The story of The Co-operators and co-operative insurance in Canada

Our pioneer roots

Our founders had a dream of building a co-operative insurance company that would stretch from coast to coast and grow to be one of the cornerstones of the co-operative movement in Canada. They were farmers who had lost most of their belongings, their savings and their life insurance during the Great Depression. Their experiences had taught them to distrust conventional businesses, and they built co-operatives as a way to solve their problems and rebuild their lives.

They faced many obstacles: inexperience with the insurance business, few assets, tough competition and a sparsely populated country with people scattered across miles of prairies, farmland, coastal regions and mountain valleys.

The company known today as The Co-operators is the product of a merger of several smaller companies with roots in rural Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

Co-operative Life Insurance Company formed in 1945

cooperative emploees 1948

In 1945, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool contributed $25,000 to the development of Co-operative Life Insurance Company , based in Regina. In those first years, many Wheat Pool field workers carried out the business of the Wheat Pool while selling life insurance for the new company.

The tiny insurance co-operative grew beyond all expectations. In 1949, it expanded into the Atlantic provinces, where Maritime Co-operative Services (MCS) had been providing insurance to its members since 1938 through its own insurance agency. A year later, the company moved into British Columbia and by 1947, soon after receiving its federal charter, became the fastest growing life insurer in Canada.

Premium payments came in all shapes and sizes over the history of the company. In the 1960’s, Manitoba sales manager Lloyd Hammond was paid with a 100-pound sack of wheat and an apple to renew insurance on a farmer’s truck.

Realizing that farmers needed other forms of insurance protection, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool formed a second company in Regina in 1952, Co-operative Fire and Casualty Company. Co-op Life and Co-operative Fire and Casualty were brought together under one holding company, Co-operative Insurance Services (CIS) in 1963.

The Ontario co-operative connection

CIA display 2

Similar developments were unfolding in Ontario. In 1946, the Co-operative Union of Ontario and the Ontario Credit Union League established 
Co-operators Fidelity and Guarantee Association to provide bonding and livestock transit insurance to its members. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture became the third sponsor a year later. The new company struggled for the first few years until 1950, when United Co-operatives of Ontario (UCO) contributed $75,000 to satisfy capital requirements for a new product, automobile insurance.

A joint stock company, the Co-operators Insurance Association (CIA) was formed and took over the business of Co-operators Fidelity and Guarantee Association. CIA grew quickly and, by the end of the decade, held second place out of the 250 companies writing auto insurance in Ontario.

Co-operators Life Insurance Association, was incorporated in 1959 to do business in Ontario. CIA and Co-operators Life Insurance Association were collectively known as the Co-operators Insurance Association of Guelph (CIAG). The two insurance organizations, CIS and CIAG, amalgamated to form The Co-operators in 1978.

Since then, The Co-operators has continued to purchase and work with companies that best serve the needs of our clients and the co-operative goals of our organization. We do business better together, just as we have done throughout our co-operative history.