History of Co-ops

Early Days


Robert Owen of New Lanark, Scotland, promotes the idea of co-operatives and founds several co-operative colonies, such as New Harmony, Indiana.


Rochdale Pioneers start the first successful retail co-operative in Rochdale, England.


Guelph Campus Co-operative is established as a retail co-op. The co-op later adds student housing.


The Antigonish Movement encourages retail and farm co-ops to form. The movement also promotes building co-ops, where members build houses for one another. When all the members are housed, the co-op dissolves, leaving the members as individual owners.


Campus Co-operative Residence is established at the University of Toronto to provide housing for students, owned and operated by the students themselves. It is the first permanent housing co-operative in Canada and the first student housing co-op.


Co-operatives define themselves through a nation-wide submission of briefs, organized by the Co-operative Union of Canada (CUC), to the Royal Commission on Co-operatives. The housing recommendations in CUC’s brief are rejected by the writers of the influential Curtis Report. As a result, revisions to the National Housing Act do not provide any support for the start-up of housing co-ops.


Science ’44 Co-operative is founded for students in Kingston.


Waterloo Co-op Residences starts up and later expands to become the largest student co-op in Canada.


A wave of student co-ops arrive on the scene, funded under Canada Mortgage (then “Central Mortgage”) and Housing Corporation’s student housing program.


Willow Park Housing Co-operative opens in Winnipeg, Manitoba – the first permanent housing co-operative for families in Canada.


CHF Canada (then the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada) is founded as a joint initiative of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Union of Canada (now the Canadian Co-operative Association) through the National Labour–Co-operatives Committee. Its purpose is to encourage the development of housing co-operatives.

The Period of Development


CHF Canada convinces the federal government, through CMHC, to make available $30 million of its new $200-million Innovative Housing Fund for several pilot co-op housing projects.


Through amendments to the National Housing Act the federal government launches the first program to develop housing co-ops for families. About 7,700 co-op homes are created across Canada.


The first regional federation of housing co-ops in Canada, today called the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto, forms.


The first regional federation of housing co-ops in Quebec forms in the Eastern Townships. Between 1981 and 1997, housing co-ops form 21 other continuing regional associations.


About 39,000 co-op homes are developed across Canada under the second federal co-op program.


About 14,500 co-op homes are developed through the third federal co-op program. A special feature is the index-linked mortgage, introduced from Europe by CHF Canada.


CMHC and the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario assist the development of more than 7,000 co-op homes under a cost-shared federal/provincial housing program.


The Co-operative Housing Association of Ontario (CHAO) forms. A confederation of community housing development groups and regional co-op housing federations, CHAO was instrumental in negotiating Ontario government support for co-op housing development.


Ontario funds its first non-profit housing program without federal aid, Homes Now. Over the next six years, more than 14,000 co-op units are developed through a series of Ontario programs.


Coop d’habitation étudiant Triangle Rose, a new student housing co-op, starts up in Montreal.


British Columbia announces a small program to create more non-profit and co-op homes.


Quebec funds PARCO, a non-profit and co-operative housing program.

Cuts Happen


The federal government ends funding for new development under its unilateral co-operative housing program.


The federal government withdraws from cost-shared federal/provincial housing programs at the end of the year.


Ontario ends provincial funding for non-profit and co-op housing development.


CHAO and CHF Canada merge. CHAO becomes CHF Canada’s Ontario Region.



The federal Budget says CMHC will phase out its remaining role in social housing.


CHF Canada releases a proposal for an independent non-governmental agency to administer federal co-op programs in place of CMHC.


The Ontario government decides to devolve non-profit and co-op housing programs to municipal control.


Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia sign social housing agreements with CMHC and take over administration of existing federal co-op and non-profit housing programs.


Manitoba and Yukon follow suit.


CHF Canada releases a revised version of its program administration proposal.


The federal Minister Responsible for CMHC announces that federal co-op programs will not be transferred to the governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.


Manitoba offers to transfer the federal co-op programs back to CMHC.


CHF Canada opens an office in Winnipeg, bringing the number of office locations to four.


Alfonso Gagliano, federal Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, tells CHF Canada that he would be willing to consider the national co-op program administrative agency if two or three provinces that had already signed social housing transfer agreements agree to participate in the discussions. British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland agree to participate. Quebec, which is considering a similar agency proposal from Quebec housing co-ops, asks to take part as an observer.


The first meeting of the federal-provincial-housing co-op working group to discuss the co-op agency proposal takes place on December 5.


The Ontario Social Housing Reform Act revoking operating agreements with housing co-ops and non-profit housing providers becomes law. The stage is set for wide sweeping changes to the terms of government housing assistance.


The joint federal/provincial/co-op housing Working Group continued to meet throughout the spring. In the summer, staff of CHF Canada met with CMHC staff to discuss some of the concerns the government has with our agency proposal. In a very positive meeting held August 7, 2001, the federal Minister responsible for CMHC, reaffirmed his support for CHF Canada’s idea for a new national agency to administer co-operative housing programs.

The federal government announces the first new funding for housing since 1993. BC and Quebec are the first provinces to sign agreements with the federal government to match this funding.

The transfer of Ontario’s co-op and non-profit housing programs to municipal control begins.


CHF Canada opens an office in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our members can now reach us in five different offices in four time zones.


The opening of Atkinson housing co-op in Toronto marks the first conversion of a public housing project to a housing co-op.


Blue Heron Housing Co-op in Kanata received funding to build 50 apartment units and 33 townhouses. The co-op will be funded by a mix of municipal, provincial and federal money.

Great news! On May 13, the federal government announced an agreement to transfer the administration of co-operative housing programs to administration by the new agency created by the co-op housing sector.

Reprinted from the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada