Vanessa Hammond

The call for more co-operations

Proponent Vanessa Hammond sees an abundance of opportunities for more co-ops on Haida Gwaii.

Vanessa Hammond knows co-ops can do plenty of good, but she started with them to make pocket money.

After India, Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Hammond grew up in county Tyrone — a part of northern Ireland that was quite poor in the post-war 1950s.

Her only way to make pocket change was to join a local farmers’ co-op.

“My dad said if you want money, you’d better get those hens laying some eggs,” she said.

Today, after a decades-long career helping co-ops in over 20 countries — a career that included founding the Healthcare Co-Op Federation of Canada — Hammond says wherever they are and whatever they do, co-ops work best when a group of people decide they have to fix a problem themselves.

“Each one is different, but it’s always a bunch of people who are ticked off that something isn’t being done, or isn’t being done right in their community,” she said.

On Feb. 1, Hammond will give a talk all about co-ops as part of the Masset Lectures series.

Although she now lives in Victoria, Hammond has worked on Haida Gwaii with Northern Savings Credit Union and is now spending seven weeks in Skidegate, where she is filling in for a friend who is a minister at Skidegate United Church.

Here on Haida Gwaii, Hammond said besides the credit union and Delmas Co-op grocery stores, there may be opportunities for an agricultural co-op, or a housing co-op, or a co-op small-scale wellness and health practitioners.

“It’s really fortunate on Haida Gwaii that there is Community Futures, MIEDS, the credit union — lots of people who can help,” she said, referring to the Misty Isles Economic Development Society.

Hammond started her life in Canada by becoming a teacher in Toronto, but she quit the year her principal decided Grade 7 and 8 students should only learn long division if they want to.

Almost by accident, Hammond wound up starting a small company that could sell medical electronics from Canada to Cuba — something her ex-husband’s company had tried to do before it was blocked by a related U.S. firm.

After that first order, two men from Hitachi flew from Japan to surprise her at home.

“They decided to visit this little company they’d never heard of,” said Hammond, smiling. “There I was in my apartment in Don Mills with two kids and Salvation Army furniture.”

Over tea, the men approved Hammond’s business plan, but said she was making too little profit — they dropped their price so she could open a proper office.

“They were perfect,” she said.

Soon, Hammond was exporting small orders to other countries — word processors for Haiti, safety equipment to fishermen in Barbados.

It was in Barbados where Hammond found herself in the middle of an argument between members of a small-scale fishermen’s co-op. Having joined a few co-ops in Toronto as well as the one in Ireland, Hammond offered to help.

“They went off and got a couple bottles of rum, and we sat down and talked about consensus decision-making,” she said, laughing.

Once it was sorted, the men asked Hammond to visit nearby fishermen’s co-ops in St. Lucia and St. Vincent and do the same thing.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Hammond worked with many small co-ops and small, informal businesses across the Caribbean and Latin America, including a memorable time with the Anonymous Women Poets Co-op in Guyana, which was then publishing political poems in the tense years after the Jonestown Massacre.

“There was no career plan in any of this,” she said. “It just kind of happened.”

Back in Canada, Hammond has seen co-ops handle everything from rural ambulance service outside St. John’s, Newfoundland, to offering employment support for people in Thunder Bay.

At her talk on Feb. 1, Hammond will take questions and share some of the co-op lessons she learned along the way.

The Feb. 1 Masset Lecture runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at Northwest Community College in Masset.

For more about upcoming talks in the Masset Lecture series, join the Masset Lecture group on Facebook.


Just Posted

Adverse weather forces ferry schedule change

Thursday’s Skidegate to Prince Rupert route affected

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Coast Mountain College announces interim president

Ken Burt, current president and CEO, will say goodbye to CMNT come September

Queen Charlotte crackdown

RCMP target impaired driving amidst rising numbers of the offence

Australian gold mining giant acquires Red Chris mine

Newcrest now owns 70 per cent of the mine south of Iskut and operatorship

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Forests minister visits B.C. town rocked by multiple mill shutdowns

A third of Mackenzie turns out for rally, not much to cheer about

B.C. music teacher accused of sexual misconduct involving girls

Police believe other victims could be out there after the arrest of Lamar Victor Alviar

B.C. family stranded in Croatia desperate to come home

Funds being raised to bring back mom and two children

B.C. man on trial for daughters’ murders says an intruder broke in

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Province funds new shuttle buses for 13 B.C. senior centres

Activity, socializing helps maintain health, Adrian Dix says

Most Read