In order to understand the need for a financial institution of this sort, it is necessary to know some of the conditions existing at this time. Canada was just emerging from one of the worst depressions in history. Chartered Banks, in order to survive this period, had enforced tight — almost impossible — credit conditions. Mortgage & Loan Companies were not eager to lend capital in a small village with no water supply and inadequate fire protection. The need for money by the farming public in the last months before a new harvest was completed, was often crucial.
Dawson Co-op Union and Harper’s General Store, the existing large stores, could not be expected to supply the credit needs of the community. Although they tried, to the limit of their resources! Small businesses, sawmills and farmers had brought their families and affairs through the depression. They had faith in themselves and the country, but little or no capital. War had been declared, and the construction of the Alaska Highway begun. The frustration of these people to get on with the job was the driving force behind the organization of the Credit Union in the summer of 1943.
An organizational meeting was held in Lake View School on July 28, 1943. The copies of the minutes of this meeting follows: The drafting of the request for a charter began. The number of persons required was 12. There were only 11 present so two of the men present agreed to go to the local school teacher’s home, at eleven o’clock at night and try and persuade her to join the group. She got up, dressed and came down to the school. So nearly did the first organizational meeting miss having a quorum.
The charter members were: Gunnar Mortenson, Ben Miller, Wm. Conn, A. R. Crull, Hans Larson, Ralph Lefferson, Bert Faulkner, Homer Stevenson, Ruby Stevenson, Arnold Ebert, Harry Wood and Elizabeth Golata. At this point a 50-cent per person membership fee was collected, realizing a capital of $6.00. The application for a charter was on its way. On August 16, 1943 jubilation reigned — our charter had arrived! We thought we had a Credit Union! Little did we realize this was just the first infant step and that months and months of hard work lay ahead.
Quickly a general meeting was called. It was held in the basement of the Old Catholic Church. We were now legally a Credit Union and we could accept the $5.00 share capital necessary for voting privileges, and any amount a member wished to deposit. The Credit Union was in business! The first office was a small 12 x 12 room in the north east corner of the Co-Op store. Office hours were 2-6 on Saturdays only. The furnishings were practically nil — a cash box and boards on orange crates and a room full of enthusiasm. Supplies soon arrived and conditions improved. Some disappointment had been felt over choosing the name. The more ambitious and far seeing wanted it called ” The Dawson Creek District Credit Union”. However, loyalty to their own small community prevailed, and it was called “Lakeview” after the school district of its origin. The membership of the Co-Op store was chosen as a common bond of association but it very soon outgrew this bond and it was changed to read “anyone living in School District 59”. Insurance on Savings and Loans was put into force, through Cuna Mutual Insurance. At this point joint accounts were separated. Insurance could not be paid on the savings of two people at the death of one party. This was a new concept in financing. The Credit Union was the first in this area to offer this service, and is believed to be the first in Canada to offer insurance on savings and loans.
Behind every organization of this sort there has to be a driving dedicated spirit. Gunnar Mortenson was such a man. Born in Telleborg, Sweden and familiar with Credit Unions in his youth, he expounded the theory wherever and whenever he could find an audience. Conversion to the Credit Union way of thinking did not come easy. It was not accepted with grace or credibility. One gentleman told us, “I’ve got a few dollars, but if you think I would risk it in a hair brained scheme like that you’re crazy!”
Those early board members were hard working people, and the membership grew rapidly. Having convinced someone he should be a member, you were in turn assured of another hard working person. Rationed gas and dirt roads hampered transportation. There were very few graveled surfaces and when one added the elements, rain, mud, ice, snow, there was rarely a winning combination. Dust was not considered — it was just a nuisance to be ignored. In spite of these difficulties the Credit Union grew, and grew. Four months after its organization there were 76 members and a capital of $2,114.00. In September of 1944, one year later 141 members and $24,520.47. The year 1945 was outstanding and the annual meeting in March 1946 decided that “The Manager shall be paid a monthly salary and that the Credit Union will be open full time every working day”.
On April 1st, 1946 Gunnar received his first pay cheque of $150.00 having worked from the beginning as Treasurer and Manager without remuneration, often walking to and from his farm 6 miles north of Dawson Creek. He served as manager until his retirement December 30, 1960. Miss Alice Hauger was soon added as the first bookkeeper.
Credit Union members were determined to have the largest and best credit union in British Columbia! Soon they were saying in Canada, and then newspaper headlines proclaimed, “Lakeview Credit Union largest community credit union on the North American continent”. Whenever possible, meetings had a social flavour. Members’ wives provided lunches, hosted meetings and helped in every way possible. Although “Women’s Liberation” had not been heard of, a fair number of women were elected to serve on various boards in responsible positions.
For many years Credit Union Day was celebrated with a turkey banquet, catered to by the members of the West Saskatoon Women’s Institute. This enjoyable event was held in the Kilkerran Community Hall, and went on for years. The final one was held in 1969.
Disaster struck in April 1948 when the Dawson Co-op store burned to the ground. Many records were lost, but notes and securities in the Vault of the Dawson Co-op Union Store were saved. Temporary quarters were secured in the Co-op Shipping Association building. Later a building was rented on 103rd Ave. and the office was there for the next two years. During this difficult period Gunnar and his staff kept business rolling as usual. In the spring of 1950 they were back in the new Co-op store, occupying offices on the familiar northeast corner. More space in the new offices, more staff and a steady increase in growth and services followed.
The 1948 disaster led the board of directors to think in terms of a building of their own. The property of the late Fred Walker on 102nd Ave. was purchased. A building committee was formed and plans were taken to the Annual Meeting of 1952 for discussion.
The following year a plan was presented to the annual meeting for a cement block building with a brick front. The Credit Union was to occupy the ground floor space and have office space on the second floor for rental.
The building was started, using a local contractor, R. P. Loberg and Sons and local sub-contractors as well. The grand opening took place December 11th, 1954 with director Don Linklater doing the honours. The Credit Union had a home! Built at a cost of $125,000, eleven years and three months after it had opened for business.
This kind of success and these services are possible only because of the whole hearted support of its membership and the hard work of its ever changing board members.
This year of writing 1973, scarcely twenty years since erection of its first building, Wm. Girdwood, the present Manager and his board are planning a new addition to the present structure of equal size, doubling the floor space now available. Converting the electronic accounting machines to a full computer system will come, along with more staff and better services.
With assets of $8.5 million at 1972 ending, LVCU is projecting assets of $10 million by the end of 1973, the 30th Anniversary of its conception.
The Credit Union has a reason for being. The individual consideration given early members’ problems has been superseded by the necessity of meeting the peculiar difficulties of a district little understood by Corporations in distant cities including banks.
Update: The Lake View Credit Union moved into another new building — the biggest and best equipped bank in Dawson Creek — on January 18, 1999.