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They Built

The sod was turned in a ceremony on Sunday, January 23, 1955, and in April a cheque for $514 was sent to the Town of Grimsby for the building permit.  As one member recalled, “From then on, husbands and wives had few social outings.” The “sweat equity” that was to make this low-cost mortgage possible was finally coming due.

Black and white photograph of men clearing land for building

The build began with the clearing of land in 1954.


Each co-op builder was expected to contribute 30 hours of labour per week on the site in addition to his full-time job. For many this meant that evenings and weekends were devoted exclusively to the build. However, some builders had shift work, which added another layer of scheduling complexity. A time clock was purchased to keep track of hours, and a shift-based schedule was established. Anyone who missed a shift was expected to make up the time.

Black and white photograph of homes under construction. Piles of dirt are all around

Construction underway in 1955.


The co-op builders were responsible for most of the unskilled and semiskilled labour. They divided themselves into teams for pouring concrete, hauling blocks, shingling, painting, installing insulation, and drywalling. They quickly became experts, though they suffered a couple of broken legs, numerous cuts and bruises, and slivers galore along the way. Professionals were occasionally hired for jobs such as excavation and the installation of gas lines.

Black and white photograph of men unloading a truck. At the top is typed

Co-operative skills were being put into practice as they worked in teams in April of 1955.


In October 1955, the homes by the lake were the first to be completed. Those families moved in and paid rent to the co-operative. Although the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation released funds as each house reached a certain stage, this rent money often “saved the bacon” financially for the group. It covered unexpected costs that would occur throughout the remainder of the build.

Black and white photograph of a construction site. Piles of materials are laid out around the site

Tracking teams and all that wood was an immense task as the build continued into 1956.


Charlie Gallagher wrote in 1981: “This young, enthusiastic and determined group would not let anything stand in their way; their great esprit and co-op spirit was needed in the next 18 months. From the first day of brush clearing until the present day, this co-op spirit stayed with every member.”

Early days on the co-op building site – John Blake FootageWatch the video with the transcription (EN).

Don Gay – Long days, carpooling and ingenuity (subtitles available in FR and EN).  Watch the video with the transcription (EN).

Click to hear the audio and read the transcript of Bill Joyce speaking about the inspections to ensure the quality of the build