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If you look back through George’s life, to when he was a child living in the municipality of Burnaby in the 1940s, you are taken back to the forestry heydays of British Columbia. A time when American capitalists were purchasing forested land and acquiring sawmills throughout the province, recruiting workers for minimal wages and the promise of a better life. A time when workers had to band together to fight for their rights; when being injured on the job meant lost pay or even poverty. It was a time when getting a credit line at the general store was the only way to get food on the table, some months.
While credit unions were already thriving on the east coast of Canada, it wasn’t until 1936 that the Burnaby citizens' group, “The Army of the Common Good” organized a financial co-operative called Common Good Co-operative Credit Unit No. 1. On July 22, 1939, the co-op officially became C.G. Credit Union—the third chartered credit union established in the province. George Pitman was to become member No. 902.
George Pitman, self-made man, builder, architectural designer and long-time supporter of charitable initiatives, started his life in a modest house at Rumble Street and MacKay Avenue in Burnaby. He was born to a nurse and a lumberman in July 1941, just two years after C.G. Credit Union became the third chartered credit union in BC.
Above: George’s father, Clifford Ernest Pitman, is pictured at the Pitman family home. Mr. Pitman worked at a sawmill in south Vancouver—the Canadian White Pine Division run by H. R. MacMillan—one of the longest operating mills on the west coast of BC (pictured below).
Mr. Pitman was one of thousands of BC lumber workers and other tradesmen who wanted more control over their hard earned money. They chose to deal with a credit union rather than a big bank which they saw as having more interest in hefty employers such as MacMillan and the American investors, then in tradesmen and their families.
Not long after George was born in 1941, Mr. Pitman signed George and his brother up with the Common Good Credit Union in Burnaby.
In 1945, the Canadian government introduced Family Allowance to appease the population’s worries about the postwar economy and increasing poverty. Every month, George’s father deposited his Family Allowance cheque—known as the “baby bonus”—into his sons’ accounts. As George says, his father was saving his money “before I even knew I was awake”.
As time went on and more people joined the credit union, C.G. Credit Union changed its name to South Burnaby Savings Credit Union. George’s father became a board member of South Burnaby Savings Credit Union and George followed in his footsteps in his adult years.
There came a point in his life when George and his then-wife decided they were ready to buy their first home. George remembers going to South Burnaby Savings Credit Union in the Edmonds area of Burnaby to meet with General Manager, Reginald (Reg) Robinson. Being an opportunist, George came right out and asked if the credit union had any homes in foreclosure. Mr. Robinson did indeed have three homes in foreclosure, in various states of disrepair. One of the three—he warned—was not worth George’s time or money.
Despite Mr. Robinson’s warnings, George went and inspected the worst of the three homes: a decrepit two-storey with no running water. George decided take on the challenge and secured a loan with South Burnaby Credit Union for $8,000—the remaining amount owed on the mortgage. Knowing he had a lot of work to do to build a comfortable home, George asked for an additional $500 on the loan.
George’s hard work and tenacity paid off. He and his first wife lived in that house for 40 years. When they moved out in 2000, they had increased the value of the house by tenfold. What was once a decaying, neglected wood-frame with water damage and exposed electrical, was now a 3,000 square-foot, fully renovated home.
In the 1960s, C.G. Credit Union changed its name to South Burnaby Savings Credit Union. Over the years, many mergers and acquisitions occurred within the credit union community. South Burnaby Savings merged with Metro Savings, Dairy Industry Credit Union, Pioneer Credit Union and United Civic Savings Credit Union.
In 2004, United Savings Credit Union merged with Gulf & Fraser Fishermen's Credit Union, becoming G&F Financial Group. Memberships were moved along with the mergers and that is how we came to have George Pitman as a member of G&F Financial Group.
Today, G&F Financial Group is headquartered in Burnaby, BC, not far from the site of the original general store where the financial co-operative, Common Good Co-operative Credit Unit No. 1, was formed.
It is our privilege to know George and to learn about his family’s involvement in, and support for, the first credit unions established in the Province of British Columbia.
Having been raised by a lumberman, George’s first piece of equipment — not surprisingly—was a table saw, not a car.
George started out on his own building temporary worker camps—the beginning of a long career working for himself. As he developed and refined his skills in design and construction over many years, George achieved a professional caliber and reputation where he was building restaurants in Canada, the US and Japan. He built many Elephant and Castle restaurants, known for their interiors inspired by the traditional British pub. George co-owned the Elephant and Castle chain for 32 years.
When not working on blueprints or measuring square feet, George volunteers his time with the annual Variety Show of Hearts Telethon, produced by Variety – the Children’s Charity to raise funds to help children with special needs. Over his 54 years of involvement, George served as Chairman for 20 years and spent some time as President of the organization.
As a member of G&F Financial Group, George makes time to stop at the North Burnaby Branch to share a coffee with manager, Gill Sherwood. Having been a credit union member for his entire life and having dealt with larger financial institutions, George has high expectations for the community-oriented G&F.
“I come in here and I’m welcome.
I still believe in my generation, personal service is important. A big bank is a machine. I think that personal contact is important.
I’ve dealt with most of the big banks and it all comes down to the bank manager, they can make things fly or not fly. It’s all really back to numbers.”
It was around 1937 or 1938, that Harry O’Brien (Member No. 8) started managing the Army of the Common Good Co-operative grocery store on Mackay Avenue in Burnaby. The store offered a $100 credit line so co-op members could buy their groceries and then pay their debt off at the end of the month.
In audio recordings made by the City of Burnaby, Harry recalls that from 1932-34, he took part of the early planning of the Common Good Co-operative Credit Unit No. 1. When the financial co-operative opened its doors, Harry would deposit 10 cents a week as dues.
It was the regular citizens of Burnaby—including Harry O’Brien, local tradespeople and forward-thinking bookkeepers—who brought the credit union to life. C.G. Credit Union received its official charter on July 22, 1939. It was recorded as the third chartered credit union to be established in BC, after Powell River Credit Union and Amalgamated Civil Servants of Canada.
1Lawrence, Joseph. Markets and Capital: A History of the Lumber Industry of British Columbia (1778 – 1952). University of British Columbia. 1957.
2Common Good Co-op Store, ca. 1938. Burnaby Village Museum HV976.46.1
3Ernest Pitman Family Home, Pitman Family collection, City of Burnaby Archives, Item 186-007
4Burnaby Historical Society Community Archives Collection, Oral History Series 100-13-25, Tracks 7 and 8
Kash Sidhu, Mortgage Relationship Manager
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*G&F Financial Group is the operating trade name of Gulf and Fraser Fishermen’s Credit Union.