activist notes

Wolfville wasn’t first! by activistnotes
February 21, 2008, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Fair Trade Towns | Tags: ,

By Ian Hussey

TransFair Canada would have us believe that Wolfville, Nova Scotia is the first Fair Trade Town in Canada []. Not by a long shot!

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.


6 Comments so far
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That’s so interesting and I believe it! Before we had a Fair Trade Towns program in place in the US, towns chose to follow the UK guidelines to become a FT town or city. Those towns – Media, PA and Brattleboro, VT – are ‘grandfathered’ in. Meaning they met all of the criteria set forth by Fairtrade Foundation in the UK well before the Fair Trade Towns USA campaign officially launched last October, and they are recognized as the first and second Fair Trade Towns in the US. Shouldn’t Black Diamond be recognized as the first FT town in Canada?

Comment by Sara

Brilliant! What a great story. Hugo (and the folks in Black Diamond) are rock stars.

– Scott James
Fair Trade Sports
Eco-Certified Fair Trade Soccer Balls

Comment by Scott James

Wonderful ! True pioneers that haven’t heard of Fair Trade, didn’t have a proeminent Fair Trade actor in its community (Just Us is to Wolfville) and adopted the conditions to be a Fair Trade town. Altough a very symbolic campaign (volume-generating wise), elected officials in a very remote area that choose to link themselves with the outside world are to be saluted. Thanks for this interesting news !
Oxfam Fair Trade
coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, sugar and spices

Comment by Dario Iezzoni

I would like to give a brief explanation about why it is that TransFair Canada recognises Wolfville, NS, as the first Fair Trade Town in Canada. (Since most of this predates my time at TransFair Canada, I’ve done a bit of background research.)

A couple of years ago, TransFair Canada was approached by someone who requested a paid contract to develop and implement a national Fair Trade Towns campaign. The decision was made not to hire this person for the project at the time based on a number of factors. This person told the TransFair staff that they were going to go ahead and initiate a campaign to make the town of Black Diamond a Fair Trade Town. After this, TransFair Canada never heard anything further, and no one from Black Diamond made any attempt to contact us. When we made the decision to launch the national Fair Trade Towns campaign just over a year ago, my predecessor did extensive background research on the internet about Black Diamond, but was not able to find any information whatsoever about a Fair Trade Town campaign there, and there was no mention of it on the town’s municipal website. Because no one from Black Diamond ever contacted us and we were unable to find any information about the campaign, the decision was therefore made to recognize the first community to communicate that they had successfully achieved the 6 goals – and thus, Wolfville became the first Fair Trade Town in Canada.

The Fair Trade Towns campaign is a powerful tool for grassroots and local groups to promote Fair Trade within their communities. While we at TransFair Canada have set the parameters of the Canadian campaign after careful research into the experiences of other countries, the campaign is by its very nature a grassroots project. All the work is done at the local level, and communities develop unique and often creative ways to promote Fair Trade within their own locale. It is my personal goal to design the campaign and its tools to best suit the needs of local groups. If anyone has any further questions about the Fair Trade Towns campaign or how to get involved, please feel free to contact me: reykia.fick [at]

We applaud all groups and individuals in Canada who have supported Fair Trade in any form. Your dedication has made the Fair Trade movement what it is today.

Best wishes,
Reykia Fick
Fair Trade Towns Coordinator,
Communications and Outreach
TransFair Canada

Comment by Reykia Fick

Thank you for the response, Reykia.

Though I appreciate the detail, I am still not satisfied with this answer. On more than one occassion I spoke with TransFair Canada staff about Black Diamond being the first Fair Trade Town in Canada. These conversations happened well in advance of Wolfville being named the first Fair Trade Town in Canada. I told you all of the details I wrote in my post above, but in private so as not to embarass you or cause any ill will. And everytime I seemed to get the response “who recognized Black Diamond?” True, TransFair Canada did not. And still hasn’t. Black Diamond achieved the 6 goals of the Fair Trade Towns campaign 2 years in advance of Wolfville. All I am asking is you recognize that. I’m not even going to get into the larger issues of who in the fair trade movement has the ultimate authority to recognize a Fair Trade Town. But analogous to the old saying that it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to have a social movement. I realize this puts TransFair Canada in general and you specifically as the Fair Trade Towns Coordinator in an awkward position. And I am truly sorry for that, you’re my friend and TransFair is a prominent member in the fair trade movement in Canada, of course. But you can’t say I didn’t raise this issue before you went and named Wolfville the first Fair Trade Town in Canada. Please admit you made an oversight and recognize Black Diamond as the first Fair Trade Town in Canada.

Comment by Ian Hussey

Yes, we go back many years- about 2002- with Ian to when he was an Honour’s student doing a thesis on Fair Trade at Acadia. I think we deserve some or most of the blame for sending him in the direction of United Students for Fair Trade.
This seems to be part of the ongoing debate with Ian and others who argue that basically anyone can use the term “fair trade” and even make up their own criteria. Others, inluding us, believe that fot Fair Trade to mean something, we must have internationally agreed upon standards and independent certification.
It was great that Black Diamond was enthusiastic about the idea but, in reality, there was no formal framework in place to ensure that they were meeting the criteria and officially recognize them. If they have all the work done to meet the standards, they should definitely apply.
I hope this doesn’t come across as being too rigid or bureaucratic but the idea that anything goes in Fair Trade will likely be it’s demise.
Jeff Moore,
Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op

Comment by Jeff Moore

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