If you are a longtime resident of Coquitlam, you will remember when Caisse Populaire (later Village Credit Union) was the financial hub of Maillardville. Along with the two Catholic churches, Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima, it was one of the community's most important institutions and had a tremendous impact on its development.
The credit union was founded in 1946 to meet the needs of the francophone community that had grown in Maillardville thanks to French Canadians from the prairies coming to the area in search of a brighter future for their families. They needed a financial institution that would specifically serve them and their growing business community. The nearest bank was in New Westminster, an inconvenient distance away. As well, the French Canadians of Maillardville were not particularly welcomed there as the perception was that they were poor and lived in "tar paper shacks."
A "closed bond" credit union, the new credit union required that its members be French-Canadian Catholics. Fortunately for the community, Arthur and Alma Fontaine had experience founding the Caisse Populaire St. Jean Baptiste in their Manitoba hometown. The first meeting of the Caisse took place in their home at 405 Marmont St. and, later, the first manager of the new institution was Alma Fontaine.
Operating hours were Sundays from noon to 2 p.m. and Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. The new credit union's resources were modest and whenever a large loan was requested, extra security had to be requested from its members.
The names of the 42 founding members read like a history of Maillardville: Fontaine, Roberge, Rougeau, Tremblay, Caouette, Charpentier, Cheramy, Dionne, Doucette, Filiatrault, Finnigan, Gareau, Giouranrd, Lambert, Lemieux, Lizee, Parent... and the list goes on.
To keep peace between the two competitive neighbouring church parishes, annual general meetings for the new credit union were held alternately at the two parish halls.
As the community grew and its need for banking services expanded, a small stucco building was erected on the property of Victor Muller at the corner of Brunette Avenue and Nelson Street.
In 1950, the name was officially changed to the Caisse Populaire de Maillardville Credit Union. Generations of Maillardville residents knew they would get a warm greeting in French when they dropped in to do their banking.
The credit union is gone now, with just an empty lot where it used to stand on Brunette Avenue. But Coquitlam Heritage Society does have the large copper sculpture that was located in the reception area of the credit union. With dogwoods flowering from a tree trunk, it is approximately 10 feet wide by seven feet high. It is in good condition, with only one flower and one leaf requiring re-welding.
The piece is an example of an artifact the society is storing (with difficulty) for display in a new stand-alone museum to serve Coquitlam and its rich heritage. It cannot be displayed now due to lack of space.
We know when it finds a new home it will serve as a reminder of the role Caisse Populaire played in the growth of Coquitlam.
Your History is a column in which representatives of the Tri-Cities' heritage groups write about local history. This article was written by members of the Coquitlam Heritage Society.