Friday, August 10, 2012

Co-operative pioneer, 95, pens best-selling book

By Jason Warick
The Star Phoenix
August 9, 2012

95-year-old author Harold Chapman in his Saskatoon home Thursday, August 09, 2012
Photograph by: Greg Pender, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Harold Chapman steps out onto the 12th floor balcony of his Lakewood-area apartment.

“You can see the horizon. It really is beautiful,” Chapman said Thursday.

At 95 years of age, the Saskatoon man is still looking outward.

In his living room, Chapman discussed his recent projects, which include a brief to a parliamentary committee and penning his bestselling book, Sharing My Life: Building the Co-operative Movement.

“I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to do. I’m fortunate my memory continues to function well,” Chapman said.

Chapman had contributed to two previous books, but a trip to Edmonton three years ago caused him to consider writing one on his own.

Chapman and friend Joan Bell travelled to a wedding with Bell’s son, Scott. During the five-hour car ride, Scott Bell was fascinated with Chapman’s first-hand experiences spanning the Great Depression, the Second World War, the leadership of Tommy Douglas and the establishment of universal health care. Chapman played a central role in the rapid growth of Saskatchewan’s co-operative movement and overhauled the adult education system.

“When we arrived in Edmonton, he told me that I had to write a book,” Chapman said.

The book is part memoir, part history. Chapman’s work often began with small groups, such as the farmer co-operative near the village of Matador in the 1940s. Returning war veterans needed help getting started, particularly since wartime industrial production had led to a shortage of combines and other agricultural machinery. Eventually, several dozen of these co-ops were established and Chapman helped the movement grow and spread to other sectors.

“My role was to help, whether it was fisheries, farming, housing or catching muskrat,” he said.

Chapman believes the lessons learned by Depression-era farmers and other innovators are still relevant today. He believes the key is education. Students, whether children or adults, need to be aware of the different business models.

Friend Don Kossick called Chapman’s book a “unique historical gift to the people of Canada.”

Kossick said it’s vital to listen to voices of experience and to learn about the province’s proud and successful co-operative past.

“In this day of huge transnational corporations, he points out a different path that has economic and social enterprise within the hands of communities.”

There are signs of revival for the co-operative model, Chapman said. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Canadian Wheat Board monopoly are no more, but there are other forms of co-operatives sprouting up everywhere, he said. Day care, housing and food co-operatives are becoming more common.

“Co-operatives are democratic — one member, one vote,” he said.

“There are a lot of people not served by the present systems. When people have needs and have problems, they can go to the government, they can go to a corporation or they can form a co-operative and solve their own problems.”

Chapman wrote the book by hand, showing it to Bell for feedback and spelling corrections. To edit his book, Chapman chose Dave Mitchell, a freelance editor and researcher 60 years his junior.

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