May 1st

Celebrating 75 Years of Service in Boissevain

Regardless of its size, office location or name, the credit union movement in this community has served it well for 75 years.

Photo & Content from Boissevain Recorder Click here to download the article.

The Boissevain branch of the Sunrise Credit Union celebrated its major anniversary on Friday, April 29. According to branch manager Jim Dickinson, the day went well with a good turnout and moved smoothly due to the staff breaking down into different committees to look after parts like food and decorating. It gave everyone an opportunity to glance back to the early days.

“When you think back 75 years to when it opened,” Dickinson said, “it was 1941, during the war. A group of local people got together and decided this is what people needed. It started with just pennies, and now it is a multi-million dollar branch.”

As Dickinson explained, the credit union movement started in Europe in the 1850’s, and had its Canadian roots in the Maritimes at the start of the 1900’s. It moved west, reaching the Prairie Provinces by the 1940’s.

“That means this was one of the first ones on the prairies.” There certainly were financial institutions at the time, but credit unions always pride themselves on having somewhat of a different focus, as Dickinson explained.

“The credit union is definitely local,” he said, “all of the profits go back to the community. Everything we do is local. When we are buying stuff for the branch, we support our local community. All of the decisions are local.”

Why did a credit union start in the area in 1941?

Dickinson speculated that everyone had gone through the Depression, and perhaps the banks were not lending anymore, so people had to take things into their own hands.

That is quite similar to the beginnings recounted in Beckoning Hills Revisited. In fact,
the institution had its roots in the local district of Wassewa, where residents were trying to work together to help alleviate their financial problems. They received booklets of ideas from the Manitoba Federation of Agriculture and one of those was a credit union. With the help of Fawcett Ransom who had worked to set these institutions up previously, three study groups were formed in 1940 to look into the possibility. People were encouraged to save what they could for the future “mutual aid society”, and finally on April 29, 1941, the Wassewa Credit Union was formed.

In June, they set interest rates at eight percent, and a minimum interest charge was set at twenty-five cents on any loan. Twenty-five passbooks were ordered for members. Those books would be very important in the early years, Dickinson said.

“You had to make sure you did not lose your passbook, because everything was kept on a ledger. You had to bring your passbook with you when you did business.”

He added they did not have paid staff for the first few years, and when they first started, deposits were put in a teapot and taken home for security. In 1942, a committee was appointed to buy a safe at $15 or less.

Later in the ‘40’s, the office was moved to Boissevain, having a spot in the old Co-op building. It was open two afternoons a week and on Saturday evenings in the summer. Moving around would become common for the credit union. It would be in the basement of the newer Co-op store in the 1960’s, about the same time the name was changed to Boissevain Credit Union Ltd., and would later move on to what is now the BDO building by the end of that decade. In 1980, they moved in to their present location.

When asked about the 1970’s home, Dickinson said he did not think they would have the room there for the operation as it stands now.

Probably the biggest changes over the years have been, as with everything, technology. Ledgers gave way to computers and new pieces were added all the time.

For example, the ATM was added in 2001. That year was also when the credit union made a big move. Already in 1989, the institution had taken over the closed Royal Bank branch in Minto.

But an amalgamation was on the table with Deloraine. It was passed in October 2001 and the Turtle Mountain Credit Union was born. It was around that time that Dickinson joined the team. He has been in Boissevain for 10 years, coming from the Royal Bank in Melita.

He was called by then TMCU manager Keith Wooldridge, with whom he had worked in Flin Flon, asking if he was interested in the loans manager position. He said he thought about it for two hours and took it. He needed a change.

“With the Royal Bank, when I was doing an agriculture loan, my lending limits were minimal,” Dickinson explained. “It had to go to Calgary for approval, and they didn’t know the person.” He added the credit union is a more relaxed atmosphere, and he appreciates the welcoming atmosphere for members coming in. After a couple of years there, another amalgamation meant Boissevain joining Sunrise with a host of other communities. Dickinson became branch manager in town, as Wooldridge helped with transition before retiring.

Dickinson said mergers helped update the branch. “There are a lot of technological changes that we could do as a bigger credit union.”

Bigger it certainly is. Dickinson said they probably made about $90 in their first year. By 1959, the assets were up to $45,105. In 1984, they were up to more than $7 million. At the end of December 2015, deposit size was around $82.5 million, with loans at about $67 million. No teapots needed now!

“I think we owe a great deal to those individuals who started the credit union. They felt the need for it in Boissevain and just did it.”

Although there is still a board, there is no need for volunteer staff, as there are 12 people currently. The manager thinks it is the largest crew they have had.

He said success is due to many factors. The way they do business, offering advice to members and helping them find the place to get answers when they do not have them. The community focus – what was called “people helping people” from day one – remains a major part of everything they do. The credit union in Boissevain remains a vital part of the area.


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