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All About Co-operatives

With roots in England in the mid-1800s, co-operatives evolved as an economic and business model tailored to meet the specific needs of a refined group of people. Near the end of the 19th century, the concept took root in Quebec, which today is home to more co-ops than anywhere else on the continent. In Western Canada, the co-operative movement centred around the growth of the grain pools in each of the Prairie provinces as a means to help farmers source affordable inputs, and increase their marketing power on international markets.


Despite the fact that more than 1.4 million Ontarians are members of at least one co-operative, the general public, as well as academics, business leaders and Government officials are by-and-large unaware of co-ops and their power as a positive economic and societal force.

Support co-operatives with your wallet: Buy Gay Lea or Organic Meadow dairy products, ride in a Co-op Cab or shop at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Thirsty: Try Welch's, Sunkist or Ocean Spray. Visit a credit union.

  • Download the 'What is a Co-operative' FactSheet from the "Related Documents" section, at the top right of this page.
  • Read a report submitted by On Co-op to Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development and Trade about the contributions made by co-ops and the challenges faced by our sector.

The pages in the All About Co-operatives area of On Co-op's website are a place to learn more about co-operatives—where they came from, how they work and how they help their communities. Explore this page and those listed in the links to the right to find out what makes the co-op model a better way to do business. Be sure to check out the FactSheets On Co-op has developed. The series has more than 20 FactSheets and includes 'What is a Co-op', The FactSheet series also explores the differences between a co-op and a non-profit, a charity and a traditional business enterprise; the best practices group discusses hiring a co-op consultant or auditor; and the sector specific group explores many of the co-op sectors. Search for all of the FactSheets through the Co-op Resources menu, or click on the "For More Information" link at the bottom of this page.

Co-operative Enterprises Build A Stronger Community

Co-ops are a way for communities to exercise control over the economic, social and cultural activities that affect the lives of community members. Establishing co-operatives and credit unions in our communities (or for a community of people) is a powerful and democratic way to put economic power in the hands of those who need and use the services.

Rooted in the community by member participation and commitment, co-operatives are community economic development in practise. Co-operative and credit unions are directed locally and invested-in locally. Because the surplus of co-op enterprises belong to their members, profits and  investment dollars stay within the community.

But it's not just about profit. At the core of every co-op's history is an unmet need—for financial services, employment, a specific product or service, affordable housing, a marketing service or more participation in community development. Through co-operation, communities are able to come together and meet that need for themselves.

Co-operatives Contribute to Sustainability

Co-ops have multiple bottom lines that include social as well as financial objectives. In many communities, co-operatives have stayed to serve their members long after other businesses have fled to more profitable locales. For example, there are numerous communities in Ontario where credit unions are the only source of financial services. As a result, co-operatives tend to be more stable than other forms of business, and contribute to a more sustainable community life.

Co-operatives contribute to environmental sustainability as well. Rather than a single financial bottom line, or even a double financial and social bottom line, some co-ops strive to maintain a triple bottom line: financial, social, and environmental. Co-ops try to do business in a way that will keep local communities, as well as the wider community of the earth that sustains them, healthy. Thus, co-operatives are at the forefront of the current boom in green energy, establishing environmentally-friendly power sources like the wind turbine in Exhibition Place in Toronto.


Guide to Co-op Act written in plain, accessible language

Oct 14, 2015 - On Co-op has created a Guide to Ontario’s Co-operative Corporations Act. The Guide explains the details of the Act, and includes advice about the procedures and protocols that define the operations of co-operatives. The Guide also includes a number of…

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34th Annual Directors' Forum Conference

Oct 11, 2018 + others - Directors of credit unions and caisses populaires are invited to join us for a unique learning, professional development and networking opportunity! New as well as young Directors are also highly encouraged to attend!

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Find a Co-op


The On Co-op e-Directory is a comprehensive listing of more than 1,300 Ontario-based Co-operatives, Credit Unions and Caisse Populaires. Search by city, name, type of co-op or keyword.

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On Co-op is a trade association and capacity-building organization that develops, engages, educates and advocates for Ontario's co-op businesses.