Four co-operatives presented a $50,000 cheque to Red Deer’s Sunnybrook Farm Museum Aug. 7 to build a mercantile store telling the story of Central Alberta’s co-operative movement.

Spearheaded by Larry Parks, general manager of Red Deer Co-op, the mercantile store is an International Year of Cooperatives (IYC) legacy project for Red Deer’s co-operatives — Servus Credit Union, Red Deer Co-op and the Co-operators.

According to Larry, getting other co-ops on board was “the easiest sell I’’ve ever made.” Each partner was interested in doing something to celebrate the role of co-ops in their community, and being part of an agricultural museum that sees an average of 10,000 visitors per year was a perfect fit.

The mercantile store aims to be an educational tool for school-aged children and families featuring historical items like cans of Roger’s golden syrup to wooden crates used to ship Saskatchewan Canadian butter. “It really reflects the role of the co-operative in filling the supply needs for driving the economic engines of a developing Western Canada,” says Noreen Stuart, Servus Credit Union’s community investment manager, adding such a store in Red Deer is historically accurate.

“The co-op in Red Deer did have an insurance desk, they had a credit union that developed later in the back with their members, and they had other services that were needed.” Larry adds the mercantile store demonstrates how co-ops work together. “It’’s a learning experience for kids and families to know what the co-op is all about,” he says.

Museum executive director Ian Warwick accepted the cheque, noting the donation is comparable to Red Deer University receiving a $5 million donation. According to Noreen, the museum is just as enthusiastic about telling the co-operative story.

Construction of the mercantile store will begin next year, and could involve participating co-ops taking a day off work to hammer nails or serve coffee, whatever needs to be done, according to Larry. “I’’d be excited to do that,” he says. “It ensures that International Year of Co-operatives doesn’t just have significance in 2012 but carries on for future years, it continues to bring together co-ops,” adds Noreen. Funding for the project received an extra boost from Concentra Financial, who contributed a $10,000 grant.