The Often-Overlooked Economic Gem of the Prairies

Much of Western Canada was settled with the help of co-ops, but they are an often-overlooked economic gem.

For much of the early 20th century, co-ops brought electricity to farms and rural communities in Alberta and helped farmers across the Prairies get fairer prices for their products. Buying co-ops brought goods and fuel to settler communities, making these goods more affordable.

And the legacy of these co-ops can still be found throughout the Prairie Provinces.

Fuelling Western Canada

Photo provided by the Co-op Refinery Complex.

Photo provided by the Co-op Refinery Complex.

A great example of this legacy is the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina, Saskatchewan.

When fuel prices got too high in the 1930s eight enterprising farmers banded together to build a refinery.

Over time, this initial skimming plant grew to become a major refinery, and today produces about 6 billion litres of fuel in a year and can process up to 130,000 barrels of Crude Oil per day.

This unique business purchases primarily Western Canadian Crude Oil, directly employs more than 1,000 talented women and men, and continues to be an economic engine that fuels Western Canada and Western Canadian agriculture.

Nation building

But the business model’s impact on the Prairies isn’t isolated to agriculture and oil and gas. Recently, a technical services co-op was formed by First Nations and Tribal Councils in Saskatchewan.

“Essentially the co-op provides technical services for housing inspections for First Nation communities,” said Tim Isnana, Executive Director for Indigenous Technical Services Co-op (ITSC). “We also provide consulting services for engineering services that relate to housing or public infrastructure in First Nations communities.”

This unique partnership reduces costs and increases quality control for these types of services on First Nations. And it’s just getting started. Soon, Isnana hopes to leverage the co-op’s purchasing power and centralize administration of these services online.

Consider a co-op

Setting up the business as a co-operative was a natural choice, Isnana said, and he encourages others to consider the model when looking for solutions.

“I definitely would recommend the co-op model,” he said.

And so would we. To learn more, visit

Heather Hallgrimson
Business Development Lead