We’re proud of our heritage. Since 1944, our focus has been on responding to our member-owners’ needs by providing quality products and services in our communities. Year after year we’ve been committed to pointing the way forward and ensuring each of our member-owners are ready for what’s next.

Below are some interesting tidbits of our past. For a more detailed account of our history, pick up a copy of our recently published book “Our First 70 Years: A History of North Wellington Co-operative Services Inc.”

Our First 70 Years: A History of North Wellington Co-operative Services Inc.

Our First 70 Years: A History of North Wellington Co-operative Services Inc.

North Wellington Co-op knows how to Throw a Party!

News from the United Co-operative of Ontario reported on the second Town and Country Night in Harriston that drew 600 people in 1968. Organized by North Wellington Co-operative Services directors and staff and the Minto Federation of Agriculture, the event featured broom ball, free skating, cards and dancing. Arnold McIntyre, co-op manager, reported that local dancers also demonstrated square and round dancing. Local Reeves Allan Ross and Dr. Ken Fisk gave greetings.

Co-ops have Experience in Youth Programs

Youth development has been important to the Ontario co-operative movement almost since the beginning. The provincial program for teens, Ontario Co-operative Young Leaders, dates back almost 50 years to a summer camp invented by agricultural co-operatives. Running strong today under the management of the Ontario Co-operative Association, Co-op Young Leaders allows youth from across Ontario a chance to learn about co-op principles, practice public speaking and gain self confidence. In recent years, North Wellington Co-op has sponsored between one and three young people and a staff facilitator each year to attend the program.

As groundbreaking as the Co-op Young Leaders program was, it had precedence in the United Farm Young People’s of Ontario whose first club was organized in March 1920. It was the United Farm Women of Ontario, founded to complement the United Farmers of Ontario (a farm co-op lobby group), who saw the great advantage of helping youth become co-op leaders, noted Melville H. Staples in his 1921 history of the Ontario co-op movement. Youth membership was open to any unmarried person over 13 years of age at a cost of 25? for the year. Staples quotes a champion of the youth chapters: “My honest opinion is that if we who are older will only give our time to organizing the Junior Sections, and helping them in any way we can, we will accomplish a very great deal for the future of our movement and our country.” Still true.

Co-op Toys were Popular Reminders

Co-operatives used to serve as general stores in many communities, selling everything from canned beans to toys. A remnant of those early years was the availability of collectible vehicles and accessories. Over three decades Co-ops sold mini Fords, Dodges, Volvos, Chevs and Studebakers in various scales manufactured by the Ertl Company and Liberty Classics. They were decorated with the various logos that the co-op and its partners have had over many, many years.

But these toys weren’t for small kids. Many customers were collectors. When asked what was the attraction, one collector’s wife (who shall remain nameless) said the miniatures appeal to the “boy in the man.”

If you are looking to start your collection, you might have to talk to a local collector because North Wellington Co-op is sold out. Thanks to Bernice Aitken at Mount Forest for this story idea.

Miniatures are a reminder of a cherished past.

Miniatures are a reminder of a cherished past.


Time Have Certainly Changed in 70 Years of Agriculture Co-op Business

In seven decades, products, services and income of agricultural co-ops have changed drastically. For instance, sales for the year ending September 30, 1943 for Mount Forest District Co-operative Company Ltd. were just over $77,000 (which would have a value of about $1 million in 2012 according to the Bank of Canada) and net profit for the year was almost $2,000. Revenue from eggs (including grading) was greatest, comprising 36% of the total, followed by sales from the general store. Flour and feed accounted for 28%. The remainder came from revenue generated from poultry, cream commissions and hides, hair and wool. Horse hair was used as upholstery filler and for plaster.

In 2012, North Wellington Co-operative Services, representing descendants of the early Mount Forest Co-op and others, posted sales of almost $28 million. Net profit of close to $276,000 comes after paying dividends of $302,737 to members and income tax of more than $68,000. The largest areas of sales in 2012 were in crops (seed, plant food, and crop protection) and energy (propane and bulk fuel).

Co-Bear Made Business Fun

During the nineties we adopted a larger-than-life teddy bear from our petroleum supplier, UPI Energy LP. He was busy! Co-Bear attended open houses, parades, kept store, directed traffic, pumped gas and provided hugs and candy. He was our beloved mascot.

Many thanks to the many young staff members who kept him animated. It was often a hot task.

The big question is: Will Co-Bear come out of retirement for our 70th anniversary?

Co-Bear was a friend to all.

Co-Bear was a friend to all.


A Good Beginning for Amalgamated Co-op

It took only 18 months for Mount Forest members of the newly merged North Wellington Co-operative Services to see that they didn’t need to go back.

At the new co-op’s annual meeting on November 30, 1961, Phil Ghent, who helped found Mount Forest District Co-operative Company Limited, asked that members surrender the charter for that co-op. Additionally he moved that members, “authorize directors and officers to sign and execute all things, deeds and documents necessary or desirable to carry out the …(dissolution) of Mount Forest District Co-operative Co. Ltd. on such date the order may fix.” Clarence Brown seconded the motion and it carried.

Speaking to the financial success of the new co-op, directors also asked for approval to give a 2.5% patronage dividend on members’ purchases for the past year. It carried.


What Happened to Burlap Bags?

We have all seen images where a cow eats apples from a Co-op burlap bag or the sack is used to win a race at a picnic. They show a simpler time.

In the beginning, most feed from North Wellington Co-op was sold in 100-pound jute bags, made of natural fibres. After their use, farmers returned the bags for credit of 5¢ or 10¢ each. Bags were sent to be sanitized and pressed, and reused again.

If bags are used now, they are plastic weaves and designed for single use as a means to ensure biosecurity. But most farmers opt for bulk feed, reducing labour and materials costs as well as reducing waste.

Like many things in agriculture, things change for the better but we can’t help but salute artifacts of our past.

A feed mill and its requisite burlap bags are part of a scene from a painting commissioned by the United Co-operatives of Ontario (UCO) in 1988 to commemorate 75 years of the Ontario agricultural co-op system. Next year marks the centenary.

A feed mill and its requisite burlap bags are part of a scene from a painting commissioned by the United Co-operatives of Ontario (UCO) in 1988 to commemorate 75 years of the Ontario agricultural co-op system. Next year marks the centenary.


Growth in Hanover Started Trend

Fifteen years ago on Apr. 16, North Wellington Co-operative Services opened its new store, garden centre and gas bar in Hanover, marking a new era for Ontario agricultural co-operatives. CKNX radio was on site to broadcast the event and radio personality Gary Ballagh was master of ceremonies for the grand opening.

It was the popularity of that year-round heated Hanover garden centre that demonstrated to many farm co-ops that the non-farm customers would happily look to their co-ops for expertise in plant care. Throughout the province, permanent garden centres popped up at co-operative locations, including at NWC’s own Harriston (2002), Mount Forest (2004) and Durham (2006) branches.

North Wellington Co-op garden centre openings further showed the co-op's leadership. Pictured is the ribbon cutting for the Harriston Garden Centre Grand Opening in 2002.

North Wellington Co-op garden centre openings further showed the co-op’s leadership. Pictured is the ribbon cutting for the Harriston Garden Centre Grand Opening in 2002.



Raising a Flag for Spring

Flag Day started a quarter century ago for North Wellington Co-op. It was the invention of then General Manager Gerald Raby. The idea was to announce that the co-op was ready for spring. Lining the street in front of Co-op buildings were trucks, spreaders and other equipment, polished for members’ inspections. Because Gerald also mounted Co-op flags along the route, the event was dubbed “flag day” and it remained a pre-spring tradition until recent years. It has since been transformed into a summer open house and barbecue for co-op customers and members at all NWC locations.

Flag Day in Mount Forest, circa 1998. Pictured left to right, Willis Horst and Brent Zeinstra.

Flag Day in Mount Forest, circa 1998. Pictured left to right, Willis Horst and Brent Zeinstra.

Big Idea to Promote Early Fertilizer Delivery

North Wellington Co-op offered big hats in the spring of 1961. Customers were given a genuine Royal Stetson with payment and receipt of bagged fertilizer by March 18, 1961. “And remember early delivery will save you valuable hours at seeding time… order the better fertilizer now,” read the promotion. Retired General Manager, Bill Chamberlain, who was a fieldman at the time, remembers seeing farmers wearing their beige Stetsons with pride. Today, vintage Stetsons, a symbol of the prosperous rancher, can be found on eBay for $200, and North Wellington Co-op still offers early delivery of bagged fertilizer.

Member Loans Made Bulk Blender Possible 42 Years Ago

North Wellington Co-operative Services started bulk blending fertilizer in the spring of 1971. To finance the expansion, directors launched a member loan drive during the last week of February. Members raised $32,000, more than enough to buy and install the bulk blender and equipment into the fertilizer building at Harriston. The co-op held a grand opening on April 27 overseen by President Stuart Douglas, and built its reputation as a very competitive fertilizer supplier.

Coffee Club Initiation

Bill Chamberlain, retired general manager, recalls his memories of some of his time at the co-op.

I was introduced to the morning coffee break at North Wellington Co-operative Services on Apr. 11, 1960. We met around Alex Foether’s service counter in the Harriston store. “Make your own coffee,” I was told. “There is the instant coffee, powdered cream, sugar and hot water and put a nickel in the red tobacco tin.” The coffee operation was called “Bums Incorporated” by its shareholders.

The price of coffee has decreased notes Communications & Marketing Specialist Jeff McCallum. The co-op now has free coffee for customers and staff in Harriston.


The Last Train

Bill Chamberlain, retired general manager, recalls his memories of the last train pulling out of Harriston.

The last train pulled out of Harriston in the spring of 1994 with two empty freight cars. At the time I was talking on the telephone to a CN agent about bringing fertilizer ingredients into Harriston by rail to increase rail traffic in hopes of keeping rail service to Harriston. The CN agent said there is NO train service to Harriston anymore. I said, “YES, the train is behind the Co-op right now, I can hear its whistle.” He told me to RUN and take a picture, because it would be the last time I’d see a train in Harriston. He was right.


Decision Paid Dividends

Eighteen years ago North Wellington Co-operative Services made a decision to join the GROWMARK System of co-operatives based in Illinois for $141,000. That investment has been repaid several times over with patronage dividends on fertilizer, seed, crop protection and petroleum products.

In addition to gaining opportunities to pass along patronage to members, North Wellington Co-op secured a new, stronger wholesale partner to provide goods and services.

GROWMARK had bought the key assets of United Co-operatives of Ontario which had been the major supplier to farm co-operatives in the province, but had been having financial difficulties for many years.

Mount Forest Co-op took up temporary residence in farm equipment building in 1971

While a new store and warehouse were being built on the site of the existing co-op store on busy Highway 6, its business operated out of the John Deere building across the street in Mount Forest. The new building cost $40,000 and was offi cially opened on Nov. 10, 1971 by a large crowd of members and dignitaries.

Its popular garden centre was upgraded in 2004, further making the store a key service provider for farm and home supplies in the area.

Durham Trail has a Co-op History

A scenic trail in Durham traverses lands that were a key part of Durham Farmers Co-operative Limited. The co-operative bought the “Durham Mills” from Keith and Jane Dickson on New Year’s Eve 1955. It was a feed mill and seed cleaning plant, powered by a mill race on the Saugeen River. In the spring of 1965 a fl ood led to the mill closing permanently. The mill was dismantled in 1972 and surplus land was donated to Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority in 1983.

The historic moment

On Dec. 14 1959 the Mount Forest District Co-operative Co. Ltd. board of directors met and reviewed the nine month audited financial statement, which was “somewhat encouraging,” according to the minutes. It was moved by Wilfred Daly that the co-op investigate joining with Harriston Co-operative Association. It was seconded by Joe McGee and approved.

A second motion was carried on Jan. 11, 1960 that President Oswald Wollis, Vice President Charles Wood, and Secretary Wilfred Daly comprise a committee to meet with Harriston Co-operative Association.

After several meetings the two co-operatives joined and became North Wellington Co-operative Services on June 1 1960.

First sprayer showed changing role at co-op by Bill Chamberlain

I can remember the first weed sprayer that North Wellington Co-operative sold. It was in 1962 and I was what was called a co-op retail fieldman. The sprayer had a 21-foot boom and was sold to Fred Ziegler.

Fred and I put the sprayer together and mounted it to his tractor at his farm so he could spray his own crops.

I think this showed a changing relationship between farmers and their co-operatives. The co-operative became a partner helping find solutions, not just a supplier of products and mill services.

It’s a mindset that continues today.

History kept safe

In 1957 Harriston co-op was robbed, reports the September minutes of the board. Fortunately, the co-op’s losses were covered by insurance, but the safe was deemed unusable. The manager borrowed one from the Township of Minto and the co-op later bought it for $75. Although the co-operative has long abandoned the safe for valuables, it still houses some — the board minutes that give us this interesting history.

Minto Farmers Co-op Club forayed into fertilizer sales in 1921

On April 23, 1921 Minto Farmers Co-op Club made a purchase that would launch an enterprise that would last more than 90 years. The club purchased two tons of 2-8-2 fertilizer at $52 per ton, and half a ton of 2-10-0 fertilizer at $51.19 per ton. The fertilizer was sold to six farmers without a mark up. The next fertilizer sale of record is, remarkably, 20 years later. Forty-seven tons were bought and sold, netting Minto Farmers Co-op 40 cents a ton. As agricultural science developed and farmers worked more land, plant food and products sales grew to become a core service of agricultural co-ops, including today’s North Wellington Co-op.


Harriston Co-op got its first feed mill in 1951

Harriston Co-operative Association’s Board of Directors gained member approval to purchase Walkey feed mill on April 12, 1951. Directors then canvassed the area to raise $30,500, the purchase price of the feed mill.

Everything went well on closing day except for a lively discussion whether to continue manufacturing a competitor’s feed brand. The Board voted to continue to manufacture and sell the brand at the mill, and sell Co-op branded feed at the Co-op store on Main Street in Harriston.

That wouldn’t continue for long. In October members requested that, “Co-op products be put foremost to the customers,” according to board minutes. For many years, feeds that were exclusive to the co-operative system were an important business.

Hanover grew from gas bar

The Hanover branch has a different evolution than its counterparts in Harriston, Durham and Mount Forest. It started as a Co-op Gas Bar in the mid 1980s when United Co-operatives of Ontario (UCO) Grey Bruce District Area Manager Lloyd Crawford encouraged UCO to install a gas bar on property leased from Grien Brothers Trucking. Good customer service and competitive prices on gasoline and propane soon made the station popular. UCO later purchased the property, and employee Terry Walker and other staff members started selling retail pet food and garden centre products to gas bar customers from a store that was once a snow mobile shop on the lot.

In 1993, North Wellington Co-op members bought the Hanover business from UCO, and built a new store and gas bar on the property in 1998.

Durham expanded

Thirty years ago the Durham building committee was charged with making a plan to finance and create a new store and warehouse within a $120,000 budget. Committee members were Dave Bowers, Fred Grierson, Howard Weltz, UCO employee Alex Miller and area manager Lloyd Crawford.

They decided to raise $60,000 in preference shares and the remainder through commitments of labour from farmers, contractors and interested people in the community.

Their plan worked and a Thank You Dinner and Dance was held in the new store on Feb. 18 , 1983 for up to 300 co-op supporters. Federal Minister of Agriculture Eugene Whelan, a renowned co-op leader in Ontario, was the guest speaker.

A decade later North Wellington Co-operative Services raised money from its members and bought the Durham business and buildings. Today, Durham remains a cornerstone of the co-operative’s business.

Durham Co-operators built a store with their own hands close to 30 years ago.

Facing approval and financial barriers to building their own state-of-the-art store, Durham co-operators decided to build it and a warehouse themselves in the early eighties. Fred Grierson, the chair of the cooperative, served as the contractor of record, and members worked more or less for free plus common shares in UCO. In the early part of the 20th Century, many co-operatives were founded on volunteer efforts, but oldfashioned barn raising wasn’t a strategy many modern Ontario co-operators used. In the end, the co-operative opened a beautiful retail outlet on Feb. 18, 1983, and it became part of the United Co-operatives of Ontario network. In addition to Grierson, Durham directors at the time were: Kevin Eccles, Harold Jelinski, Murray Clarke, David Hartley, Orville Lee and Don Lewis.

Fortunes continued to change in agriculture, and United Co-operatives of Ontario looked to local co-operatives to step in where it had to vacate. North Wellington Co-operative Services raised money from its membership and bought the Durham business and buildings in 1993. Today, Durham remains a cornerstone of the co-operative’s business.

Ontario co-op trailblazer saw huge potential here.

One of Ontario’s most noted co-operative pioneers spoke to members of Harriston Cooperative Association at their annual meeting on Feb. 13, 1952. Leonard Harman, an editor of The Rural Co-operator and leader of the province’s federated co-operative, told members they had a share in Ontario’s co-operative assets including feed, seed and fertilizer plants. Surprisingly, he also noted that Harriston Co-op did business in the poorest building of any co-operative in Ontario. He urged members to support expansion and improvement. This led to a lively discussion about purchasing a mill or store.

Expand they did and today North Wellington Co-operative Services is recognized as a top agricultural business with four major sites, wins awards for providing customers a great buying experience, and enjoys one of the most committed and engaged memberships in Ontario.

Mount Forest co-operators started with baking supplies

Our best record of co-operative organization at Mount Forest in the early 1920s is based on a letter received by former North Wellington Co-op president John Tregunna many years ago. The letter was written by Alice Campbell. She lists founding directors as John Wilkinson, William Aldcorn, Ezra Holliday, Jack Douglas, John Hatch, William Watson, and Anson Kirkness.

The group’s original task was to get a supply of flour, sugar, raisins, dates, prunes and rice for the buying club members. Today North Wellington Co-operative Services operates four stores selling everything except groceries!

Co-op led to conserve energy with a simple solution

In 1955 when North Wellington Co-op started its petroleum business, the co-operative’s farm gas tanks were the colour of shiny aluminum, contrary to competitors who painted their tanks dark colours. Some companies even delivered fuel into 45-gallon barrels, which often rusted from exposure to the elements on the farm. But it was the co-operative system that listened to farmers’ concerns that fuel evaporated in the heat and provided them with farm storage tanks that reflected the hot summer sun. Today, co-op tanks are bright white.


One of the best business decisions for co-op members and profitability was made 56 years ago this month (August 2011). On Mon. Aug. 21, 1955, Harriston Co-operative Association Board of Directors met to extensively discuss the need for the co-op to go into the fuel business. George McCague made a motion, seconded by L. Pridham, to meet again the following Saturday at 9 p.m. to vote. Saturday came and ballots were cast. Eight voted for; one, against, and a new business was born. W. Donaldson, Secretary, recorded the event.

June 1921: Minto Farmers Co-op Club purchased 4000 lbs of binder twine for $820.08 at a time when grain binders were important to the grain harvest. Less than a decade earlier, it was farmers’ common need for binder twine that sparked the growth of the Ontario agricultural co-operative system.

Twine came packaged in heavy bags, tied six ways by half-inch ropes. Farmers reused the rope many ways including as calf halters.

The Minto club sold all the twine at $10.75 per 50-lb bag to 31 farmers on a cash basis. The club earned $17.91.

Selling twines to agricultural producers is still an important function of North Wellington Co-operatives Services.

Ninety years ago, a small group of farmers took co-operative action in Minto Township to supply themselves with seed. In particular, they needed seed for “mangold”.

Farmers used to seed a small piece of land with mangolds, a sweet root crop similar to beets. The vegetable was sliced in a root pulper and added to grain chop to feed cattle over winter. These co-operative farmers combined their orders for mangold seed to order 43 pounds at a cost of 45 cents per pound, or $19.35 total. This enterprising group called themselves the Minto Farmers Co-op Club. The important seed arrived Apr. 21, 1921 from Wm Copland.

You may recognize the names of these pioneer co-operators: JJ Bracken, M. McDermid, R.Richardson, Don Wilkenson, W. Fleming, R. McCullough, W.J. Lawrence, B.Tarr and W. Ziegler.

Encouraged by this successful business venture, the group brought other farm supplies.