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The Register,

September 7, 1938

Co-operation in Nova Scotia

By Nellie L. McClung

When I wrote my impressions of the Annapolis Valley, with its orchards and gardens, rich dyke-lands and shaven lawns, I said I gave me a feeling of "stability and abundance." There is peace in its pastures, romance on its roadsides, history on its hills, and complacency in the countenances of the people. But there is no answer to the problems of the world in the Annapolis Valley, or in the placid beauty of Vancouver Island. The Valley people and the Island people are much the same – comfortable, intelligent, kindly, philanthropic. They give to missions; they support their churches; they love learning; they sent carloads of fruit to the drought area, and can always be depended on to be generous.

But a solution of the problems of Canada will not be found in the comfortable and complacent mind of these people; nor in comfortable and complacent people anywhere.

That, by a curious law of compensation comes from a poorer part of Canada. Out of the desert, again there comes a gift!

Nova Scotia is the oldest part of Canada. It has everything in the way of natural resources, yet in some places black and bitter poverty has held the people in its hard fist! Illiteracy, despair and rebellion, darkened the hearts of the people – for the Nova Scotia settlers in these desolate places were of Scotch stock, and in their hearts the flame of freedom refused to die. They were not resigned to poverty. Their fathers came to Canada to find life and liberty, and the new land had failed them. So they grew sour and bitter for they knew it was not the land that had impoverished them, but the economic system – man’s inhumanity as seen in the hard-boiled profit system, divorced from Christian ethics.

The fishermen had to sell their catch for whatever the agents offered them; and that was fifty cents for a hundred pounds or mackerel or haddock or cod, and three cents a pound for lobsters. Everything the fishermen bought was at an exorbitant price. They were helpless and tied, had and foot. Each year saw them sinking deeper and deeper in debt.

There was one voice among the fishermen that called to them to unite against their sad plight, and that was the voice of Father Tompkins, the priest. He believed education would solve their problems. He taught them to read. He loaned them books. He talked to them. He taught them to think and showed them how to unite for action. At Little Dover, under his guidance, they decided to build a lobster cannery of their own, so they drew the logs and wheeled the stone in wheel-barrows. Father Tompkins loaned them $300, and got another $700 for them from a friend, to buy the machinery. It is a moving tale of human endeavor; that handbuilt cannery was a success. The first year there was sufficient profit to pay their indebtedness. Instead of three or four cents a pound, their lobsters paid them twenty cents. The second year, with the debt raised, the fishermen were being paid a living wage.

But of more importance was the change in their spirit. The men and women began to see a way out. Hope and ambition was born in their hearts. They organized a buying club and slashed the prices of the things they had to buy. They began to live better. Pale and hollow cheeks began to fill out. Home industries began to revive. The government was petitioned, and built a road for them, connecting them with the outside world. They bought goals to have milk, and in time put in a two-room school.

This took place during the worst years of the depression when other places were sinking deeper and deeper into the slough of poverty.

If you visited Little Dover today, you would not find many evidences of prosperity. It will always be a stern and rock-bound coast with but little vegetation, but there are people in Little Dover who have seen a light, and are following it with steadfast hope. Little Dover is the proof that co-operation will find a way. for if it works in this bare region, it will work anywhere.

When I met Father Tompkins and listened to him, I could understand his influence. He is a flaming apostle of freedom – "Ideas have hands and feet," he says. "Get the people to think and they will find a way."

We sat in his library in the Glebe House at Reserve Mines, and looked at a chart which two of the Sisters brought in for his approval. It showed a bridge leading from the Hell of Poverty to the Heaven of Security, and the bridge was built of: (1) Knowledge. (2) Co-operation and (3) that short Anglo-Saxon word not used in polite conversations but which means backbone and determination.

Nova Scotia is giving a lead to all of Canada in this matter of co-op-

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eration. Co-operative stores are to be seen in most of the towns and villages of the eastern part of the province. Credit Unions are making the people save their money. They have a new motive now for thrift. No longer are the bars enriched at the expense of the family. The co-operative stores pay cash to the people for their produce, and while there is no unfair price-cutting, goods are sold at a reasonable price. The profits are then divided among the customers according to the extent of their purchases and according to their investment. It may sound like the old device "of taking in each other’s washing," but it works out very well. The management buys their stock at wholesale prices, sells at retail price, deducts cost of management, and divides what is left. And everything is done on a cash basis.

I talked to many people, asking many questions, and I found only one criticism, and that came from a woman whose brother is a storekeeper. She says people who owe her brother money are now members of a Co-operative store and have not paid their debts, but she admitted that her brother had not paid cash for any produce until the Co-operative store had been opened. Now he is paying half-cash – but his business has fallen off.

I asked her if she thought the debts would be settled, and she said some of them would, when the people could spare the money. She was generous enough to say she could not blame the people for going into the Co-operative, but it was hard on her brother to see his business shrinking!

This movement in Nova Scotia began twenty-five years ago at a Catholic University. The St. Francis Xavier professors of Economics were not content to talk only in classrooms. They went out among the people. They heard their complaints. They heard them damn the country. They heard them rail at the church. But these learned men were not shocked or dismayed. They understood the causes and set themselves to find a remedy.

And they are finding it in Study Clubs, credit Unions, Co-operative Stores, and above all in the new spirit of hope and independence which these have given to the people.