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The Founders

One summer night in 1895, Alonzo Fowler Kempton and Charles Kerr sat beside a prairie campfire, and shared a jar of whisky. They also shared an idea that, once launched, would last a century and beyond. These men founded the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, one of Canada's largest general insurance companies.

Kempton saw that the settlers of the western plains faced drought, hail, prairie fires, and high transportation costs. Not the least of the farmers' problems were accidents with coal-oil lamps or straw-burning equipment.

Some mishaps set fire to tinder-dry crops, machinery, barns, and sometimes entire farms. As a salesman for a stock insurance company, Kempton knew farmers were having trouble paying premiums for coverage on their highly combustible wooden threshing machines. He felt a mutual company, created by and for farmers, would be more efficient, and could consequently charge lower premiums.

Kempton soon earned the trust of 20 local farmers, convincing them to invest $20 each to help finance the new company.

On September 25, 1896, The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company was born. Two weeks later, Charles Kerr hand wrote Policy No.1, insuring a thresher for $600 at a premium of $24 for three years.

Wawanesa's first office, second building from right

The enterprise began modestly. A small room was rented above the local drugstore (owned by future Wawanesa managing director, Dr. C.M. Vanstone).

Staff consisted of Alonzo Kempton - secretary-manager, and Charles Kerr - bookkeeper. Seven of the 20 original investors were named directors.

Because farmers didn't have cash until after harvest, Wawanesa issued its first policies without a premium payment.

An assessment note was all that was required. Once the crops were in, policyholders forwarded their money. The directors were obliged to cover shortfalls between collections, and had to guarantee personal notes at the bank for the first few years.

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