Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: William Kardash and People’s Co-operative Limited
by Rachel Mills, James Gorton and Carmen Lowe
The first records to highlight in this new column are two new and related acquisitions to the Archives of Manitoba’s private records holdings: the records of the People’s Co‑operative Limited and the records of William Kardash. Many of you will be familiar with both the People’s Co-op, as it was known, and William Kardash, the Co-op’s longtime general manager and a Manitoba MLA.
The People’s Co-op was a Winnipeg and North End institution which began in 1928 as the Workers and Farmers Co-operative Association with the aim of uniting people, providing jobs and saving money. To achieve these aims, the Co-op operated a fuel yard, a lumber yard, a public garage and two dairy plants among other things during its long history. The Co-op changed its name to the People’s Co‑operative Limited in 1938. Beyond its commercial endeavours, the People’s Co-op was an active participant in politics and the local community. The Co-op spoke out on issues such as government subsidies, labour practices and international affairs. The Co-op publicly supported the Communist Party of Canada and its successor, the Labour Progressive Party. During World War Two, this resulted in the arrests and internment of a number of managers and the seizure of some of the Co-op’s records by the RCMP. The People’s Co-op operated until the early 1990s when it began the process of dissolution. A wind-up committee was formed to ensure the equitable dispersal of funds. The committee also oversaw a history project which resulted in the publication of The People’s Co-op: The Life and Times of a North End Institution (Jim Mochoruk with Nancy Kardash, Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2000).
William Kardash was heavily involved in the People’s Co-op. Kardash was the general manager of the People’s Co-op from 1948 to 1982 and, after his retirement, was the president until the Co-op’s dissolution. Kardash was born in Saskatchewan in 1912 and as a young man was an organizer for the Farmers’ Unity League and a member of the Communist Party of Canada. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Kardash joined the International Brigades. He was wounded at the battle of Fuentes de Ebro and lost a leg. Upon his return to Canada, Kardash embarked on a speaking tour to alert people to the possibility of a world war. In 1939, Kardash moved to Winnipeg and ran in the 1941 provincial election as a Labour Progressive Party candidate in North Winnipeg. Kardash won this seat and successfully held it for the next 17 years, until 1958. Throughout his adult life, Kardash was active in Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community and campaigned on behalf of veterans of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Kardash died in 1997.
The records of both the People’s Co-op and William Kardash document many of the activities described above. Both groups of records provide wonderful insights into Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community, the North End, the city and the province during the course of the twentieth century. Kardash’s records document his work as MLA and include speeches, radio scripts, notes and correspondence which address such diverse issues as health care, education, unemployment, natural resources, pensions, international affairs and social welfare. The records also include Labour- Progressive Party and Anti-Fascist Committee pamphlets, newsletters, handbills, posters and speeches as well as correspondence and publications documenting Kardash’s involvement in the Spanish Civil war and his life-long work for recognition for its veterans.
In addition to documenting the veterans’ activities at a national level, Kardash’s records also provide insight into what happened locally. Contained in the collection are the records of the Winnipeg Branch of the Veterans of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion [AM, P7151/22]. These original records, many handwritten by Kardash himself, provide unique insight into the Branch’s contributions to the struggles and activities of the Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
Like most of the material contained in this collection, Kardash’s MLA records capture his views, opinions and beliefs on the political and social issues that were facing the people of Manitoba through much of the twentieth century. One of the interesting events documented in the records is the 1956 trip of the Province’s MLAs to Northern Manitoba [AM, P7149/5]. This file includes background information, itineraries and correspondence which document the controversy surrounding Kardash’s potential visit to radar and military installations. Through the records researchers can explore whether he was banned from certain sites or whether he chose not to go.
The People’s Co-op records include minutes, financial statements, annual reports, union agreements and correspondence which document the operations of the Coop including the fuel yard, lumber yard, creamery, garage, etc. from its beginnings in 1928 to the work of the Wind-Up Committee in the 1990s. The records also document the work of the history book project which includes 21 oral history interviews (on audiocassette) with past employees of the Co-op and many photographs of the employees and activities of the Co-op during its long history.
The business activities of the People’s Co-op are a central theme in the records and a significant portion document the creamery industry. Beyond the many photographs, cash books, and files related to the development of the Winnipeg, Glenella, and Minnedosa plants, there are files relating to various milk boards and commissions. These records illustrate the Co-op’s work to keep dairy products affordable through subsidization and are an example of how they incorporated their political views into their business activities [AM, P7140/1–20].
The WWII internment of Co-op personnel and the efforts to have them released are documented in correspondence. Letters to and from the internees and petitions to the federal government illustrate the effects the incarceration had on the Co-op, the families, and those interned [AM, P7141/27].
Page revised: 21 May 2016