Early farmers in Surrey found few outlets to market their products. A trip by ferry to the weekly New Westminster Market offered some means of income. Local farmers found a source of income by selling fresh milk to close neighbours. Small farm dairies were common. Milk would be separated, and butter would be churned. As some of these small operations expanded, they were sometimes referred to as Creameries.
As the advent of agriculture became more productive, reliable rail service became a valuable and essential service. With the extension of the B.C. Electric Railway from Vancouver to Chilliwack, in 1910, daily milk trains could delivered fresh milk to Vancouver. This opened up a new extensive market. In 1927, dairy farmers had already formed a dairy Co–operative to market their milk. J. McIntyre, and F.J. Kellaway were secretaries of the Cloverdale local of the Fraser Valley Milk Producers' Association (F.V.M.P.A.) During 1919 & 1920, they took orders for dairy feed. When enough orders came in, they would order a car load of feed to be shipped into Cloverdale. When the car arrived, the secretary would phone the farmers to inform them that the shipment had arrived. They would collect the amount due, or have it taken off their next milk cheque. At the same time, there was the Poultry Co–operative Exchange, a Poultry Co–operative to market eggs, of which the egg producers wanted a similar savings. Through the Surrey Farmers' institute, the two organizations pooled their resources, and formed a joint Co–op in 1921. They were chartered under the F.V. Surrey Farmers' Co–operative Association, and formed the first Board of Directors in 1921. They rented a small warehouse off A.J. Burrows, a general store keeper. This was near the switch between the B.C. Electric and the Great Northern Railroads. There were already two milling companies operating in Cloverdale, the United Grain Growers, and Vancouver Milling Company. In 1921, the Cloverdale local purchased the lease of the B.C. Electric, and the building of the United Grain Growers, the Co–Op and built and large addition to this Burrows warehouse on land leased from the B.C. Electric.
The co-op also purchased two lots from Albert Milton, and a warehouse and office was built. Business increased, and a second delivery truck was purchased in 1925. In 1938, the name was changed to Surrey Co–operative Association. The Co–op purchased a grinder, and started making grain formulas.
The Co–op soon became self–sufficient, and was able to put money into the business, as well as paying dividends to its shareholders. The members (shareholders) became the owners of the Co–Op. In 1924, the business grew to a point that they put one delivery truck on the road offering free delivery to members within ten miles. By 1932 this free delivery extended to twelve miles, and by 1949, it was extended to McCallum road in Abbotsford. Members picking up their own feed received a discount. To better serve the needs of its members, a hardware store was added. Business suffered during the depression. After 1933, business grew, with the feed business being the mainstay. An additional warehouse and grain elevator was built in 1937. During the times between few years, in spite of the war, an 800 unit of rental cold storage lockers was built, as well as opening a retail meat market.
1945 saw the beginning of discussions with the federal government regarding Income tax. Henry Bose, President of the Co–op made two trips to Ottawa to solidify legislation that would see the shareholders paying income tax on the earnings, thereby removing tax burdens on the Co–op. Key to this negotiation was a former mayor 1924–1930, Senator Tom Reid.
In 1945, a new elevator and warehouse was constructed. Fire insurance was very expensive, if even available, as there was no reliable water system in Cloverdale. A water tower was built on the former Milton property, which had a good producing artesian well. The tower had to be higher than the new 102 Ft. high feed mill. The high cost of the water tower as well as an adjacent holding pond, was offset by the reduced fire insurance costs in a few years. Water was pumped using a gas powered engine, in case of fire, and electricity would be cut off. This holding pond which held 100 thousand gallons and the water tower were put to use on more than one occasion, by the Cloverdale Volunteer Fire Dept.
In 1945, a chicken processing plant was built, and several carloads of poultry were shipped to England as part of the war effort. To meet the member's needs, in 1949, a grocery store was constructed next to the cold storage and meat cutting operation. This new addition also accommodated a greatly expanded hardware Dept. This business grew to be the best hardware store in the Fraser Valley at the same time, property was purchased from the B.C. Electric, and a service station was opened, as well as a Bulk Oil Dealership. The old B.C. Electric Sub Station was purchased, as well as the Peterson Electric building, which was put to use as hay shed. With the rapid expansion, also came the need for vehicle parking. The Dr. Fred Sinclair property was purchased, and the house moved to allow for employee parking. As the needs of its members were voiced, the Co–op soon offered other service, such as a tin smith shop, which not only was responsible for mill maintenance, but also available for custom work for some of its members.
During a period of about ten years in the 40's, the Surrey Co–op sponsored "Short Courses" put on by the professors from U.B.C. These courses gave the most up to date research results, and lessons in animal husbandry, poultry, pruning, and vegetable production. These well attended classes, held at Lord Tweedsmuir High School, were intended to educate their members abut best farm practices.
On Jan 2, 1955, the Surrey Co–operative Association and the Delta Farmers' Co–operative Association amalgamated, retaining the name of the parent company Surrey Co–operative Association. All the Delta Co–op employees were taken on to the Surrey Co–op staff, property was bought in Delta, and a second hardware store was opened there. In 1955 and 1956, the feed mill was modernized with bulk feed delivery facilities and trucks. Many farmers took advantage of the bulk delivery, as delivery costs were reduced, and efficiency on the farm was another cost saving factor, at the same time, the sacked feed business continued to grow.
With the increased vehicle traffic on Old McLellan Road, it was necessary to move the loading bays off the busy road. A new warehouse was built to the east, and feed sacks were sent over by conveyor from the mill to the warehouse, where feed was stored on pallets. Farmer members soon got the message through the grapevine that it was alright to bring in any extra barn cats from the farm. Secretly, we would get onto the "Man Lift", a hand powered elevator that would take us to the top floor. Everyone knew about it, but little was said, as mice had always been a problem in the mill. When bulk feed delivery came in, there was some difficulty in delivering ground feeds through the blower system, so feed was pelletized. This process required a boiler system to be installed. This was a godsend for other processes s well, as molasses needed to be kept warm in the winter. In the old system, workers would be required to fill 45 gallon drums with molasses from the bulk tank. This could take an hour or so in cold weather. Meanwhile, if a worker was occupied elsewhere in the mill when the barrel was full, the cleanup would take hours, if not days to be accomplished.
In 1955, ten acres was purchased in Abbotsford. A new feed warehouse and hardware store were built, followed by a new grocery store. The poultry processing plant in Cloverdale was closed, and the cold storage lockers were moved into that building. This move gave more room for the grocery and hardware divisions to expand.
Biological feed testing started in 1959 in the old B.C. Electric Substation which had been purchased in 1955. This new service to the members availed itself of the services of a nutritionist. This field representative, and later, his assistant, would go out to members' farms, and take several feed samples. This service would allow for the implementation of custom feed mixes for each farmer that had requested the service. These formulas were mixed and shipped out to individual farmers in bulk deliveries. It was not too long before the formulas had to be revised. Several farmers soon discovered that the bulk feeds were clogging up the system, and many frustrating hours were spent digging out jammed delivery pipes and bins. The solution to this was that the farmers had to pick up their own 600 pound barrels of molasses, and hand feed the molasses into their own cattle feed. The molasses was jamming up the works and causing all sorts of headaches.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union organized the truck drivers and warehouse staff in 1964. The office staff and managers were the only employees not to join the union.
During 1963 and 1964, plans were studied and in 1965 construction started on the new feed mill. This modern mill with computerized mixing machines was officially opened in 1968. In 1974 and 1975, the retail divisions in both Cloverdale and Abbotsford saw extensive expansion.
In 1977, a dispute arose between management and the unionized staff, which lasted through to April of 1978. It was during this period that expenses continued to climb, and construction on the retail outlets were shut down. A large amount of money had been borrowed, and as the office staff and management struggled to see a solution, with interest rates of 22 percent, the Association could not survive the six month strike. Final bankruptcy was declared on Sept. 25, 1985. In its heyday, sales had peaked at over 54 million dollars in 1981, with total membership of 23,136. Patronage dividends paid back to members from 1921 to 1976 amounted to $15,145,000.
The Co–op started a monthly newsletter to members, which ran from 1939 to 1971, at which time it was replaced with "Co-op Consumer".
A pension plan was started for the employees in 1948, and many employees benefited from this plan. Through the history of the Co–op, the Board of Directors played a very important part in the operation, while the day to day operation of the business was left to the management, the Directors met frequently and were involved in all developments in the business and in membership relations. Mr. J. McIntyre was the first President in 1921 and continued of the board of Directors for many years. Mr. H. Bose was a Director from 1921 to 1948 and President from 1923 to 1948. Mr. L. A. Currie was elected as a Director in 1933 and served on the Board till 1969. He was President from 1948 to 1969. During the years Mr. Currie was President most of the expansion of the Surrey Co–op took place. Mr. R.J. Barichello was elected President in 1969 and continued until his sudden and untimely death from a stroke in 1981. He had been a Director for over 25 years. Mr. Frank Smith replaced Mr. Barichello as President in 1981 and continued until the bankruptcy in 1985.
Just a few words about the early Directors who established the fundamentals on which the Co–Op grew. Apart from the Presidents there were a few outstanding Directors. Mr. Charles Rain was dedicated to the Co–Op and served as a Director from the beginning until 1946 with the exception of one year. He passed away in 1949. Mr. J.J. Brown was a Director and Vice President for 25 years. He later became President of the Fraser Valley Milk Producers' Association. There were many other dedicated members both on the Board and among the members. Mr. F.J. Kellaway was the first Manager of the Association and resigned in July 1923. Mr. Noel Abbot was appointed in his stead. In November 1924 Mr. Abbot resigned and MR. Gordon Allen, who was the bookkeeper for the Co–Op, was appointed Manager. Mr. Allen continued as Manager until his death in March 1940. Mr. B.H. Creelman was appointed to take Mr. Allen's place and continued as Manager until he retired in March 1973. Mr. E.A. Kaulius replaced Mr. Creelman and was Manager until he resigned in February 1979. Mr. Ken Casey was appointed Manager in August 1979 and was in the position until the receiver took over.
The Surrey Co–operative Association took a real interest in all agricultural associations and co-operatives. When the B.C. Federation of Agriculture was formed the Surrey Co–op was a part of it and had a representative on the Board. Mr. Currie was President of the B.C. Federation of Agriculture in 1964 and 1965, and on the executive of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in 1965 and 1966, The Free Freight Assistance policy of the Federal Government was instituted in 1941 to stimulate the production of poultry and dairy producers. It was administered by the Livestock Feed Board in Ottawa. Mr. Currie was the Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Livestock Feed Board.
The Surrey Co–op was affiliated with the Poultry Industries Council and the B.C. Turkey Association. In 1944 the Surrey Co–op joined the Co–operative Union of Canada. Mr. Currie was President of the B.C. section in 1945 and 1946 and was a Director of the National Board. The Co–op also made a loan of $2,000.00 to the Co–op Fire and Casualty Insurance Company and a guarantee of $1,500,000 as a reserve in 1952. The Surrey Co–op was a member of the B.C. Co–op Wholesale Society and purchased property in Burnaby to lease to the Co–op Wholesale until they were able to take over the purchase themselves. The Surrey Co–op was a member of the B.C. Feed Manufacturers' Association and B.H. Creelman served as President for two years.
For the farmers, te Surrey Co–op sponsored night classes in Cloverdale and later in Abbotsford and Ladner on Agricultural topics such as Poultry and dairy husbandry, and tree pruning as well as Leather work for the Ladies. These courses were conducted by Professors from the University of B.C. and ran six to eight weeks one week for two hours in the evenings. A $300 bursary was established by the Surrey Co–op for students entering the University for the first time and taking the Agricultural Courses.
The Surrey Co–op started the Surrey Credit Union in March 1947 by calling a Special Meeting to discuss forming a credit union. This meeting laid out the basic format for the credit union. First you must be a member of the Surrey Co–op to join the Credit Union. A Provisional Board was appointed at this meeting and was made up of Messrs. L.A. Currie, F. Parker, B.H. Creelman, C. Colibaba, R. Rothe, P.A. Collins and W.W. Severison. Mr. H.A. Snyder wasa appointed provisional secretary. The Surrey Credit Union office and staff were provided by the Surrey Co–op for a number of years. A membership picnic was held once a hear by the Surrey Co-op starting in 1946 and held at Bear Creek Park. This picnic continued for many years with the exception of 1950 when it was cancelled on account of newcastle disease which swept through the Fraser Valley and wiped out many poultry flocks. In 1949 on August 26th the picnic was a boat trip from White Rock to Victoria. Trips to Europe sponsored by the Surrey Co–op in 1963 and 1966 for members were much appreciated by all who were able to take advantage of these special holiday charters.