In recognition of Co-op Week and the International Year of Co-operatives, the Beaton Institute, Cape Breton’s regional archives, is launching an online photo exhibit and a guide to its archival materials on co-operative housing and co-operative leaders such as Father Jimmy Tompkins, Father Moses Coady, Mary Arnold and Alexander Laidlaw.
According to Catherine Arseneau, manager of the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University, the material will improve access to records for researchers and community members. “These important resources will bring attention to the rich history, development, founding and legacy of co-operative housing and the wider co-operative movement in Cape Breton,” she says.
People in Cape Breton were actually trail blazers with respect to co-op housing in Canada. The first housing co-op was built in Reserve Mines, literally down the road from the Beaton Institute, in 1938. With the technical help of Mary Arnold, a co-op developer from the United States, as well as inspirational leadership from Jimmy Tompkins, a group of eleven families met for two years to learn about various aspects of the building trades. With land purchased under a group mortgage, they collectively built homes for each family, and began what became a popular and affordable method of providing housing in rural communities across the island, Nova Scotia, and the rest of Canada.
The online, searchable guide provides a catalogue of archival materials for researchers and the community, which includes meeting minutes for the Reserve Mines housing co-op (called the Arnold Co-operative) and a copy of the song that was sung when members of the co-op paid off (and then burned) their group mortgage.
The development of the finding aid and online exhibit are projects of the Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network, a Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
Co-op week is celebrated from October 14 to 20 across Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada to draw attention to the role co-operatives play here and around the world. 2012 is also the International Year of Co-operatives, a United Nations declaration that acknowledges the contribution of co-operatives to economic and social development.