Dorion is situated between Lake Superior and the western shore of Black Bay. Surrounded by captivating forests, its tourist attractions include Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, Wolf River Falls, Canada’s longest, highest and fastest zip line at Eagle Canyon Adventures, Wolf River Campgrounds and a government-run Fish Culture Station.
In the late 1800s, people began to settle in the Dorion area. Many of them started farms on land granted to them by the province. A sense of community quickly evolved amongst these pioneers, as they assisted each other in the construction of their log houses. By 1901 there were 71 inhabitants, and they shared the task of building their first school and community centre. Dorion continued to thrive and by 1961, there was 557 people. In the late 1990s, when the forest industry began to decline, many people lost their jobs at the neighbouring mills. And one-by-one the local businesses that were a mainstay of Dorion, also closed down. Many residents had no choice but to move away, and the remaining ones had to travel to other communities to purchase their basic needs. But the pioneering spirit of their proud predecessors too strong to deny, the community of Dorion once again took matters into their own hands and started a co-op.
Aptly named the Canyon Country Co-op, it is situated in the heart of Dorion, on the main highway. Ten people from the area have formed a board and are overseeing its development. They already have 110 members, which is quite something considering that their efforts have been more focused on fundraising. One such venture was a hearty Irish stew supper for St. Patrick’s Day, with comedian Chris Mulawyshyn providing the entertainment. The turnout was great and the money raised will aid the board in their many startup expenses. In the future, they will be holding a seminar series on “How to Garden like a Boss.”
The board recently learned that they qualified for a grant through the Carrot Cache Community Resource. The actual amount is yet to be disclosed. They have also been getting a lot of invaluable advice from Ron Salo with the Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation. Due to their being a profit-based operation, they do not qualify for a lot of the funds being offered by the government. Marvin Broughton explained that when people join their co-op, they are not just signing on as members. They will become part owners. There are three types of shares people can purchase, and each one offers a different level of annual payout. And membership is not restricted to the immediate area, anyone anywhere in the world can invest in their innovative co-op.
Canyon Country Co-op sells basic groceries, produce and meat. Firewood is available for purchase and a grill shack operated by a couple in the community will be in the parking lot. There is a section for used and consignment merchandise, and a hardware section for basic essentials for rural living. The board is also planning to have a small coffee shop, liquor store and gas station. They will hire one full-time person to oversee the day-to-day operations, and three people on a part-time basis. The décor has a pioneer theme and several people from the area have donated rustic items.
The co-op is not just about selling products at fair prices, it is about creating a sense of belonging for its members and nonmembers—a lesson learned long ago by Dorion’s settlers, who understood the success of their community was directly dependent upon their being able to work together for the collective good of all.