Page 47 - BCHNews-Spring2021-Web
P. 47

How BC’s First Dairy Co-Op
 Defined Downtown Duncan
  The Cowichan Creamery Co-Op Supported Rural Farmers for Almost a Century
 Ali Pitargue
(Article originally published by The Discourse)
AtthecornerofDuncanStreetandQueens Road in downtown Duncan, there’s a hidden history of the Cowichan region’s rise as a hub for agriculture and farming through the 20th century.
And the product that made Cowichan food famous? It was butter.
That was the site of the Cowichan Creamery Co-op, the first dairy co- operative in British Columbia. The enterprise was key to Duncan’s economic prosperity, especially for rural farmers, says Kathryn Gagnon, curator of the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives.
Prior to the co-op, farmers in Duncan worked independently and used different butter-making methods. This made the quality irregular, and farmers also had difficulty reaching markets.
would churn butter to a signature quality. They eventually set a standard for high- quality dairy products.
Products were transported all over the province, with over 47,000 pounds of buttershippedoutintheco-op’sfirstyear. The Creamery later expanded to other ventures such as grading eggs, producing feed and repairing farm equipment.
The location at Duncan Street was chosen due to its proximity to the cold-water spring needed for washing butter. The building was also constructed at a prime location at the heart of the downtown core, a hub of economic activity. It was just northeast of the Duncan train station, making it accessible for many businesspeople who passed through.
“ThereweremanyfactorsastowhyDuncan was experiencing a boom, but certainly the creamery was one,” says Gagnon. “It was providing food and shipping it off among the growing population in BC.”
  AnetworkoffarmersdecidedthatcreatingWhat happened to the Cowichan a dairy cooperative would improve their creamery?
businesses. Through establishing a co- op, farmers could pool resources and set auniformstandardforCowichanbutter.By sharing profits and losses, a cooperative would also give them more financial stability.
They established the Cowichan Creamery Co-op in 1895 and opened for business a year later. It ran for more than 70 years and was the first dairy cooperative west of Ontario.
“They could finally have consistency in the quality and Cowichan became famous for the butter that they produced,” says Gagnon. Farmers would take their milk to the co-op and the in-house butter-makers
Two major fires in 1910 and 1946 swept through the creamery buildings, but they were rebuilt each time, Gagnon says. The co-op was an economic driver and well worth the cost of repairs. Like other buildings in Downtown Duncan at the time, the creamery was constructed with wood, making it vulnerable to fire. The Duncan creamery succumbed to a third fire in April of 1968. After that, the creamery relocated away from the downtown core. The cooperative became inactive in the 1970s and dissolved in 1988, Gagnon says.

   45   46   47   48   49