A friendly face greets each customer at Canyon Country Co-op in Dorion, located about 80 kilometres east of Thunder Bay on Highway 11. The community store opened in the spring of 2018, providing its 340 residents with convenient access to staple items. In recent years, attrition, fire and highway expansion had closed Dorion’s only three stores, forcing community members to trek to either Thunder Bay or Nipigon to shop.
Marvin Broughton, President of Canyon Country Co-op, says the co-op was born out of a desire to address the everyday needs of residents.
“We, as a group of directors were willing to take a chance when many people said that it wouldn’t work,” states Broughton.
With the assistance of Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) serving in an advisory capacity, Canyon Country Co-op became a reality. Superior North CFDC is one of 24 Northern Ontario Community Futures Development Corporations funded by FedNor. It offers free business advice and workshops, as well as commercial financing to entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business in its catchment area.
The community group that established the co-op, did its homework by bringing in a speaker from the Ontario Co-operative Association, hosting community information sessions, visiting several other co-ops, conducting surveys online to seek community feedback and developing a business plan.
“What makes this example stand out for me is that there was no lending involved,” shares Ron Salo, General Manager of Superior North CFDC. “The community was able to do it with a couple of small grants, raising capital through memberships and selling a few shares. It was primarily the volunteers in Dorion that worked together to bring this whole concept to fruition. We don’t have any co-ops in this region, so it was something brand new and an opportunity to educate local residents.”
Salo says the community now has a viable general store that is very responsive to local needs. In addition to selling basic grocery and hardware items, the co-op incorporates a LCBO retail outlet, lottery kiosk, propane exchange, and a coffee shop counter where it sells baked goods and sandwiches. The store also assists local vendors in the Dorion area by carrying handmade knitted goods, crafts, fresh produce, and jams produced at an area strawberry farm. Two area greenhouses helped the co-op expand its services to include a gardening section for the 2019 season.
“What happens with the co-op model is that people support their own business,” explains Salo. “They’re helping themselves by shopping there.”
“I have been a bit surprised by the degree of our success so far, and definitely pleased,” admits Broughton. “In fact, we’re currently in discussions to install gas pumps at our site, and a representative from the local sawmill asked if he could sell raw lumber through the store. We’re exploring every idea. So far, we’ve created jobs for seven people.”
The traffic the co-op generates has attracted a small vendor, the Grill Shack, to locate and operate on the building’s property. Located halfway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, the store attracts highway traffic, as well as seasonal campers who frequent the five sites in the area.
“We are pleased to have been able to assist the Canyon Country Co-op in launching its business and contributing the community’s economic development,” said Salo. “Working with the local businesses in the region, Superior North CFDC has helped finance 63 deals with a combined valued of $4,012,247, leveraging more than $1,325,881 from other sources from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2018. Through these CFDC investments, we have supported the creation of 61 new jobs and the maintenance of 118 jobs. During the same five-year period, our business advisory services helped launch 68 new businesses, including the Canyon Country Co-op, and maintained/expanded 59 others, creating/maintaining 146 jobs.”
To find out more about realizing your business dream, contact Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation at 807-825-4505, or your local CFDC.