Workers Co-operatives – Jim Dyck

“After waking from a brief nap mum realized the bed was wet, and, being naive about her water breaking, she thought she had peed. She was embarrassed to call the nurse, but when she pulled back the sheets I was already on my way. It was a ten minute birth and over before Dr. Rigg even got there. It was my time. I was ready for adventure.” Jim Dyck had arrived!

As a child of the 60’s Jim fully embraced alternative living with the work he chose, the places he has lived, the music he loves and the herb he smokes. He’s spent lots of time thinking about human relations, and contemplating what the world has come to. He worked for twenty one years in co-operatives and it was a movement he passionately believed in as a force for change…….but he now sadly laments, “it all got sidetracked.”

Jim’s co-op roots began in a Mennonite community called Virgil where he grew up. Though it was a very strict fundamentalist Christian church, it had a basis in co-operation. A fundamental tenant was a belief in the sacredness of human life. When the Mennonites immigrated to Canada they were given an exemption from military service based on their conscientious objection to taking another human’s life. During WW2 the Mennonites in Niagara established themselves as fruit farmers. The community helped each other out, planting trees, building barns, setting up co-ops for distribution, and canning factories to help supply the country with vital food products. Once established there was also a large labour force to help with the harvesting and canning.

When Jim was eight his parents left the Mennonite church and became Presbyterians. They grew tired of the restrictions that their religion imposed on them – no speaking English at home, no smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, golfing, going to movies, or wearing makeup. Social life for them was choir practice. Jim’s parents were the rebel children of their time… and Jim grew to protest their lifestyle. Like many of his generation in the late ’60’s and early 70’s he tuned in, turned on and dropped out. He says, “Once I started getting high I could finally hear myself think. It was an awakening of my consciousness and led me into a more contemplative lifestyle.”

Jim got inspired when he met a draft dodger from California, who taught him candle making and from then on he went through wax by the ton even though it was only a subsistence livelihood. In February 1972, he headed west by train to Vancouver, bought an old 1951 Fargo 3 ton truck, and a ton of wax. He had visions of building a gypsy wagon and exploring British Columbia but an accident impaired his ability to make candles and so he decided to find some work for his old truck. He heard about a group of people setting up consumer food co-ops in B.C. By the Fall of 1972 they had incorporated thirteen co-ops around the province, and decided to set up their own wholesaler in Vancouver, where most of the food supply was coming from. They called this co-op of co-ops FED UP CO-OPERATIVE WHOLESALER, with a motto of FOOD FIRST.

On a visit to Victoria Jim was at Amor de Cosmos co-op looking for work when Paul Phillips suggested that he go to FED UP in Vancouver where they needed a truck to do local pickups. The B.C. government had given FED UP a $20,000 grant towards inventory and everyone working there got salaries from Local Initiative Grants, and kicked back part of their wages into a fund they called Red Tide to help fund other co-op projects.

1951 Fargo Truck

After shipping a few orders to the Okanagan, Jim used his old Fargo truck (Two Far-Gone) for FED UP’s first run with about 6000 pounds of food onboard. His route was a 750 mile loop to Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton and back. He did five more runs enduring blizzards, changing a clutch at the side of a mountain road and other hairy adventures until his truck needed retiring. FED UP bought a six ton GMC, called it the Blue Myth, and Jim started going every two weeks to the Okanagan Co-ops then added another 400 mile run to the Kootenays to supply co-ops in Nelson and Kaslo. Jim was on the road for three weeks out of four and decided to make Summerland in the Okanagan his headquarters running down to Vancouver with a full load of recycled cardboard, and returning with food.

Eventually the co-op business grew and he couldn’t keep up with the volume so FED UP started shipping commercially. While in Summerland Jim joined the Giant’s Head Co- operative Workshop who built farm equipment and leased a farm with a few small orchards. He worked on a solar-powered fruit drier selling tons of apricots and pears through the co-op and at Farmer’s Markets. After a series of trucking failures that resulted in him losing money on his own investment in dried fruit Jim moved back to Vancouver. He joined the East End Food Co-op, and became one of the delegates to the twice annual general meetings held by FED UP. The fledgling co-op had gone through an amazing evolution and had grown to fifty six member co-ops.

Jim says, “Meetings in those early days were totally chaotic and male dominated and needed better structure. As a remedy FED UP created a newsletter called the Catalyst so delegates could express their views or present resolutions for discussion. Though not without its controversies and personality clashes, the system seemed to work. The original core group of organizers, then set up another co-op called Co-operative Resource Services Worker’s Co-op, (CRS) to help establish more co-ops, to provide incorporation information, as well as to lobby for more grant money. It became controversial, when years later CRS got a grant to set up a natural foods wholesaler of their own, that would serve the commercial public. Their mandate had become job creation, and not co-op development.”

Meanwhile… Jim’s old friend Ron, who had abandoned him when things went wrong with the old truck, had become the purchaser for a co-op called Wild West Organic Harvest Worker’s Co-op. It was the first full menu wholesaler of organic produce on the west coast of Canada. Jim was soon recruited to do deliveries around Vancouver. It was 1978 and I’d helped form Pacific Share Collective Worker’s Co-op in Victoria. We had started a bakery, and a pick up and delivery service for natural food stores and other retailers, as well as for orders from Amor de Cosmos Co-op. I became the regular driver it was the time when I met Jim. On my trips Jim offered to let me spend the night at his place in Vancouver. He also did some deliveries to our facility in Victoria and made friends in the PSC community.

Bob Marley

My favourite early encounter with Jim was going with him to see a Bob Marley concert at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Playhouse. Jim recalls, “It will always be one of the most memorable evenings of my life. Witnessing the spirit that Bob generated was like being in the presence of a prophet… something you never forget. A large group of us co-op people congregated outside after the concert, and I invited them back to my place. There was a euphoric atmosphere from the reggae music we had experienced and definitely some Ganga was being smoked. Suddenly blue lights and black uniforms arrived at the door! Maybe we were too loud, or maybe people were taking up parking spaces and someone called the cops. There was tension in the air as they invited themselves in. What to do? We had just come from a concert where we were told to Stand Up for Your Rights! The lead cop could see that no harm was being done, and took a friendlier approach. He even admired a vintage map of the world I had hanging in my kitchen and they left peacefully. It was a big test for tolerance and could have gone array but the spirit of Bob prevailed.

In 1979 Jim decided to go back to his farm roots, and returned to Summerland. He got a three year lease on two adjacent orchards, that were mostly apples, and very old pear trees. He had 960 trees that had to be pruned in the Winter, irrigated through the Summer, and picked in the Fall, long before he received a paycheck. I was on a fruit scouting mission in the B.C. interior and picked up a load of apples from Jim for Pacific Share Collective. He told me he was having some struggles, “To be a farmer you have to be a gambler… There are so many unpredictable variables: like weather, finding help for picking, competition in the market and then storage requirements.” Jim had reasonable success growing fruit organically and dried and juiced his over abundance of pears to sell to the co-ops. A neighbour complained that he wasn’t spraying with chemicals, but when the inspector came he could see Jim had it under control. However, after three years, stressing about the orchard business while living in a gypsy style truck house, he decided it was time to move on again.

In February of 1982 Jim visited friends in Victoria at the newly established Springridge Housing Co-op and saw “Co-op needs truck driver” in an ad. This was the job he had been seeking ten years earlier, and it was for PSC Worker’s Co-op, the natural foods wholesale business that I had helped create supplying natural food stores, commercial retailers, and buyer’s clubs from Victoria to Campbell River.

When Jim joined PSC it was a collective of six members. Over the next twelve years it grew to over twenty staff, made five moves to larger warehouses and generated millions in sales. Jim was involved with warehouse organising and his methodical skills helped develop an efficient picking order system. Jim divided his time driving the truck up island and over to Vancouver to do weekly pick ups and once a month he ferried over to Seattle to pick up natural food orders arriving from California.

PSC 2008

PSC evolved a management structure and joined the computer age. As typically happens the managers expected to be paid more, since they were taking on more responsibility. Jim reflected, “It kind of felt like we were all equal, but some were more equal than others. However, we were still a co-operative and had regular meetings in our departments and together as a group. We felt like we had a voice in our workplace. I had been the co-manager of logistics in the warehouse for seven years, and was also still doing deliveries, shipping and receiving, and order picking. After suffering back injuries I trained to be the Junior Purchaser and handled all the products from Canadian suppliers. I learned how to set up spread sheets for ordering and costing out products and made some improvements. As long as I had something like that to challenge me and keep me occupied I was a happy camper, and I got more efficient at my job. Sadly, I began to feel like my contributions were being completely ignored by PSC management.”

By this time Jim had bought property on Read Island, and went there as often as possible to develop his new homestead. He built a home and planted garden and developed a social circle planning for his later retirement.

Meanwhile PSC was negatively impacted by mainland companies and started experiencing competition from CRS who changed from being co-operators to competitors. Eventually the membership discovered that PSC was actually loosing money and the management and Board of Directors had been withholding this information. A new manager was hired who made decisions without consulting staff and lost many regular customers to competitors while a new automated purchasing system was installed that was inadequate to handle all the calculating involved in coming up with a bottom line landed cost. Jim admits that this totally pissed him off and he handed in his notice. He bitterly recalls, “I left without fanfare. I just slipped out the door after 12 years of membership.” 

Because PSC was continuing to loose money and Jim’s share of the equity in the business was impacted according to their profit share formula. Five years passed before he applied for his payout yet despite being profitable for three years PSC offered him $5000 below what he believed he was owed. He pondered hard on what to do.

In our formative days PSC used to have a food tent at the Courtenay Renaissance Faire and Jim had found the huge mallet we used to drive in the tent stakes. His dispute culminated with him sending PSC a particularly inflammatory letter attached to the wooden hammer. It worked and ironically the payout he received was for the same amount that he paid to purchase his retirement property on Read Island. That mallet still hangs in the sales managers office to this day as a sad reminder of the glory days of the co-op movement. Jim saw it coming when CRS in Vancouver sold out to Horizon, a private investor, and dissolved as a co-op. It wasn’t long after that Horizon made the same bid to PSC. and they also dissolved as a co-op.

I maintained my connection with Jim over the years visiting him on many of my trips to Vancouver Island and he camped with us at Bellyacres in 1988. After his retirement on Read Island proved to be boring and cold in the winter months he began a migration to Hawaii that was repeated for ten years until 2019. I was able to provide Jim with accommodations for his visits, which quickly stretched to six months annually, in my Gypsy Wagon, the Clown House and my Horvat House.

Jim loved his trips to Hawaii. He was a very welcome visitor and developed some deep connections to our community. He kept himself busy with his art and also engaged in his hobbies of photography and videography. He captured a number of HICCUP circus events as well as Uncle Robert’s family and their famous Wednesday night market as well as several Belly Dance events. His Aqua-Terra-Sol site on YouTube has over 200 videos and 250 subscribers with a total of more than 100,000 views.

We were all very appreciative of his contributions.

HICCUP clowns 2013 – Photo by Jim Dyck

I introduced Uncle Robert to Jim in 2015 and took this photo. He was elated saying, “I don’t think there was anything that gave me more pleasure than to present him with a portrait and have this picture taken. I called Uncle the Ambassador of Aloha. He was the personification of the Hawai’ian Spirit of Aloha, and shared it with all. This moment is a gift that I have cherished. Uncle passed away 36 days later but he left us these words.”

Jim loves kids and despite not having any biological children he’s been a godfather and uncle to many. On his recent 70th spin around the sun his kids sent accolades including , “ I wish him all the laughter, love, sweet vibes and fun.” “I’d like to make a toast to my god father Jim, life might be a little grim if it wasn’t for him.” “He is the rainbow wizard, he lights the path. His wisdom and huge heart is more than I could ask.” “Jim, you have been such a rock in my like. I am eternally grateful for the unconditional love you’ve shown me and the beautiful, soft, kind, vulnerable, loving, divine human. You were meant to be a daddy – Jim! You are so good with babies!”

Each year Jim would return to Toronto to visit his mum until she passed away in 2018. Due to COVID he wasn’t able to get to Hawaii and poor health has hindered him ever since. After selling his Read Island property and couch surfing for over three years he finally bought himself a trailer-home in Duncan, one of the many islands he loves. He told me, “I like new beginnings and there’s lots to look forward to.”

Jim and his beloved mum

PSC Natural Foods Ltd., still exists as a top down management company, with only a few people who actually know that it existed as Pacific Share Collective Worker’s Co-op, incorporated back in the day when the co-op movement had a meaning. FED UP also dissolved about 1995 when one after another it’s member co-op dissolved. Jim is philosophical, “Our popular co-op movement had run its course. I had 21 years of active memberships, but along the way we lost the spirit and meaning of Co-operative. It was a sad legacy. Today on Vancouver Island I’m still a member of the Mid-Island Consumer Services Co-op.” Jim remains a renegade refusing to give up on his dreams of how the world could be.

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

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