Norfolk Co-Op Served Local Farmers For Over 75 Years
Norfolk County has long been known for its rich soil and the versatility of crops that can be grown here. Farmers have been producing high yield crops for decades and there to help farmers in whatever their needs were was the Norfolk Co-Operative. “It was founded and operated for over 75 years as a service to the local farming folk with feed, seed and fertilizer” states Gary Winch. He, his brother Bruce and Dad Bob, General Manager of the former Co-Op, saw many changes over the years.
In 1918 the Co-Op leased a building from J.B.Jackson Co. Ltd. in Simcoe. It was located on Union St. and had a close proximity to the CN Station. The first of several Co-Op locations opened and began serving the farming community of Norfolk County. In 1924 they acquired the inventory and business of Fick Lumber Mill, Colborne St., Simcoe and their business expanded.
The Simcoe location saw many changes, moves and much growth over the years. A large Home Center was built in 1975 on Davis St. Three years later they added a Kubota Tractor line, added a garden centre and renovated the feed mill to handle feeds more efficiently. But change continued over time and they continued to grow and diversify.
In 1943 the Co-Op purchased Blight Mill on Elizabeth St., Jarvis. After several changes, renovations and additions and over 47 years of operation the property was sold. They leased the Hagersville elevator until 1992 when they then purchased it from Cargill.
Expansion continued and in 1946 they purchased the building and truck scales from M. Lambert and a feed mill was constructed in Courtland. The new location would also expand their services to include more grain silos, grain dryers, fuel and lumber.
The year 1949 saw they purchased the Herman Sewell Mill, Alice St., Waterford and a new feed mill was constructed. In 1965 they erected a fertilizer blender and grain elevator on the west edge of town. Additional grain storage was built in 1975 and again in 1976 but both would be destroyed when the ‘Tornado of 1979’ ravaged the town of Waterford.
Construction began in 1980 and soon they were up and running again in Waterford. Expansion and the addition of new services continued until 1989 when the feed mill closed and tonnage transferred to Simcoe and Jarvis. In 1990 their Alice St. property was sold and the custom spraying operations were centralized. There are several silos still standing on the south side of Nichol St. as a reminder of the importance of agriculture in Norfolk County.
In 1989 they purchased the St. Lawrence Grains elevator in Delhi. Several changes took place at that facility as well over the next few years until the purchase, in 1995, of all Norfolk Co-Operative Co. Ltd. properties by FFS Services.
The Co-Op was funded and operated as a service to the local farming folk for feed, seed and fertilizer. They would buy corn, wheat and barley from the farmers then ship it off to the grain elevators where it would then be dried, loaded into train cars and shipped off to such companies as Cargill. They were the ‘middle man’ to the agricultural community.
There were grain and fertilizer elevators both in Simcoe, Delhi, Courtland and about 30 alone in Waterford. Their retail Home Center, lumber yard and Head office in Simcoe offered not only the farming community but the public in general a one stop shop for all of their building needs…while supporting a locally owned business.
The Co-Op was a multi faceted not for profit operation.” When it was started it was not only a key industry but a key employer as well in Norfolk County” states Gary Winch. “In 1993 it employed 136 employees. My Dad, Bob, was General Manager from 1975 to its closure in 1995. My brother Bruce worked at the gas bar during his high school years and I worked at the lumber yard” adds Gary. “When FFS Services took over in 1995 it lost the culture of the Co-Op. There are not a lot of them around in the eastern counties any more”.
The concept of the Co-Op was a people centered enterprise that was owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realize their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations. They brought people together in a democratic and equal way.
The Co-Op not only served the farming community but all of Norfolk County as well through its employment of hundreds of local people, the boost to the economy and the many services it offered the people of Norfolk County.
For one local resident the Co-Op provided him a long-time career position. Jerry Sinkowski of Port Dover started with the Co-Op, at the age of 16, at their mill on South Dr. in Simcoe then went to their farm machinery dealership. “I made my first buck at the Co-Op in 1967”. After completing College in 1974 he returned back to Simcoe and his job at the Co-Op. “I helped out where I could. I even worked at the feed mill in downtown Waterford”. All in all, Sinkowski worked full time for the Co-Op for about 35 years.
“I was even there to help build the Rona building in Simcoe when the Co-Op closed its operations there” adds Sinkowski.
He also has a vivid memory of the changes in Waterford. “They expanded the elevators in four stages. Some of the last were so expensive with the cost of the cement. They ran into money problems and an American company took over. Now they make them (silos) out of steel.”
It is said “The only thing that is constant in life is change” and the Co-Op saw many changes in its time. It served our farming community for decades and made our County known for the services that it provided and the support it gave to our farming community.