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 becoming the fastest growing life insurer in Canada. By 1947, soon after receiving its federal charter, Co-operative Life expanded into Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario. In 1949, it expanded into the Atlantic provinces, where Maritime Co-operative Services (MCS) sold Co-operative Life insurance through its own insurance agency. A year later, the company moved into British Columbia.

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, co-operative supporters across Canada formed a second company in Regina in 1951, Co-operative Fire and Casualty Company. Co-operative Life and Co-operative Fire and Casualty were brought together under one holding company, C.I.S. Ltd. (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 it was reorganized as a joint stock company, Co-operators Insurance Association (CIA). The Ontario Credit Union League, Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the United Co-operatives of Ontario were principal shareholders. Focusing on auto insurance CIA grew quickly to hold second place out of the 250 companies writing auto insurance in Ontario by the end of the decade.

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 Associations of Guelph (CIAG). The Saskatchewan and Ontario insurance operations amalgamated to form The Co-operators in 1978.

Since then, TheCo-operators has continued to grow in order to best serve the needs of our clients and our co-operative goals. We do business better together, just as we have done throughout our co-operative history.