The story of Ladysmith and District Credit Union — which celebrates its 75th anniversary this week — is woven into the town’s story over the period of a lifetime.
LDCU recognized the anniversary at its AGM on Tuesday, and it hosts a community celebration, a “birthday party,” on Friday, May 17, with cake, starting at 10 a.m.
Today’s picturesque main street and relaxed friendliness reveal little of the multiple blows Ladysmith suffered in the first half of the 20th century.
Within a few years, boomtown optimism surrounding incorporation turned to despair with a coal mine explosion that claimed 35 lives. Next came the long, bitter Vancouver Island coal strike followed by the First World War and a deadly flu epidemic.
The coal industry steadily declined over the next decade and the last coal mine in the area closed at the height of the Great Depression in 1931.
With the memory of hardships still fresh in their minds and Canada engulfed in the Second World War, a group of community-minded Ladysmith residents got together on May 18, 1944, to form Charter 116.
Member-owned financial institutions, credit unions date back to 1901 in Canada, a couple of years before the Town of Ladysmith began. Chartered banks had pulled out of many smaller communities during the depression.
The need for mortgages and loans to buy homes and build businesses grew more desperate without access to credit. Passage of B.C.’s Credit Unions Act in 1939 heralded a wave of more than 100 registrations across the province.
Ladysmith’s fortunes began to change in 1935 when Comox Logging arrived, bringing jobs and reviving the economy.
Labour union support was instrumental in credit union formation as were the progressive ideals of local churches.
“We are very closely tied to the Comox Logging Company and the IWA, organizations that were frontrunners in supporting the credit union,” said CEO John de Leeuw.
Much has changed since those early days yet LCDU has upheld the vision and dedication of its founders. A clear sense of community prevails.
Historian Patrick Dunae, who authored LDCU’s history book, Our Community, Your Credit Union, points to a common bond. Resilience of the credit union’s values is tied to its members, embodying the spirit of the community.
“So many credit unions have amalgamated with other larger, regional, central credit unions and many have lost their identity — they seem like banks,” he noted. “Whereas, Ladysmith is one of only two on the Island that have maintained their independence.”
Members recognize to this day they’re part of a credit union, not a chartered bank, Dunae said.
In a service area population of 11,000, about 5,000, roughly 50 percent, are credit union members.
“It’s something we’re very proud of,” de Leeuw said. “I think it’s a testament to what the community members feel about the credit union.”