Project 9

Project Completed, March 2009

Co-operative Development in the Yukon

Final Report (MRE):  Yukon Coops.

Final Short Report:  Co-operation in the North: Understanding Co-operatives in the Yukon  February 2010

PowerPoint presentation: Co-operation in the North: understanding the co-operative experience in the Yukon 


Co-operatives are often promoted as an appropriate development model for peripheral regions and isolated communities. Co-ops are a proven successful tool for local economic development in regions across Canada, particularly the north; home to fifty-two co-operatives. The Yukon, making up a third of northern Canada's population, at the time of this research had four operating co-operatives. This paper explains the lack of cooperative development in the Yukon by examining influences in other regions that are benefiting from the model and comparing them to the context of the Territory. By analyzing co-operative activity through interviews with past and present co-operatives, this research draws out considerations for co-operative development in other isolated areas and identifies opportunities to better support their development.

Research Team

Doug Lionais, Department of Financial and Information Management, Shannon School of Business Cape Breton University,  Sydney, Nova Scotia
Kim Hardy,  Masters Student and CED Practitioner,  Marsh Lake, YT  Y0B 1Y2
For further information about this project contact Doug Lionais (email:


There has been considerable research conducted around Arctic Co-ops Limited; a cluster of Aboriginal co-ops active in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It is an example of successful co-operative development that has seen consistent growth in NWT/Nunavut for the last 55 years. Having started out as an artist marketing co-operative in the 1950's, Arctic Co-ops now boasts revenues of $95.4 million. (Ketilson, 2001) Research on Arctic Co-ops dates back to 1979 with most recent studies conducted in 2001.

This research is specific to Arctic Co-ops, which has a large presence in the Arctic, but has no active co-operative organizations or members in the Yukon Territory. The factors listed as contributing to the Arctic Co-op's development are community size, cultural homogeneity, isolation and early government support (MacPherson, 2001). There have also been some case studies produced on Inuit owned co-operatives in Northern Quebec. These co-operatives were supported by the Federation des cooperatives du Nouveau Quebec and cited community participation as a considerable factor towards their success. (Girard, 2001) There is a cultural difference between the Inuit and Inuvialuit regions in which Arctic Co-ops operate and that of the Yukon which is predominately a First Nations and European population. There have been no direct studies of co-ops in the Yukon.

Overall research for co-operative development in Canada reveals that co-ops are much more prevalent and successful in the Northern regions compared to those in the South. The average northern co-op was larger ($4.3 million volume of business) than the southern co-op ($1.0 million volume of business) and the average northern co-op employed 16.2 full-time workers than the southern co-op of 6.6. The amount of assets for the average northern co-op is higher ($3.2 million) than the southern co-op ($880,000). (Belhadji, 2001) Having noted this difference there is a discrepancy between the dispersion of these co-ops across the north with 52 co-ops across the northern territories and only 2 of them in the Yukon. This could be due to the similar characteristics of the Yukon to Southern regions of the country and will require further research.

There have been many conversations surrounding the lack of co-operative development in the Yukon over the last three years through the experiences of Kim Hardy in her role as the CED practitioner in the Territory. Government staff, entrepreneurs and community members are interested in the concept of co-ops in meeting local community and economic needs. Yukon community members are unsure why co-ops don't have much of a presence in the Territory particularly when they appear to be a solution to meeting many of the Territory's community economic development challenges.

Two examples of past functioning co-ops in the Yukon are repeatedly referred to and are the topic of much speculation; the Credit Union and the Aboriginal Craft Co-op both based out of Whitehorse. The conversation that comes of these two co-ops is that "co-ops don't work here". These two examples have never been examined. An in-depth look at these past co-ops characteristics and the reasons for their failure would highlight what might be done to encourage an environment in the Yukon that would support co-operative development.

There have been three series of co-operative development workshops delivered in the Territory in the last 10 years, each providing a summary report of the dialogue and participation. These workshops all had high participation and interest, yet no co-operatives resulted from the initiatives. Alan Roy, Director Co-operative Secretariat, conducted two of the workshops, the other by Marty Frost, a co-operative developer from Quadra Island. The reports from these workshops indicate a high level of interest from Yukon entrepreneurs and a gap in information available to those pursuing the co-operative model in the Territory.  Given that there is on the ground interest in co-operative development in the Yukon and that there is some misinformation regarding the co-ops in the region, this research should serve to clarify the historic context for future co-operative growth. The research surrounding Aboriginal co-operatives in Canada recommend that more research is needed to examine how co-operatives fit into a community's social structure, other economic organizations and political systems. (Ketilson, 2001) This research will examine these in the context of the Yukon and serve to fill the information gap for those interested in the co-operative model for development in the Territory.

While cooperatives are common in most regions across Canada, there are only 7 registered cooperatives in all of the Yukon Territory. This project will seek to uncover the impediments to cooperative development that have lead to this paucity of cooperatives in the Yukon. The research will examine both existing and recently dissolved cooperatives to understand the cooperative experience in the Yukon. Further, a set of "ghost" cooperatives, cooperative-like organizations that are not registered as cooperatives, will be explored to understand their particular cooperative experience and how it relates to more mainstream cooperatives. The research will use  semi-structured interviews with individuals from each of the above groups to uncover the cooperative experience of each. From the specific experience of each of the cooperatives, a set of general incentives and impediments will be identified. The expected outcomes include a clearer understanding of the cooperative experience in the Yukon, increased awareness of the potential role of cooperatives in the Yukon social economy and improved policy and support for cooperatives in the Yukon Territory.


Several qualitative research methods were used to collect and analyse information on co-operative development in the Yukon and other regions. These included semi-structured interviews (both in person and via telephone) as well as secondary document collection and content analysis.

Secondary Data Collection

Since there is no formal research conducted on co-operatives in the Yukon, secondary data played an important role in forming this research. This data includes statistical information, brochures, meeting minutes, promotional materials and proposals.

Key Informant Interviews

Due to the lack of information and awareness of co-ops in the Yukon interviews with key informants were relied on to provide insight into the history of their existence. Key informants served as the starting point for uncovering less apparent co-op information for the Yukon. In order to obtain information about coops in the Yukon this research relied heavily on word of mouth, which revealed new sources of interviewees that had experience with co-ops in the Territory. It was important to grow a larger understanding of the co-ops and their members through key informant connections.

Sampling Techniques

Since there was no formal list of those involved in co-operatives in the Yukon,this research relied on snowball sampling techniques to reveal a network ofcommunity members who have been involved in co-ops in the Yukon. Snowballsampling involves starting with one or two key informants and using theirconnections, and their connections' connections to generate an increasinglylarger sample (Palys, 1997). The Yukon Government Registrar's list of cooperativesprovided a starting point. After contacting a number of the co-ops onthis list, snowball sampling quickly revealed information gaps and led to furthersources of research.


In order to understand the experiences of those involved with co-operatives inthe Territory, interviews were conducted. Whenever possible these were face-to-face meetings at the location of choice of the interviewee. Phone interviews wereconducted when distance made in-person interviews impossible. Previous contact had been made with the majority of the proposed interviewees throughprevious community economic development work in the Territory.


Based on the research from other regions compared to information gathered in the Yukon, the following conclusions can be made:

1. Government support and awareness of co-ops

With the exception of a few individuals, there is a general lack of understanding of the co-operative model in government making it difficult for them to support their development. Government has had to take on debts from past co-ops that have failed in the Territory; the Whitehorse Credit Union and the Aboriginal Craft Co-op. This has created reluctance on behalf of government to support further co-operative development. Therefore, no incentives for co-operative growth have been developed as there have been in other regions with a strong co-operative presence.

2. Co-op advocacy and leadership

There has not been a consistent source of advocacy or leadership for cooperatives in the Yukon. There has been interest supporting the model through
attempts to hold workshops and dialogue sessions, but there has not been a single champion steadily raising awareness and educating government and
residents to their value.
3. Financing and access to capital
There are no local sources of suitable lending specifically for co-operatives in the Territory. A number of small opportunities exist, but none of the co-ops 
have been able to secure financing from any of them. Sources comparable to those in other regions are däna Näye Ventures and individual First Nation 
Development Corporations, but they have not invested in any co-operatives.

4. Demographic attitudes and economic environment

The Yukon has had unsuccessful experiences with the co-ops, which has perpetuated a mistrust of the model as a solution to meeting community needs. 
The co-ops that have folded in the Yukon did so not because they were co-ops, but because of reasons shared by other small businesses that have failed 
in the Territory.

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