Recreational Co-operatives

In addition to providing valuable services, community-based recreational facilities also play an essential role in fostering a sense of community spirit, which is a critical component of successful community development. Recreational co-operatives therefore provide indirect support for the community-development projects initiated by other types of co-operative organizations, such as Small Business Loans Associations and Rural Development Corporations.

Recreational co-operatives have been common in Saskatchewan since the early 1920s. Residents of the province are presently active in a wide variety of these organizations, including community halls, curling rinks, recreation centres (which provide gymnasiums, meeting halls, hockey arenas, swimming pools, concession stands, etc.), museums, golf courses, waterslides, television services, and community theatres. A number of community-based recreational facilities are owned and controlled on a co-operative basis, but are not registered as such, so statistics gathered by the Saskatchewan Department of Justice do not accurately reflect the number of these organizations currently active in the province. In addition, the financial data do not reflect the value of donated materials and volunteer labour that have been invested in establishing and maintaining these facilities.

Although the total number of recreational co-operatives declined (mainly as regards community halls) over the course of the 1990s, statistics show those still active to be in good financial health. Despite the fall in numbers, assets reported by this sector remained remarkably stable, and liabilities declined substantially during the decade. The slight increase in revenues produced over the same period a corresponding increase in surplus, which would be rolled back into the individual organizations for upgrades, improvements, or targeted projects. Member equity also increased.

There was a marked decline in the number of community halls operating as co-operatives during the 1990s, with numbers falling from 145 to 102. Curiously, there was only a 13% drop in active membership during the same period, as well as a 47% rise in the number of employees, although the wage bill decreased considerably, reflecting a large number of part-time workers.

Curling and recreational facilities serve a wide variety of needs, providing gymnasiums, curling rinks, meeting halls, hockey arenas, swimming pools, concession stands, and many other services. Like the community halls, most of these organizations are relatively free of debt and tend to operate on a break-even basis. The number of co-operatively owned curling rinks and recreational centres and their corresponding memberships declined during the 1990s, although not as significantly as the community halls. In 1989 there were more than 100 of these facilities serving over 8,000 members. By the end of the next decade the number had fallen to fewer than ninety, with active membership declining by more than 40%. As might be expected, the number of people employed by this type of co-operative fell dramatically as well (from 117 to 49: a drop of 58%), and wages declined accordingly. Most notable was the 82% drop in capital investment, although this was matched by a 79% decline in liabilities. Assets remained relatively stable over the decade, and member equity increased from $8.3 to $9.3 million.

People also co-operate to provide themselves with cable television services. At the end of the 1990s there were only five TV co-operatives in the province, but despite their small number these organizations generate a surprising amount of economic activity. They employ more than 130 individuals, with a wage bill of $3 million. Revenues during the course of the decade rose from $11.8 million to $26.9 million; assets increased by 50%, from $20 million to $30 million; and member equity almost quadrupled, rising from $6.4 million to $23.2 million.

There are a few other types of recreational co-operatives, including golf, community theatre, museums, and waterslides. Although their revenues, assets, and member equity are significantly lower than the other types of recreational co-ops in the province, they nevertheless provide valuable services to the members of the communities in which they operate.

Nora Russell

Further Reading

Fulton, Murray, et al. 1991. Economic Impact Analysis of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan, Research Report Prepared for Saskatchewan Department of Economic Diversification and Trade; Ketilson, Lou Hammond, et al. 1998. The Social and Economic Importance of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan, Research Report Prepared for Saskatchewan Department of Economic and Co-operative Development; Herman, Roger, and Murray Fulton. 2001. An Economic Impact Analysis of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan: Update 1998.