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Celebrating 60 years of Gay Lea Foods at Co-opalooza 2018!

Gay Lea Foods celebrated 60 years of success this June at its third annual “Co-opalooza” event held at the Gay Lea Dairy Museum and Co-operative Education Centre (CEC) in Aylmer, Ontario. Created as a free community festival celebrating the positive contributions of the Canadian co-operative sector, the milestone anniversary saw more than 1,000 Gay Lea Foods employees, dairy farm members and their families join local co-operative partners and community members for a day of Co-opalooza games, activities, ice cream, and family fun on the museum’s beautiful 98-acre site.

“It was an honour to have so many people come together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Gay Lea Foods and our diverse Canadian co-operative sector,” said Gay Lea Foods Chair, Rob Goodwill. “We have long envisioned our museum property as a place that not only pays tribute to Ontario’s rich agricultural history, but provides co-operators and community leaders with an inspiring space to create and connect. I think the success of this event is a testament to what our sector can accomplish when we come together, support one another and work together to find creative solutions to various social, environmental and economic challenges.”

Purchased by Gay Lea Foods in 2010, the museum boasts more than 16,000 dairy and agricultural heritage items, and is now home to the country’s first Co-operative Education Centre, multiple education programs and, most recently, the Ontario Co-operative Association’s renowned Co-operative Young Leaders (CYL) program, a week-long summer camp experience that brings youth from across the province together to learn about and practice leadership through co-operative activities.

“Events like Co-opalooza and Gay Lea Foods’ commitment to developing the Co-operative Education Centre are proof that co-operation among co-operatives is more than just a principle, it’s a call to action,” said Jennifer Ross, Member Relations Manager for the Ontario Co-operative Association, in an address at the event. “We see incredible collaboration in the co-operative sector every day, and this is what makes our movement unique.”

Gay Lea Foods President & CEO, Michael Barrett, took time in his own address to reflect on the history of Gay Lea Foods, the establishment of the CEC and the origins of Co-opalooza.

“Our co-operative was formed in 1958 by a group of Ontario farmers who came together with a vision to build a better future for themselves and their communities,” said Barrett. “Sixty years later, as much as we’ve grown and evolved, we are still a co-operative owned by dairy farmers. We will forever be committed to our values that prioritize people before profit and working together to strengthen the fabric of our communities. This is at the core of what it means to be a co-operative and what is on display here today at Co-opalooza.”

Barrett also took time during the event’s opening ceremony to dedicate three of the site’s newest cabins to the late Andy van Kasteren and his wife Lotty, former owners of the collection and property in Aylmer, and former Stirling Creamery employee Myles Biggs, who died in a tragic tractor accident in late 2016.

“It’s important to recognize the people that helped get us where we are today,” said Barrett.

Jeff Yurek, local Member of Provincial Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London, spoke at the event and congratulated Gay Lea Foods and the co-operative sector as whole, calling Gay Lea Foods a “true Canadian success story”.

“This event is an opportunity for Gay Lea Foods, our employees, our dairy farm members, our co-operative partners and members of the community to pause for a moment to reflect on 60 years of Gay Lea Foods, and the great things happening here at the Gay Lea Dairy Museum and Co-operative Education Centre, in our sector, and in the communities where our families live, work and play,” said Rob Goodwill.

Gay Lea Foods would once again like to thank all participating co-operatives at Co-opalooza 2018, including Libro Credit Union, Meridian Credit Union, The London Brewing Co-op, and Together We’re Bitter Co-operative Brewing, as well as the Ontario Co-operative Association for their continuous support of the event and ongoing work to connect and cultivate the co-operative sector in Ontario.






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