Campus Co-op’s Legacy

Campus Co-op Residence Inc. was formed by four University of Toronto students who, after seeing Toyohiko Kagama speak at a conference in Indianapolis during the 1935 Christmas break, returned to Toronto determined to start a co-operative of their own. Our first house at 63 St George was leased for a nominal fee from Victoria College starting in October 1936 and was strictly male-only. The co-op was entirely member-run, with all operations managed by students – including our first student general manager, Arthur Dayfoot. General meetings were a monthly occurrence, and kitchen and house committees dealt with all maintenance, food, and house issues, and members were expected to contribute 5 hours of volunteer labour to the co-operative every week. There was also an element of class consciousness to the early day’s of CCRI – the U of T residential colleges were much more expensive, and populated by the children of the elite, and there was a quiet but firm expectation that if a student could afford to live in one of the colleges they would not move into CCRI.


CCRI expanded rapidly throughout the 1940s and 50s by leasing many new properties. Leasing properties were seen as unstable, however, as we lost and gained new leased properties on an almost yearly basis. A semblance of continuity was maintained by giving new houses the names of houses we had lost. Some houses were purchased, but it was difficult to balance the desire for cheap rents with the need to build capital to purchase properties. We did purchase some houses in this period which we still own, however, including 95 Willcocks (1950), 582 Spadina (1956), and 596 Spadina (1958).


In the 1950s CCRI began its first experiment with hired staff – a “Summer Manager” position, which in 1961 became the position of General Manager when then-Summer Manager Howard Adelman convinced the board to hire him on full time. Adelman spearheaded a campaign for growth within the co-op, buying 14 new houses between 1961 and ‘64. This required raising the rents, which provoked resistance from the membership, but in the end Howard won the day and at a general meeting in 1962 the members voted for a substantial fee increase to make possible the purchase of more new houses. The houses purchased included all of North Division, the former Sussex Division, and in ‘67 Annex Division began to emerge with the purchase of 120 Madison and 614 Huron. The liberal 60’s also saw the decline of gender-segregated housing at CCRI. Also, in 1968, Campus Co-op was a founding member of the North American Students for Co-operation (NASCO), a North-American wide network for the advancement of student housing co-operatives and the student co-operative movement.


The now infamous Rochdale College was originally CCRI’s plan to build a modern student residence. However, CCRI’s original vision for Rochdale was precluded when the land we had purchased was zoned high density, turning our modest notion of 4 story residence to an unwieldy 18 story tower block. Also, disagreements emerged over whether the residence would be operated as an educational college, and this led to CCRI separating itself from the Rochdale project, and Howard Adelman leaving Campus Co-op.


The failure of Rochdale College cast a shadow over the student co-operative movement, which may have contributed to the beginnings of a material and social decline in CCRI during the 1970s. We suffered problems such as member apathy, inadequate maintenance and legal problems from the City. Worse, a decline in applications led us to eliminate the previously stringent member selection process, and even drop the requirement to be a student to live in CCRI during the school year (this condition would not be renewed until the 90s). There was even a proposal at the April 1974 General Members Meeting to dissolve the co-op entirely. Maybe it was the organizational nightmare that Adelman’s expansion had caused – the now larger co-op lost the cohesive unity of the previously smaller member-run organization with its monthly general meetings. Or maybe it was that the early 60s ethic of building a better tomorrow had fallen way to the late 60s “let’s get high and burn shit”, and the Co-op was paying the price. Either way, the greatest success story of CCRI is that despite hard times, we continued to survive.  


The 1980s saw the first major co-op wide renovation project. Partly funded by grants, these upgrades were done by paid staff, whereas previously house maintenance was mostly left to regular members. Between 1976 and 83 we operated a successful hostelling operation which raised significant funds for the Co-op, and was ended only due to legal issues with the city. Like the Toronto Heritage Residences program we operate today, it showed that CCRI can utilize its assets creatively and for the benefit of all its members.


In the early 1990s CCRI began to take on the form we know it by today. Financial matters were centralized to the office at 395 Huron (previously, rents had been collected at the division level, and often weren’t). The vacancy rate in Toronto was very low and we took the opportunity to evict our non-student year round residents, who made up about 20% of our membership at the time. However, this was also period of some financial recklessness – the rising property values of our houses allowed us to borrow funds at a dangerous rate, costs ballooned and CCRI ran deficients year after year.


In 2004 CCRI adopted “Restructuring” which continued the centralization of our governance structure. Division councils were stripped of their budgets, and the Division Chore member work requirement was centralized and became “Co-op Hours”. We distanced ourselves from NASCO, an organization we had been part of since the 1960s, and focussed instead on building connections between the Ontario student housing co-ops. In 2012 CCRI began hiring “House Managers”, who serve as member-staff in each of our houses. These new hired positions replaced the previously elected “House Representatives”, which meant the formal end of the Division Councils. In 2013 we renewed some ties with NASCO by beginning to send members to their yearly “Institute” conference in Ann Arbour Michigan.


In early CCRI we hired Wayne Brandt, our current General Manager. Since then we have seen an upsurge in summer revenue thanks to his Toronto Heritage Residence initiative. We have also embarked on a significant energy-savings plan which will make Campus Co-op better off both in terms of our energy costs as well as our carbon footprint. Our largest challenge for the future, however, is a project to undergo significant repairs to all of our century-old houses. By accessing grants and maximizing summer revenue, we hope to have upgraded all of our houses by 2020.


CCRI’s legacy fundamentally pivots around the positives and negatives of Howard Adleman’s expansion of the Co-op in the 1960s. On the one hand, he drove the expansion drive that led us to own 24 houses in downtown Toronto, making up the material basis of our organization. On the other hand, since that expansion we have struggled to maintain the democratic character of the co-op, slowly transitioning to an increasingly centralized organization where the average member has over time been less and less involved in communal work and communal decision making.


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