By Ian Hussey
Though I grew up in Hantsport, a small village on the red clay banks of the Avon River about 10 minutes from Wolfville in Nova Scotia’s beautiful Annapolis Valley, and though I owe my introduction to Fair Trade in 1995 to Just Us! Coffee Roasting Co-op, it annoys me every time someone says that Wolfville is the first Fair Trade Town in Canada.
Travel back a couple years. Hugo Bonjean, a former suit turned ethical trade advocate, contacts TransFair Canada and Oxfam Canada and tells them that he wants to work on a Fair Trade Town campaign. Oxfam wasn’t interested for whatever reason, and TransFair tells him that they’d need to do a bunch of research and apply for like a $400,000 grant before proceeding. Determined, Hugo went in alone.
Shortly thereafter, he arranged to make a presentation to the town council of Black Diamond, Alberta. The only Black Diamond you’ve ever heard of the cheese brand? Same here, til I received an Oxfam America e-newsletter a couple years back. The newsletter included reference to an article in the Calgary Herald about Canada’s first Fair Trade Town, Black Diamond. Me and my man Michael Zelmer both hadn’t heard of the development. Funny how Canadian activists had to hear about this landmark accomplishment from a US-based source. Evidently capital F, capital T, Fair Trade officialdom didn’t want to recognize the grassroots organizing done by Hugo and the people of Black Diamond.
For the sake of ‘due diligence’, as business folk put it, or because I’m an activist geek, I followed up with the journalist at the Calgary Herald by email and spoke with Hugo on the phone. His plan was simple in design and smooth in execution. He prepared a 15 minute presentation for the Black Diamond town council. 5 minutes in, he saw everyone nodding their heads. He cut the presentation short and went straight into what they needed to do to achieve Fair Trade Town status by the UK standards. Within 6 months, this small Alberta town made history. How?
Black Diamond is a farming community. Hugo talked to the council about farming communities in other places of the world, far off places where stuff like coffee and tea is grown. He told the council of the actualities of these communities. Parallels were made, hearts and minds were won – they were already well on their way.
Community members started talking to store owners about Fair Trade, raising questions, requesting products. Soon the talk of the town was Fair Trade. People put TransFair’s Fair Trade Certified mark in their front windows, petitioned their neighbours, did school projects on Fair Trade. They set a tight but achievable deadline for their goal of reaching the UK-developed Fair Trade Towns standards, and met them within months. And for that, though TransFair hasn’t, Black Diamond and Hugo Bonjean, Activist Notes salutes you.
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