The Ontario Co-operative Association

The Ontario Co-operative Association

October 09, 2007 13:16 ET

Awarding Ontario's Co-operative Leaders

Posthumous award for youth leader: Influential Driving Force in Mentoring Youths

GUELPH, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 9, 2007) - The contributions made by Ontario co-operative organizations and individuals to the economic and social well-being of our province and organizations will be celebrated at this year's 7th Annual Co-operative Spirit Recognition Awards event taking place Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at the Royal Botanical Gardens, 680 Plains Road West, Burlington, Ontario.

A woman, described as an influential driving force, will be honoured for her role in mentoring and moulding youths in Northern Ontario. And, a veteran of the co-operative system, known as the "father of Ethanol-blended Gasolines" will also be among those distinguished individuals and organizations being presented with a Co-operative Spirit Award for their tireless efforts to benefit the co-operative movement. The Co-operative Spirit Recognition Awards, part of the Co-operative Conference and Gala, is nearly a decade-old tradition in the co-operative sector and will celebrate the achievements of ten (10) of the following distinguished co-operators.


Len Mortson, of Oro Station, who recently retired from the Board of Directors of both GROWMARK, Inc. and Simcoe District Co-operative Services, has been an active member of the agricultural sector for over 57 years. His co-op career began in 1958 with Newmark Co-op and only strengthened his interest and involvement in the co-operative movement. In the nomination letter submitted by Simcoe District Co-operative Services, Mr. Mortson was praised for being "one of the most proactive board members regarding agriculture and the changes it has faced in the last five decades."

Not only was Len an integral part of the Board of Directors for Simcoe District Co-operative Services, in 1995 he was also GROWMARK's first Ontario board member (upon GROWMARK's introduction to Ontario). Len was also actively involved with the formation of FS PARTNERS, a management company established in the spring of 2005 to gain efficiencies in the day-to-day operations of several FS agri-businesses in southwestern and central Ontario.


When John Boyd moved into Toronto's Woodsworth Housing Co-op in 1980, he had barely unpacked before he was asked to join the membership committee. Almost three decades later, John remains fully dedicated to co-op living, both in word and in action. And, at the age of 94, he has no plans to move from his housing co-op.

As an editor by profession, John began his housing co-op's first monthly newsletter. He continues to be one of the editors and contributors of "The Woodsworth Weekly". John's by-line is also attached to the co-op's handbook, containing bylaws and other information on Woodsworth Housing Co-op, as well as a series of special newsletters highlighting the 20th anniversary of his co-op. John frequently voices his concern about the health of the co-op community, and he has done so throughout the 28 years of the co-op's existence. "He makes us see how important it is to be a participant, not merely a bystander in life and in the co-op," says a co-op neighbour. Woodsworth Housing Co-op nominated John for this award.


Graeme Hussey of Toronto has spent the last five years of his life immersed in the co-operative sector and describes himself as "a firm believer in the power of values-based enterprises to drive social change." For the past two years, he has been the board chair at Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC), a distributor of natural and organic food products, motivating the board and management of the organization with his passion towards local food security. Until recently, Graeme was the general manager of Karma Food Co-op, Toronto's only consumer-owned retail grocery store, overseeing a staff of 12 and generating $1.7 million in annual sales.

Graeme has moved on to his next project - leading a group of Toronto residents to develop The West End Food Co-operative, a consumer co-op that will provide local, fair trade and organic goods. He is helping them focus their passion for a sustainable local enterprise. Graeme was nominated for the Youth Leadership Award by ONFC, saying in part that he "is helping to bring about a renewed energy about co-operatives amongst a young demographic that may be new to the co-op business model."


Sonja Carriere, of Russell Ontario, fell in love with the Co-operative Young Leaders program the first time she attended the summer camp program. When her three-year experience was over, she came back and co-ordinated the experience for other young people. She credits the Co-operative Young Leaders program (CYL) for moving her life in a whole new direction. Once she completed the three-year curriculum as a participant, Sonja returned to facilitate the program and then joined the Ontario Co-operative Association as youth program co-ordinator for three summers to bring the CYL experience to others.

While pursuing her Bachelor of Education degree, Sonja began to incorporate the teaching of co-operatives, and the experiences she gained from CYL, into her lesson plans. Sonja continues to be involved in programs that promote co-operatives and empower young people. She moved to Ghana in September to participate in a six-month international youth exchange program sponsored by the Canadian Co-operative Association. When she returns to Canada, Sonja will begin full-time work with On Co-op organizing and promoting the co-op association's lifelong co-operative learning strategies, including CYL. Sonja was nominated for this award by On Co-op's Youth Advisory Committee.


Since 1997, Larry Sadler, of Toronto, has played an important role of the governance of the Ontario Co-operative Association and its predecessor, CCA, Ontario Region through positions on committees, working groups and the board of directors. Larry is a founding director of On Co-op, in 2002, and guided the organization for many years as its treasurer. He was a member of On Co-op's finance committee until recently, and remains a member of the board's government regulations working group. A tenacious leader, his champions call him "steadfastly committed to the co-operative model."

Larry is well known for his logical thinking, especially on matters related to co-operatives. Cathy Chamberlain, former vice chair of On Co-op's board, says. "Not only has Larry demonstrated dedication and ensured discipline in financial matters of the association; he has brought his analytical thinking to important issues of the association and reminds its members of their role in governance." Larry Sadler was nominated for this award by the board of directors of the Ontario Co-operative Association.


A woman credited with influencing young people and helping to mould them in their future endeavours will be remembered on October 17th. Ruth Blackburn of Thunder Bay Ontario, who passed away in July 2007, was known as an "untiring volunteer" who had the drive and foresight to introduce the co-op sector's Co-operative Young Leaders (CYL) program to Thunder Bay.

A keen supporter of the provincial young leaders camp for over six years, Ruth would trek to southern Ontario and facilitate the program, positively impacting many young lives and hearts. Originally participants were selected from among Superior Credit Union's youth members; Ruth introduced the CYL program to a wider audience when she encouraged the nine credit unions which make up the Northwestern Ontario Credit Union Alliance (NWOCUA) to support it. Lorne Kellar, president of the NWOCUA, says that through Ruth's efforts, the Alliance was able to offer a series of annual CYL scholarships to area young people.

Ruth Blackburn was also a mentor to young people in the co-operative system, training, teaching and guiding young employees at Superior Credit Union and at regional conferences. According to Scott Kennedy, CEO of Superior Credit Union, if there was a co-op cause, "you could count on Ruth to be there, usually in charge." For five years, she helped organize and present the "Choices" program, a credit union-sponsored initiative which focussed on providing high school students with the tools they needed to make the right choices in their lives. Ruth was nominated for this award by Bay Credit Union and the Northwestern Ontario Credit Union Alliance. The award will be presented to her family during the Spirit Awards ceremony.


Meridian Credit Union is Ontario's largest credit union, and was formed in April 2005 through the merging of Niagara and Hepcoe Credit Unions. In 2006, Meridian launched the Good Neighbour Program, mandated to "build strong, safe, vibrant and inclusive neighbourhoods" where its more than 220,000 members live and work.

Since its inception, the program has invested over $1 million dollars. Beneficiaries include local service clubs, sports and recreation teams, local award banquets, family and childrens' support organizations, music and art programs and a multitude of other causes and charities. Financial support could range from $500 to purchase books in Spanish for the Grimsby public library, to the $10,000 title sponsorship for Niagara region's Bigga Tomato Fest. Recognizing the importance of youth, the Good Neighbour program annually awards over $25,000 in scholarships to students in 34 communities across Ontario, and sends more than 20 young people to the Co-operative Young Leaders camp. In true credit union spirit, the program is driven locally. The process from application through to approval takes less than 60 days.


A team of three individuals, Robert Sicard, Glen Perschbacher and Bob Peden, from UPI Energy LP will be recognized for innovative thinking, which resulted in bringing 'greener' gasolines to the gas pumps, with province-wide availability, well over a decade ago.

In 1987, Perschbacher, who is known as the "father of Ethanol-blended gasolines", introduced the province's Agricultural Co-operative system to the environmentally friendlier fuel, made from Ontario grown corn. As the energy supplier of choice to the province's Agricultural Co-ops, UPI began wholesaling Ethanol blends to the Co-ops, which created a market niche and 'opened doors' for others to follow. GROWMARK, Inc. nominated Sicard, Perschbacher and Peden for this prestigious award acknowledging that the men "are co-operative innovators who, not only staked a claim for Agricultural Co-operatives in environmentally friendlier fuel alternatives, but continued to advance the cause." Bernie Daly, GROWMARK's Ontario Regional Manager, says that Sicard, Perschbacher and Peden popularized Ethanol blends when others were skeptical and reluctant to do so. "They helped make Ethanol-blended gasoline mainstream and promote Co-ops as its champion."


In 2006, Chuck Desmarais of Stoney Point, officially retired from AGRIS Co-operative Ltd., (formerly La Co-operative de Pointe-aux-Roches) after 33 years of service. In that time, the co-op grew from a single branch to an organization which serves four counties through 15 FS Co-operative locations. He still works with AGRIS Co-operative as its new business development officer, and is mainly focused on developing new markets for grain to create more environmentally friendlier alternative fuels.

Over the years Desmarais has worked towards updating the Co-op Act, and has helped shape future co-op leaders through a series of Young Co-operator Conferences. The AGRIS Co-operative Board of Directors nominated Desmarais for this award and referred to him as having a reputation of being a critical thinker with an eclectic mind. "It's hard to pigeon-hole Chuck because his thinking is so broad," said one of his nominators.


The 13 members of Quinte Organic Farmers Co-op (QOFC) formed their co-op to pool their resources and share joint marketing, co-ordinated production, and knowledge and experience. The QOFC farmers are certified organic, and their produce and meat provides an important source of local, healthy and sustainable food to communities in the greater Toronto area.

QOFC has been a passionate champion of the values of organic farming through co-operation - shown most poignantly through a series of radio programs they created entitled Listen to the Land. The broadcasts profile the co-op's members over a growing season, and highlight their challenges and successes. The program demonstrates the natural linkages between the co-operative business model and organic farming. "I was struck by the approach of these farmers to public education about organics and co-operation," says Cathy Lang, a Toronto-area co-op developer, "this is an exemplary start for a new co-operative." QOFC was nominated for this award by Jen Heneberry and Russ Christianson, registered co-operative developers.


The Co-operative Spirit Awards banquet and awards ceremony is the crown jewel of a two-day Co-operative Conference and Gala, held this year in the midst of National Co-operative Week. Members of co-operatives and credit unions from across Ontario will honour not only their roots but also those individuals who have contributed significantly to the ongoing growth and development of this increasingly powerful business sector. The Spirit Awards will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2008.

The Co-operative Conference and Gala, now in its 7th year, is a two-day event that brings together co-op sector supporters, champions and friends from across Ontario and beyond for professional development, workshops, area co-op tours and networking opportunities. For the third year, the event takes place at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

The Ontario Co-operative Association (On Co-op), host of the Co-op Conference and Gala, and the Co-operative Spirit Recognition Awards ceremony, is a resource and common voice for Ontario credit unions and co-operatives in the areas of co-operative development, government relations, membership and communications, and lifelong co-operative learning.

Complete details on each recipient may be found at

To learn more about the 7th annual Co-op Conference and Gala, visit


Recipient Award Category Nominator
Leonard Mortson, Lifetime Achievement Simcoe District
Simcoe District Co-operative Services
Co-operative Services
John Boyd, Distinguished Woodsworth Housing
Woodsworth Housing Co-op Co-operator Co-op
Graeme Hussey Youth Leadership Ontario Natural Food Co-op
Sonja Carriere, Youth Leadership On Co-op Youth Advisory
On Co-op and CYL Committee
Larry Sadler, Outstanding On Co-op board of
Ontario Natural Food Co-op Contribution to directors
Ruth Blackburn (deceased), Youth Mentorship Bay Credit Union and the
Superior Credit Union Northwestern Ontario
Credit Union Alliance
Meridian Credit Union Co-operative Meridian Credit Union
The team of Glen Co-operative GROWMARK, Inc.
Perschbacher, Robert Innovator
P. Sicard and Bob Peden,
UPI Energy LP
Charles (Chuck) Distinguished AGRIS Co-operative Ltd.
Desmarais, AGRIS Co-operator
Co-operative Ltd.
Quinte Organic Farmers New Co-operative Jen Heneberry and
Co-op Of Distinction Russ Christianson

Contact Information

  • Ontario Co-operative Association
    Mark Ventry
    Member Service and Marketing Officer