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Review

Ladysmith: Our Community, Your Credit Union — A History

By Patrick A. Dunae

January 28, 2015

Review By Patrick Craib

Patrick Dunae’s microhistory, Ladysmith: Our Community, Your Credit Union — A History, is attractive and approachable, and a success at what intends to be: a proudly colourful and informative history of the Ladysmith Credit Union. Those who have deep roots in the community, as well as the Credit Union’s long-time members, are sure to appreciate the extensive archival photography and ephemera decorating the margins. However, the book also provides much to keep the attention of those interested in broader aspects of Ladysmith’s history.

Credit unions, as Dunae tells us, are both by law and by custom organized around the principle of “common bond” (10-12), which acts to limit the scope of operations to a distinct area or group. A central theme of the book, this principle underwrites the relationship of a credit union to its members, as well as to the wider community, by organizing the guarantees and obligations of both. At the most basic level, an individual’s collateral on a loan is their character and industry, and their obligation, in turn, is to the wider community and not the market.

As much as the city limits of Ladysmith formed the legal basis for the Credit Union’s bond, the working class identity of many of the Credit Union’s membership functioned as its primary economic and social foundation. Dunae takes special care to detail how the woodworker’s union, International Woodworkers of America, laboured as the primary organizers behind the Credit Union’s charter application in 1944. In return, the Credit Union operated as a means of co-operative aid with the lumbering community firmly in mind. Offering distinctly class-oriented services, such as medical insurance to meet the needs of Ladysmith’s working class community, the Credit Union also exercised frequent leniency when the occasional IWA strike caused delinquency on loans.

But as the Ladysmith evolved, so too did the its Credit Union. The community prospered into the 1960s, buoyed by a booming resource economy, and its banking needs moved beyond handshake deals over kitchen tables and into the realm of mortgage-primary assets. In response, the Ladysmith Credit Union adopted a more managerial-minded approach that was further expedited by the economic recession of the 1980s, which resulted in harsh difficulties for both banking and forestry sectors, to say nothing of the Credit Union’s own membership. Dunae details how the Credit Union continued changing to meet the requirements of the town, offering everything from active mortgages to pensions and investments as the community continued its post-industrial evolution, while remaining to the present day firmly community-minded.

While undeniably a light read, Ladysmith: Our Community, Your Credit Union nevertheless provides a novel look at the economic development of an entire community through the lens of microhistory, from coal mining to post-industrial activity. Rather than providing solely the institutional history of a specific organization, Dunae has written instead on what its Credit Union represented to Ladysmith: the common bond.

Ladysmith: Our Community, Your Credit Union — A History
Patrick A. Dunae
Ladysmith: Ladysmith & District Credit Union, 2014. 98 pp.