Co-operatives in Canada

Co-operatives in Canada
There are over 9,000 co-operatives, credit unions, and mutuals in Canada and over 750,000 across the world. They’re widely supported – 83% of Canadians say they would rather buy their products at a co-operative than a private business. Together, Canadian co-operatives have over 18 million members and employ more than 150,000 people. Co-operatives are major players in many sectors in Canada:



Over 1,200 agriculture co-operatives in Canada retain between 15-20% of the market and for the most part fall into three groups:

  • processing and marketing co-ops like dairy co-operatives;
  • farm supply co-operatives such as seed co-ops;and
  • farm equipment co-ops.

See also: MCDRN research on agricultural co-operatives.


community_0The support offered by development co-ops helps launch an average of 300 new co-operatives in Canada each year. Studies have shown the survival rate of new co-ops is almost twofold that of traditional businesses—an average that remains consistent both after 5 years and 10 years of operations. The application of the sixth co-operative principle of co-operation among co-operatives is indeed a key to this success.

See also – MCDRN research on the co-operative impact on the community.

educationEducation is baked into the sector as the fifth principle – and seven universities in Canada have 11 post-secondary education programs, in addition to 180 informal training programs across the country.

financial Nearly half of economically-active Canadians are members of either a credit union or a caisse populaire – one of the highest rates in the world. One reason might be that Canadian credit unions have won Ipsos’ Annual Best Banking‘s ‘Customer Service Excellence’ award ten years in a row.

See also: MCDRN research on credit unions.

Funeral Services
funeralIn some regions, Canadian funeral co-operatives hold over 50% of the market and have been successful in keeping funeral costs down in those markets.
Health Care and Social Services
healthHealth and social services co-operatives were born from communities’ desire to offer health services, home care, daycare and social insertion services tailored to their local needs. The social economy model is based on community solidarity and aims to provide solutions to local social issues and to offer local health services.


There are 535 of this type of co-operatives in Canada, 112 of which can be found in health care and 419 in social services.


housingHousing co-operatives are collectively one of the nation’s largest suppliers of rental housing in Canada, with over 97,000 units that are home to over 250,000 Canadians.

See also: MCDRN research on housing.

insuranceMutual insurance policy holders received over $25 billion in premiums in 2013, while insurers held over $109 billion in assets.
Natural Resources

resourcesForestry co-operatives managed 31,000 hectares of forests and planted 52 million new trees in Canada in 2012. Nearly 30% of fish produced in Canada was done by fishing co-operatives.

See also – MCDRN research on natural resources.

Public Utilities

utilitiesToday, there are over 120,000 Alberta homes and businesses connected to the gas co-op system, making it the world’s largest rural gas distribution system.

See also: MCDRN research on renewable energy.

Retail and Wholesale

retailMillions of Canadians are member of retail co-operatives offering food, clothing, gas, electronics, and hundreds of other products and services.

See also: MCDRN research on retail co-operatives.

History of Co-operatives in Canada

The optimism and need of the early twentieth century drove growth in many new movements and ideas: the co-operative movement, though often overlooked, was no exception. The first co-ops to achieve stability in English Canada around the turn of the 20th century were farmers’ marketing and purchasing societies. – The History of Co-operatives, On-Coop.

Co-operative marketing organizations began to appear in British North America in the 1840s when British labourers attempted unsuccessfully to start stores similar to those common in Britain. The first stable store, or society, was developed in 1861 in Stellarton, NS. – Co-operative Movement History, The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Other Resources

Co-ops 101

What is a co-operative?

Why do people co-operate?

Co-operatives are the only form of social organization known to have internationally agreed upon values and principles. They will typically provide work, a service or good, or a more affordable option for existing goods and services to the benefit of their members. This broad-level interest is in stark contrast to the profit-maximization interest of private corporations.


The Seven Co-operative Principles


More Information about Co-ops