The History
of the Swan River Valley
Manitoba, Canada

The History of Credit Unions in the Valley


“Back in the 1950s, the John Yacentiuk family, who farmed near Minitonas in the Swan River Valley, bought a combine from a local machine agent. Through some misunderstanding over payments, the agent had the family summoned to court and they were threatened with the loss of the combine unless the balance owing was paid at once.


John Yacentiuk went to see Alvin Mitchell, manager of the Swan Valley Consumers Credit Union, about a loan.

Mitchell said he could grant Yacentiuk the loan, but the Credit Union had no money available.


Yacentiuk then went to see Jens Nielsen, a man who had some money available for a loan. Nielsen said he would deposit sufficient money in the Credit Union, with the understanding that the money was to be loaned to Yacentiuk. That way, the loan could be handled in a proper, businesslike way, both men would be protected, and the Credit Union would benefit too.


That particular problem was solved successfully. In addition, John Yacentiuk went on to become an active member of the Credit Union and served on its supervisory committee for several years.


There’s nothing particularly unusual about this story. People often help each other out with loans. But it does illustrate very well what a Credit Union is all about. A Credit Union allows a group of people to help each other out”
-excerpt “From Little Acorns - The Story of Swan Valley Credit Union”


There were two factors that came together in shaping the development of Credit Unions in the Swan River Valley. One was the valley itself, and the settlers who came from many parts of the world to clear its land and build farms and towns here. The other was the co-operative movement which was spreading throughout the world. It found fertile soil in the Swan Valley where it could put down roots and begin to grow.


During the late 1930s and early 1940s, many farm families used to listen to a radio program called “Farm Forum”, which encouraged people to form study groups to discuss new ideas and issues. One of the new ideas being discussed was the notion of a Credit Union. During the war years, five new Credit Unions were formed in rural areas in the Swan Valley.


The first Credit Union in the Valley was formed in 1939 by farm families in the Crestview school district. The new Credit Union was more than just a financial organization. Members would get together regularly for dances and raffles. They also made an arrangement with a local store owner to supply them with flour and coal oil at a reduced price. In 1965, a decision was made to dissolve the Credit Union and memberships were transferred to Swan Valley Credit Union early the next year.
A second Credit Union, Woody Valley Credit Union, was formed in 1942 and operated in the Little Woody and Swan Valley school districts. Again, these people decided to start a Credit Union because of the difficulty many of them were having in getting loans from the banks. The Credit Union was eventually dissolved in October 1953. In its decade of operation, it was a training ground for those members who went on to become active in the new Credit Union in Swan River.
Harlington Credit Union was formed in 1942 in a school district near Kenville. The Credit Union membership didn’t grow, so it was wound up in 1948. Most of its members joined the Credit Union in Swan River a few years later.


The Durban Credit Union was formed in 1942 and began operations in 1943. It grew steadily for a number of years, but by the early 1950s was experiencing the same problems as the other small Credit Unions in the Valley. In 1958 it was dissolved after all outstanding loans were collected and all shareholders were paid off.
The story in the Minitonas area was much the same, with the formation of the East Minitonas Credit Union Society Ltd. in 1944. The need for small, short-term loans was again the main reason why people decided to form a Credit Union. Members learned the basic Credit Union principles of thrift and regular savings. They were encouraged to save by putting in a small amount of money at each meeting. The original vault was a jam pail on a kitchen table. As with other Credit Unions, this one also remained too small to meet the increasing needs of its members, and it was eventually dissolved in 1957 with most of its members joining the larger Credit Union in Swan River.
These early Credit Unions and their members were the victims of a process of change that was taking place all across North America in the years after World War II. Better roads were being built and many of them were being pave. More people could afford to buy cars. The one-room country schools were replaced by large consolidated schools in the towns, and children were brought in by bus. In addition, agriculture was becoming more mechanized and farming was becoming a more sophisticated and affluent business. This led to larger farms requiring larger investments, and a trend to rural de-population. Gradually, the small businesses and sevices in the small villages and rural areas began to close down.


When people decided they wanted something more than the small rural Credit Unions could offer, Swan River, which was growing in importance as a regional trading center, was the logical location for a new Credit Union that could potentially become large enough to meet people’s growing financial needs.
The idea for a Credit Union in Swan River originated at the Swan Valley Consumers Co-op store. It was having problems with its accounts receivable in the late 1940s, and it was looking for ways to alleviate the problem. In 1949 the Co-op obtained member approval to go on a “cash-only basis”, but the members added a proviso that a Credit Union should be set up. About four years later, the Swan Valley Consumers Credit Union Society Ltd. was formed with membership restricted to members of the Co-op and their immediate families.


Over the years, Swan Valley Credit Union has allowed membership to other people and has grown into a large and substantial financial institution with a very positive image and reputation throughout the Swan River Valley. In addition to offering its members a complete line of financial services, including the latest in technology, it is a major employer in the Swan River and supporter of community events throughout the Valley.


Assets at December 31, 1997 - $59.5 million
Employees - 29
Full-time equivalents - 25.5
Annual Personnel costs - $920,000
Support for community events in the past year - $15,000
Patronage Dividends declared to date - $3,400,000
Dividends paid out in cash to date - $692,000
Submitted by: Mel Edmunds

 

Manitoba's Swan River Valley is an area rich in history. This material was a part of the 1998 Pioneer Centennial History Book project. If you would like the history of your area available online, have your historic group contact the Key Rock Group for information on electronic publication.