. The last one was the Northern Rock that failed spectacularly in early 2008 and was nationalised by an act of the British parliament. Oh, and the one large building society that did not de-mutualise in the 1990’s…Nationwide? It is still going strong as a mutually owned building society having successfully weathered the storm of 2008-2009. Ironically while most building societies were mutual, credit unions were not very successful in the UK. Since the 1990’s that has changed and they have become a dynamic and growing savings and loan force helping the ordinary British citizen to manage their financial affairs. The other major trend of the last 25 years has been the technological disruption of our industry. Credit unions were/are people places. As Patrick notes in the history, members attended monthly meetings in the early days and went on credit union picnics and
competed in credit union bowling leagues. The credit union was an integral part of the members’ lives. This is changing. Credit unions still support local industry through loans and local social events through their outreach services. But the ”joining together” is much less now that most members access their accounts electronically rather than visiting the credit union in person on paydays. Without the regular personal contact it is hard to maintain the same level of personal service. B.C. has grown remarkably from 1940 when our credit union was “born.” Its population has grown from 805,000 in 1940 to almost 4.5 million today. Back before the 1960’s the banks were not active in providing services to the ordinary Canadian. This lack helped credit unions grow by filling that void as Canada started to grow following the war years. Today the major chartered banks are competing for all mortgage and loan business. Some say a small credit union is a large credit union that failed to grow. This is the mantra of the growth for growth’s sake people. I would argue that providing service to a small group of people is a valuable service as long as it can be done effectively. Further it is far easier to deliver this service with compassion when your team have knowledge of the member’s circumstances and needs. Over the last 75 years our credit union has, and is, constantly changing as our way of business changes. We have had to adapt to survive and that will be the main challenge into our future. Will our credit union be absorbed by a big credit union in the next 25 years? I sincerely hope not. Some years ago when working with the Australian credit unions I had the opportunity to visit the Cairns Penny Bank. Cairns is a relatively small community in north east Queensland opposite the Great Barrier Reef. The Cairns Penny Bank was formed in 1897 as a workers mutual savings bank – one of a number formed around that time. All the others are gone, merged or lost. But the Cairns Penny Bank (visit it on the net) is still there, 115+ years on and serving around 3,000 members with assets a bit less than ours…fulfilling its purpose for its chosen community 115 years after it was first formed. To me that is true co-operative success.
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92 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Selected Sources Magazines and newspapers B.C. Credit Unionist, 1941-1966 British Columbia Catholic Enterprise, 1967 + Discussion papers Gentleman, Ross. “BC Credit Union Futures – Trends & Choices” (2014). Moore, J. Philip. “B.C. Credit Unions: Have We Outgrown our Co-operative Roots?” (1993). -----“Credit Union System Structure: Is it Time to Change?” (2006). -----“Credit Union System Structure: A look at where we are today and some of our challenges for the future.” (2014). Books and journals Baum, Gregory. Catholics and Canadian Socialism: Political Thought in the Thirties and Forties. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 1981. Davis, Chuck. The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2011. Dodaro, Santo and Leonard Pluta. The Big Picture: The Antigonish Movement of Eastern Nova Scotia. Montréal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012. Dunae, Patrick A. Ladysmith – Our Community, Your Credit Union – A History. Ladysmith, BC: Ladysmith & District Credit Union, 2014. Evenden, Leonard J., ed. “The Suburb of Happy Homes:” Burnaby Centennial Themes. Burnaby, BC: Simon Fraser University, Community and Economic Development Centre and Centre for Canadian Studies, 1995.
Gresko, Jacqueline. Traditions of Faith and Service: Archdiocese of Vancouver, 1908-2008. Vancouver: Archdiocese of Vancouver, 2009. Hardin, Hershel, Working Dollars. The VanCity Story. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996. Hesse, Jurgen. Where Credit Is Due. A Celebration of Fifty Years of Edelweiss Credit Union. Edited by John Munro. Vancouver: Edelweiss Credit Union, 1993. McDowall, Duncan. Quick to the Frontier: Canada’s Royal Bank. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993. MacPherson, Ian. Hands Around The Globe. A History of the International Credit Union Movement and the Role and Development of the World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. Victoria, BC: Horsdal & Shubart Publishers Ltd. and World Council of Credit Unions, 1999. --- Co-operation, Conflict and Consensus: B.C. Central and the Credit Union Movement to 1994. Vancouver: B.C. Central Credit Union, 1997. Morin, Clarence and Philip Moore. “A History of Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union.” GVC Credit Union News, vol. 15, no. 3 (May 1990): Special 50th Anniversary Supplementary Edition. Norris, John. Strangers Entertained. A History of the Ethnic Groups of British Columbia. Vancouver: British Columbia Centennial ’71 Committee, 1971. Roseland, Mark. “Sustainable community development: integrating environmental, economic, and social objectives.” Progress in Planning, 54 (2000): 73-132. Roy, Patricia E. Vancouver: An Illustrated History. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company and National Museum of Man, 1980. Wynn, Graeme and Timothy Oke, eds.,Vancouver and Its Region. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992.
Community Photos 93
Staff members from the Kingsgate Mall Office (from left to right, Margaret Lau, Don Murray, Virginia Agujo) preparing for a free outdoor movie night at the mall, August 2014. The Credit Union participates and provides popcorn for this popular community event. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
GVC Credit Union directors, April 2015. Back row, left to right: Glenn McLaughlin, John Schretlen, Ken Sherwood, Shaun Olafson. Front row, left to right: Judi Corra, Gilles Deschenes, Rick Orford. Missing from the photograph: Herb Gill, Les Hausch. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
The Credit Unionâ€™s kiosk at the Willingdon Community Fair celebration in Burnaby in 2014. Photo: GVC Credit Union.
94 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
This notice was printed in many regional newspapers from 1940 to 1946.
I appreciate the confidence, support, and assistance of the GVC Credit Union Board of Directors. Phil Moore, the Credit Union’s general manager from July 1976 to June 2015, mentored this project. I appreciate the guidance, information, and insights he provided. Balbir Bains, his successor as General Manager, also facilitated this chronicle. It was a privilege to interview former employees: Chita Anonuevo, Robert (Bob) Hattrick, Ilonka Lelkes, Richard Rochard, and Anna Terrana. I gained valuable perspectives on the credit union system from J. Ross Montgomery and Richard Thomas. GVC Credit Union has retained historical material from some of its antecedent organizations. I’m grateful to the Credit Union staff members who made these records available to me in Burnaby and Victoria. I also relied on archives and libraries. Central 1 Credit Union provided me with a comfortable work space and access to records of the former B.C. Credit Union League and the B.C. Central Credit Union Archives. I extend special thanks to Suzanne Waters (former Director, Communications and Public Relations); Suzann McKinnon (Archivist, Enterprise magazine), and Melissa Harder at the Credit Union Centre on Creekside Drive in Vancouver for their assistance. Members of staff at the City of Burnaby Archives, the City of Vancouver Archives, and the Vancouver Public Library were very accommodating. I’m grateful to Jennifer Sargent, the archivist at the Archdiocese of Vancouver Archives, and Sister Rhonda Brown, the historian of St. Patrick Parish in Vancouver. Thanks, also, to Frederike Verspoor, Archivist, Archives, Collections & Knowledge, at the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives, in Victoria; and Lara Wilson, Director, Special Collections & University Archivist, at the University of Victoria. The attractive layout and design of this book is due to Marina Sacht and Angie Haslam of TAKE 5 Publications. Anne Correia of West Coast Editing Services was a wonderful copy editor.
INDEX Alaska Pine and Cellulose Company, 51, 52 Al-Pine Credit Union, 50, 52, 53 Alberta, 38, 79 Anglican Church of Canada, 25 Anonuevo, Chita, 36, 74, 94 Antigonish Movement, 14 Archdiocese of Vancouver, 14, 25, 36, 50, 63 Army of the Common Good, 12, 17 Austin, Harlan Vance, 18 Bach, Michael, 38, 39 Bains, Balbir, 70, 74, 83, 85, 94 Bakery & Confectionary Workers’ Union, 48 Bakovan Credit Union, 46, 48, 49, 61, 70 Bank Act, 8, 21, 68, 69, 70 Bank of Canada, 68, 69, 78 Banks, William, 51 Beal, Phil, 51 Bergengren, Roy, 13 Beyer, Hans, 49 B.C. Central Credit Union, 7, 8, 19, 23, 29, 36, 37, 39, 42, 53, 65, 66, 67, 68, 70, 75, 83 B.C. Credit Union League, 7, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, 29, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46, 47, 49, 53, 59, 61, 65, 66, 67, 70, 94 B.C. Credit Unionist (magazine), 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 30, 38, 41, 54 B.C. Projectionists Credit Union, 45, 53, 66 B.C. Sugar Refinery, 50 B.C. Sugar Refinery Savings Credit Union, 30, 50 Bierman, John, 58 Blessed Sacrament Parish, 72 Brentwood Town Centre, 77 British Columbia Catholic (newspaper), 14, 15, 17, 35, 39, 57 Brown, Sister Rhonda, 94 Bruyneel, Alphonse, 26, 27
Burnaby, 11, 12, 17, 25, 30, 31, 35, 40, 45, 47, 48, 51, 56, 58, 62, 65, 67, 70, 73, 77, 78, 81, 87 Burnaby Village Museum, 72 Burns, J.W. (Jack), 28 Caisse populaire, 13 Canadian Bakeries Ltd., 48 Candusso, Cindy, 83 Carey, Monsignor Daniel, 14, 19, 35 Casey, Archbishop Timothy, 14, 17 Catholic Children’s Aid Society, 25 Catholic Immigration Office, 25, 36 Catholic Netherlands Organization, 57 Catholic Seamen’s Institute, 25 Catholic Women’s Institute, 25 Catholic Youth Organization, 25 Catholic University of America, 31 Cavanagh, William, 17 Central 1 Credit Union, 7, 8, 19, 67, 68, 69, 79, 83, 86 Central (Canada) Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 68 Central Credit Union of British Columbia, 19, 67, 75, 77, 79 Central Data Systems, 66 Chan, Karen, 74 Coady, James Moses, 15, 20 Coady, Father Moses, 14, 15 Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, 83 Colonna, Colleen, 83 Common Good [C.G.] Credit Union, 12, 17, 31 Community Economic Development Centre (Burnaby), 87 Congregational Church, 25 Co-operative Commonwealth Federation [CCF], 11, 17 Corra, Alfred, 31, 38, 39, 40, 79, 85 Corra, Judith (Judi), 6, 73, 79 Corrigan, Bridget, 39 Credit Union & Co-operative Health Services Society [CU & C], 7, 21, 39
Credit Union Central of Canada, 82 Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation [CUDIC], 7, 70, 75 Credit Union Foundation of B.C., 66, 82 Credit Union Incorporation Act, 75 Credit Union National Association [CUNA], 9, 18, 21, 29, 30, 68 Credit Union Reserve Board [CURB], 42, 70 Credit Unions Act, 11, 13, 14, 19, 23, 66, 67, 71, 74, 75 CUE Data West, 66 Culbert, Milton, 52 Cummings, Louis M., 46 Cunningham, Leo C., 49 De Beck, Edward (Ned), 20 Department of Education, 20 Deptuck, Ray, 29 Derkson, Rita, 74 Deschenes, Gilles, 6, 73, 79 Désjardins, Alphonse, 13 Dickinson, Farley, 28, 66 Duffie, John, 29, 31, 33, 34, 37, 42 Duke, Archbishop William Mark, 14, 15, 17, 25, 30, 31, 32, 40, 57, 63 Edelweiss Credit Union, 38, 57 Enterprise (magazine), 21, 36, 41, 67, 75 Expo ’86, 71 Faliszewski, Stefan, 63 Federal Reserve Board, 69 Ferguson Truck & Equipment Company, 47 Ferguson, William J., 47 Ferguson, William Jnr., 47 Ferrier, Trudi, 42 Filene, Edward. 13 Filgiano, Frank, 29, 30, 36, 48, 80, 82, 85 Financial Institutions Act, 75 Financial Institutions Commission [FICOM], 75, 79 Finn, Siobhain, 74 Finning Employees Credit Union, 58 Forget, Monsignor Louis, 38, 59
96 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union Frehlick, Mary, 37, 40 Gai Paree Restaurant, 40, 58 Geac Computer Corporation, 66 Gercsak, John. 61 Gill, Herb, 6, 53, 79 Gladu, Flo, 22 Glen, Arthur Roderick (Rod), 17, 18, 34 Graham, Shirley, 36 Greater Vancouver Catholic Credit Union, 29, 31, 32, 33, 35, 37, 42, 43, 46, 48, 49, 59, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 73 Greater Vancouver Community [GVC] Credit Union, 6, 7, 8, 9, 43, 46, 50, 51, 53, 56, 57, 59, 62, 63, 71, 72 and passim. Gresko, Jacqueline. 14 Guardian Angels’ Hall, 29, 50 Guildford Mall, 65 Hawkswell, Father Vincent, 81 Haynes, Jean Archibald, 18, 21, 38, 85 Hattrick, Robert (Bob), 74 Hausch, Les, 6, 48, 73, 79 Heritage Hall, 38, 39 Hinphy, Father Clarence, 35 Hobson, Father Leo, 17, 26 Holland Credit Union, 57 Holwill, Gill, 70 Hopper, Edward, 54 Hudson, Michele, 74 Hungarian Credit Union, 30, 49, 61, 62 Huntting-Merritt Manufacturing Ltd., 46 Immaculate Conception Credit Union, 35 Impact Plaza, 72, 77, 81 International Shingle Weavers’ Union, 46 International Woodworkers of America [IWA], 46 IWA New Westminster Credit Union, 46 Johnson, Archbishop Martin, 41 Kelly, Nora, 71 Keogh, Moira, 74 Kenworth Employees Credit Union, 46, 47, 48, 70, 83
Kenworth Motor Truck Company, 47 Kingsgate Mall, 80, 83 Knights of Columbus, 25, 29 Koerner Brothers, 51 Kosakiewicz, Father Franciszek, 63 Kwong, Marie, 74 L’Arche Vancouver Society, 82 Ladysmith, 34 Lougheed Mall, 65 Lougheed Plaza, 70, 73, 77 McCulloch, George, 67 McDevitt, Dr. Margaret, 35 MacDonald, Gary, 73 McDonough, Don, 31, 73, 85 McGavin Bakeries, 48, 49, 61 McGeer, G.G. (Gerry), 11 McLaughlin, Glenn, 6, 73, 79, 85 MacPherson, Ian, 13, 14, 22 Madison, Wisconsin, 21 Massachusetts Credit Union Association, 13 Marguerite Dixon Society, 82 May, George, 65 Merrett, Cecelia, 26, 27, 28 Merrett, John, 50 Methodist Church, 25 Miles, Monsignor John, 26, 27 Millennium Bug, 77 Ministry of Finance, 75 Monk, William, 30, 35, 51 Monrufet, Richard A. (Dick), 18, 46 Moore, John Philip (Phil), 6, 7, 36, 37, 42, 65, 67, 69, 73, 74, 75, 79, 82, 83, 84 Moore, Rose, 82 Morin, Clarence, 48, 73 Mother Hubbard Bakery, 48 Mount Pleasant, 11, 37, 40, 41, 58, 59, 80, 82 Mulder, Johannes (Jo), 73 Murison, Lorraine, 54 Nagy, Geza (Jack), 49, 61, 62, 73 Nanaimo, 34
Nanaimo Credit Union, 18 Nanoose Accord, 75 National Film Board, 39 National Housing Act, 68 Nepro Credit Union, 18 New Westminster, 22, 25, 29, 31, 51, 54, 71, 78, 83 Nicholas, A. L. (Archibald Leslie), 18, 28, 39 Nicholas, Margaret, 18 North Vancouver, 11 Nova Scotia, 11, 14 O’Dougherty, Mary, 26, 27, 29, 30 O’Flynn, Tom, 81 Olafson, Shaun, 6, 80 Ontario, 79 Orford, Rick, 79 Our Lady of Hungary Parish, 59 Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, 17, 25, 26, 27 Pacific Bolt Manufacturing Company, 49 Pacific Business Services, 29, 36 Pacific Co-operative Institute, 14, 15, 17, 25, 26, 72, 86 Pattullo, Thomas Dufferin, 11 Perpetual Help Credit Union, 17 Peters, Euda, 58 Peters, Walter, 58 Pietrasko, Frank, 58 Pietrasko, Irene, 58 Pocock, H.G. (Harry), 28, 39 Polish Credit Union, 56, 62, 77 Pope Leo XIII, 14 Pope Pius XI, 14 Port Alice, 52 Powell River, 13, 14, 17, 34, 66 Powell River Credit Union, 13, 17, 23 Presbyterian Church, 25 Prince Charles, 71 Princess Diana, 71 Quadragesimo Anno, 15 Québec, 13, 14 Raiffeisen, Friedrich Wilhelm, 13
Index 97 Rayonier Canada Ltd., 52, 53 Read, George J., 47 Reidy, Father Thomas, 39 Rerum Novarum, 15, 17 Revelstoke, 17 Richmond Savings Credit Union, 67 Robinson, J.R. (Rip), 28 Robinson, Reginald (Reg), 31 Rochard, Jeanette, 36 Rochard, Richard, 36, 37, 42, 72, 74, 79, 81 Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, 13, 75, 87 Rogers, Benjamin T., 50 Ronquillo, Maita, 74 Rosary Credit Union, 8, 13, 14, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 40, 53, 59, 60, 61, 66, 72, 73, 79, 86 Roscow, John, 39 Royal Canadian Legion, 23 Royal Square Mall, 78, 83 Saint Willebrord Credit Union, 57, 58 St. Andrew’s Parish Credit Union, 30 St. Casimir Parish, 63 St. Francis de Sales Credit Union, 31, 39, 59 St. Francis Xavier University, 14, 15 St. Helen’s Credit Union, 30, 35, 36, 51 St. John, New Brunswick, 14 St. Joseph Parish, Powell River, 17 St. Joseph Parish, Vancouver, 70 St. Joseph’s Savings Credit Union, 30, 51 St. Mary’s Credit Union, 35 St. Mary’s Ukrainian Credit Union, 41, 59 St. Patrick Parish, 30, 37, 38, 41, 43, 81 St. Patrick’s Credit Union, 21, 25, 31, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, 48, 59, 70, 71, 80, 81, 86 Sawle, Kathie, 42, 70 Scanlon, E. S. (Ewart Stanway), 53 Schretlen, Carl, 73, 79, 85 Schretlen, John, 6, 79 Seattle, 47 Shell Employees Credit Union, 45, 49 Sheppard, George, 33, 34
Sherwood, Ken, 6, 73, 79 Shingle Weavers’ Credit Union, 41, 45, 46 Simon Fraser University, 36, 37 SkyTrain, 71 Smeets, Father Peter, 30 Spencer, Lorena, 6 Sommerville, Betty, 41 South Burnaby Credit Union, 17, 31 Sparkes, Tracy, 70, 83 Stabilization Central Credit Union, 75, 94 Stiglish, Helen, 58 Stiglish, Jack, 58 Steeves, Dorothy, 11 Stonier, Stan, 29 Strachan, Robert M., 17 Strang, Ian, 29 Stry Credit Union, 21, 39, 45, 66 Sunshine Plaza, 43, 71, 72 Surrey, 39, 65, 72, 74, 77, 81 Surrey Credit Union, 67 Sutherland, Lucille, 66 Switzer, Thomas Albert (Tom), 16, 20, 22, 51, 54 Teague, Father John, 36 Terrana, Anna, 36, 80 Thirty Credit Union, 54 Thomas, Richard, 6 Thrift, George, 53 Tonner, William, 39, 40 Towngate Shopping Centre, 77, 81 Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement [TILMA], 79 Trotter, Austin S., 15 Tucker, Earl, 42 Universal Lumber & Box Company, 51 United Church of Canada, 25 University of British Columbia, 14, 20, 21, 32 Van der Sande, Albert, 58 Van Grol, Theresa, 70, 83 Van Someren, Mary, 74, 83 Vancouver, 11, 20, 25, 26, 27, 32, 45, 65, 66, 69,
71, 75, 83 Vancouver & District Co-operative Council, 15 Vancouver & District Danish Credit Union, 57 Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (VanCity), 45, 53, 56, 66, 83 VanFed Credit Union, 17, 29, 39 Vancouver Safeway Employees Credit Union, 38, 39, 40 VantageOne Credit Union, 26 Victory Hall, 15, 16 West Coast Tires Ltd., 47 Western Canada Steel Employees Credit Union, 49, 78 Western Forest Products, 53 Weston Bakery Ltd., 48 Westcu Foundation, 66 Wheeldon, Ethel, 72 White Lunch, 45 White Spot, 45 White Rock, 14, 39, 40 Wif-Fer Credit Union, 47 Williams, Douglas, 36 Williams, Susan, 70 Willys Distributors (B.C.) Ltd., 47 Wismer, Gordon, 11, 15, 20 Woodfibre, 52 Wojcik, Alojzy (Alex), 63 Wong, Madeleine, 74 Wong, Nick, 81 World Council of Credit Unions, 8, 21, 68, 82, 87 Worley, Bernard (Barney), 30 Y2K (Year 2000), 77 YES [Youth Excellence Society], 82 Zsigmong, Father Albert, 59
98 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
About the author
Patrick A. Dunae was born in Victoria, BC and lives there now. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Victoria and Honorary Research Associate at Vancouver Island University. His previous books include a history of Nanaimo Credit Union [now part of Coastal Community Credit Union], published in 1996; and a history of Ladysmith & District Credit Union, published in 2014. He is the principal of Clio Media, a business devoted to historical research, communications, and consulting. His contact information, along with descriptions of recent projects and an annotated edition of this book (with footnotes) are posted on the website: www.cliomedia.ca.
100 Common Bonds: A History of GVC Credit Union
Published on Jun 13, 2015
This book commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union and chronicles our achievements over the past 75 year...