Co-operatives have historically been formed when people pool money and labour to achieve together what they could not achieve alone. In 1936, mired in the difficulties of the Great Depression, a group of U of T students attended a lecture by humanitarian, labour activist, and co-operative advocate Toyohiko Kagawa – and were inspired to form what is now Canada’s oldest housing co-operative, Campus Co-operative Residence Incorporated (CCRI).
After a summer of planning how their Co-op was to be run, the first Campus Co-op house at 63 St. George Street was leased from University of Toronto in the fall of 1936. Four individuals were recognized as the founders of the Co-op for their work that summer: Arthur Dayfoot, Alex Sim, Don McLean and Archie Mason. Through the enthusiasm and effort of the first member-residents, the Co-op had expanded to five houses with one hundred members by 1941. By 1956, the mortgages were paid off and these first houses became property of the Co-op. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Co-op underwent its most intense period of expansion.
Membership tripled to more than 300 and Co-op grew to encompass more than 30 homes throughout the University of Toronto area. In the mid-1960s, Campus Co-op directed its efforts and finances towards the creation of Rochdale College, an experimental, live-in degree-granting institution. Rochdale separated from Campus Co-op and later collapsed. This significant move to expand and change the direction of the Co-op failed.
By the mid-1970s, CCRI was left with bad debt from Rochdale, in addition to the many other mortgages acquired due to its rapid expansion. During the late 1970s, the Co-op houses gradually fell into a state of disrepair. When concerns over facilities were brought to the Board, more attention was given to the facilities, setting a trend for the 1980s. The early 1990s was a time of economic recession, resulting in high vacancy rates, operating deficits, and increasing debt.
Extensive renovations were made to bring the houses up to fire code regulations. Several houses owned by the Co-op were sold in order to fund repairs on the remaining houses. In the 2000s, an attempt was made to address the deficiencies in the aging homes and to expand the organization. Through a costly consultation, a plan for rejuvenation – involving the construction of multi-level, state-of-the-art housing blocks in North and South divisions and the selective restoration or sale of existing houses – was prepared.
Ultimately, the plans were too expensive to implement. The plan was scrapped, but Co-op was left with substantial planning costs and still had to face a massive backlog of repairs. To address and fund these repairs, a few of the houses were sold and, starting in 2012, a five-year plan (including more than $1m of physical renovations and repairs) was initiated. At the same time, several of the houses that Co-op had leased were reclaimed by the University.
Although it has contracted in size in recent years, Co-op has made it a priority to retain and preserve the existing houses. In 2019, Co-op underwent its first expansion in 25 years with the purchase of 145 Madison Avenue.
Currently, Campus Co-op owns and operates twenty-four houses, continuing to provide an affordable housing community for nearly two hundred and fifty residents, upholding the original values of group aid, democratic control and co-operation.
The future is in the hands of our members!