A\J's guide to the sharing economy

Share Now: Your How-to Guide to Getting More and Wasting Less

A sampling of the many ways Canadians are sharing meals, mortgages and everything in between.

Sharing is about maximizing the use of products, services and ideas in order to minimize overall consumption by a community. This principle has a surprising number of applications – people can and do share just about anything. It’s also nothing new; sharing books, movies, equipment and hand-me-downs has been common among Westerners for decades, and many cultures practice the age-old act of sharing as a way of life, not an option.

Sharing is about maximizing the use of products, services and ideas in order to minimize overall consumption by a community. This principle has a surprising number of applications – people can and do share just about anything. It’s also nothing new; sharing books, movies, equipment and hand-me-downs has been common among Westerners for decades, and many cultures practice the age-old act of sharing as a way of life, not an option.

Shared items and services can be rented, loaned for free or swapped for others. A\J’s cross-Canada sharing directory offers a sampling of the country’s myriad options, with a focus on established organizations and online services. What follows is hardly exhaustive and many informal sharing practices aren’t covered here. We encourage our readers to contribute more essential opportunities and organizations in the comments.

money | food | knowledge | transportation | space | stuff | timemore

Briefcase stuffed with money.


Cooperative banking

Credit unions offer credit cards, online banking, mortgages, investment options and more control over how money is invested than banks do. These member-owned cooperatives operate as democratic, independent branches. There are more than 330 credit unions in Canada, with more than 1,700 locations, which its national trade association lists at cucentral.ca. Do your research though – many credit unions offer “ethical investing,” but there are no standardized criteria.


Microfinance offers small loans to entrepreneurs who don’t qualify for credit at a bank. Kiva connects the global network of microfinance institutions and borrowers in 73 countries with lenders all over the world, allowing them to help alleviate poverty in increments of $25 or more.

“Canada’s first online peer-to-peer microlending” service has established chapters in Victoria and Okanagan, BC (communitymicrolending.ca), and Ottawa has a Community Loan Fund.

FINCA has offered loans since 1984, accepting donations that fund their informal, locally administered “Village Banks,” rather than facilitating peer-to-peer loans. Similarly, Immigrant Access Fund provides donation-driven microloans to help skilled immigrants get the licensing or training they need to work in their field in Canada.


Nearly 50 Canadian crowdfunding platforms use a wide range of donation, lending and investment models and commission fees to help people raise money for everything from new products to social justice campaigns (see:Pollinating Resilience). The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada has an online directory of platforms and funding portals, and the Canada Media Fund hosts a directory relevant to creative projects. Unlike many US-based sites, the well-known kickstarter.com
is open to Canadian projects. It uses an all-or-nothing model (wherein crowdfunders must meet their total goal to receive the money) and only funds creative projects with a clear purpose and tangible outcome, like a book or video game.

Niche crowdfunding sites include artmarketcanada.com for Canadian artists and patrons, pursu.it for amateur athletes, csicatalyst.org for social change projects and weeve.it or causevox.com for non-profits. The “friend-funding” platform zokos.com allows guests to contribute money to social events so hosts don’t have to pay for everything, and it also facilitates collaborative menu planning.

There’s currently a campaign to establish Canadian green bonds, which would entail a government-backed, arm’s-length fund to support the development of renewable energy infrastructure. Learn more at greenbonds.ca and ajmag.ca/greenbonds.


Regional and online bartering networks create opportunities for people to exchange consumer goods or services and to establish value standards such as “barter dollars” to manage indirect trading. Swapsity facilitates bartering across Canada and holds “swap meets” in Toronto, and there are regional networks such as LETS on Vancouver Island or BarterWorks in Waterloo Region, Ontario. Individuals and businesses have used First Canadian Barter Exchange since the late 1990s, and Barter Biz Canada is another business-to-business network. U-Exchange.com lists barter offers and requests by province, and also includes home and vehicle exchanges.

Mmm, pie.Food

Shared gardens

Community gardens exist in many cities, neighbourhoods and towns across Canada, offering a range of opportunities to get involved with and benefit from growing local food. An emerging tweak on this model is yard sharing, which turns unused private property into a decentralized network of garden plots. Launched in 2008 with three participating communities, sharingbackyards.com has grown to include 39 groups across Canada (plus others in the US and New Zealand). Many local food organizations also facilitate yard sharing, including CHEP in Saskatoon.

Urban foraging organizations harvest food from trees (mostly fruit) that would otherwise go unused. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society has picked more than 24 tonnes of fruit in the past 14 years, passing it on to community centres, daycares and other groups. The Calgary Urban Harvest Project gathers unused fruit from municipal and domestic trees and shares it between owners, volunteer pickers and a local food bank. Find details about other organizations like these in “A Taste of Canada’s Food-Tree Groups.”

NEW: Ripe Near Me allows users to add their homegrown fruit, veggies and more to a map and connect with others to share, buy, sell or trade – or add edibles spotted in public places.

Food swaps

Individuals or small groups prepare or harvest large batches of something – canned preserves, frozen fruit, herbs or other produce, dozens of cookies – and then get together to trade. The global Food Swap Network’s website is currently being redeveloped, but its Facebook page is active.

Can’t find housemates, neighbours or friends to take turns preparing meals with? Connect with new cooking mates at eatfeastly.com. Wood-burning outdoor ovens for public use also lend themselves to shared feasting. There’s one in North Point Douglas, Manitoba, two in Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park, and A\J profiled the Park Avenue Community Oven in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in our spring 2013 issue.

NEW: Stuck with leftovers you don’t want? Use the Leftover Swap app, to post photos of your extra food, or search the map to see what others have put up for grabs. If you don’t see any pins in your city yet, spread the word and get it started!

Bulk buying networks

The first legally recognized cooperative was a grocery store established in 1844 in Rochdale, England, and its principles are still used by coops everywhere. There are many coop groceries across Canada that are not only legally owned and operated by their members, but which also benefit from the economies of scale that come with purchasing food in bulk as a group. The Ontario Natural Food Co-op (onfc.ca) is a distributor that sells to stores and also coordinates a network of small buying clubs throughout Ontario, Québec and the Atlantic provinces. Any group of five or more households can sign up to start a buying club.

Community Supported Agriculture farms (aka Community Shared Agriculture, or CSAs) sell shares of their harvest to members in advance, providing small-scale farmers with the capital needed for each planting season and members with weekly food boxes come harvest time. The best way to find local CSAs is to search online or talk to a local food advocacy group, or scour provincial directories (csaalberta.com; csamanitoba.org; csafarms.ca; nbfoodsecurity.ca).

Food redistribution

Food banks are the most common service that collects food that would otherwise be wasted from farmers, retailers, restaurants and individuals and distributes it to those who need it most. Community food centres offer a range of other creative approaches with the same aim. Toronto has two great examples: The Stop, whose varied programming also includes drop-in meals and two community ovens; and Second Harvest, which delivers excess food to more than 200 community agencies. Smaller-scale examples can be found in Perth (thetablecfc.org) and Stratford, Ontario (thelocalcfc.org), and community food centres are coming soon to Dartmouth, NS, and Winnipeg. Get more information at cfccanada.ca.

More than 30 Canadian chapters of Food Not Bombs redistribute excess food as community meals and groceries to those in need, as well as to protestors, striking workers and people in disaster situations. Quest Outreach Society’s Food Exchange program provides food to social service agencies in BC’s Lower Mainland. Montréal-based La Tablée des Chefs liaises between producers of surplus food (restaurants and hotels, for example) and the agencies that distribute it. They also offer cooking programs for youth. The Plant a Row, Grow a Row campaign operates in 80 communities including Fredericton, NB (rowrangfred.wordpress.com), encouraging people to plant extra food in their gardens and donate it.

Many university campuses host food banks and free community meal programs, such as the Food Exchange at UBC’s Okanagan campus, the People’s Potato at Concordia University and the Loaded Ladle at Dalhousie

Seed libraries

Gardeners can help preserve heirloom and organic seeds by sharing them – often by “checking out” seeds from a seed library at the start of a season and “returning” them some months later from the resulting plants. Join the network at seedlibraries.org and look for local options like Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library , or find seed-swapping resources at seedlibraries.weebly.com.

NEW: The Open Source Seed Initiative is distributing seeds from 14 species (36 varieties). Anyone using the seeds must pledge to keep the seeds and any derivatives bred from them unpatented and available for anyone to use – and to give credit where it’s due to the breeders who developed them.

NEW: Breast milk banks

Human milk banks provide free pasteurized milk to sick or low-birth-weight babies whose mothers are unable to nurse, donated by nursing and bereaved mothers. Canadian banks are located in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, though donors and recipients are not restricted to those cities. Other North American milk banks are listed at hmbana.org. Mothers are also connecting informally over social media to donate or receive milk. Find links to every Canadian chapter of Human Milk 4 Human Babies at hm4hb.net.

Menser for Dummonds (we didn't want to get sued).Knowledge


It’s free to participate in online courses offered by top universities around the world at coursera.org, and official certificates are also available. Watch free video lectures from Ivy League and other schools at academicearth.org or in the iTunes U app.

Teachers can access “high-quality cultural and educational media” at openculture.com, which lists free online courses, ebooks, textbooks, K-12 instructional resources, movies and more. The OpenCourseWare Consortium assembles free educational resources into course formats, and schoolforge.net shares software, lesson plans, curricula and other resources.

Homeschooling groups can range from a basic resource-sharing network to learning collectives of parents (and others) who teach small groups of children. Search for homeschool groups in your area or consider buying homeschool curricula from a group like Homeschool Swap: Canada (find them on Facebook). Parents can get directly involved in their children’s education at the governance level and in the classroom at Parent Cooperative Preschools, which has outposts in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick . Listings are also available at vicpa.org, hamiltonareapreschools.ca, pcpcontario.org and elsewhere.


Skill sharing frequently takes place through workshops and organizations like Freeskools, which allow anyone to teach or learn from free practical and theoretical courses in an inclusive, non-hierarchical setting. Freeskools operate in Victoria, Hamilton and Halifax, and they’re currently inactive or intermittent elsewhere. Learn to start one at freeskoolsproject.wikispaces.com, or look for local alternatives like the Ste-Emilie Skillshare, a Montréal-based ’zine distributor and community art and studio space with a focus on skill sharing, or the Minga Skill Building Hub in Guelph, where you can learn how to make chocolate or keep backyard chickens.

Anyone can apply to teach a course on just about anything, and anyone can learn (for a modest fee) at skillshare.com. Courses are composed of recorded video lessons with students providing feedback on the projects. Membership discounts are also available.

Get on-demand advice via live online video at helpouts.google.com, which offers tutoring, home repair guidance and private help sessions from experts – some free, some not.

NEW: Hackerspaces and makerspaces

These are locations where people get together to share knowledge, materials and tools (such as 3D printers) to work together or alone on just about anything, from fixing electronics and building robots to creating art. Some established hackerspaces include Ohm Base in Thunder Bay, the UnLab in London, ON, Kingston Makerspace, the KwartzLab in Kitchener, Victoria Makerspace, the Critical Making Lab at UofT, Maker Kids in Toronto, Helios in Montreal and Vancouver Hack Space. Online directories include makerspace.com and mobilemakerspace.com, and 3dhubs.com for 3D printers. Read more about hackerspaces for kids in this June’s Art & Media issue.

Intellectual property

Open source technology allows anyone to use, improve or repurpose products and ideas. Most often it’s the software world sharing ‘source’ computer code to run, customize or build programs; learn more about the movement at opensource.org or find open source code at online communities such as github.com.

Beyond the digital world, opensourceecology.org is developing designs for a set of modular industrial products that will enable self-sufficient land-based economies – the Global Village Construction Set includes a wind turbine, tractor, drill press and 47 more machines.

Creative commons licensing is an alternative to copyright that encourages the respectful sharing of digital intellectual property and creative works. Authors, photographers, inventors, researchers, artists, educators, programmers and others mark their work to be used in specific ways rather than marking it with a copyright. Check out teamopen.cc, which spotlights people doing awesome things with creative commons licenses, such as teaching HIV and AIDS prevention (teachaids.org). Anyone can find CC-licensed images at search.creativecommons.org. You can also find free images at pixabay.com.

Vroom vroomTransportation

Ride shares

The vast majority of Canadian commuters drive to work alone. Carpool.ca works with governments and employers to market carpooling programs to potential participants, while liverides.com, car-pool.ca, kangaride.com and erideshare.com connect carpoolers and other ride-sharing opportunities. Use carpoolworld.com to coordinate a group or company-wide matching system. Find or offer a ride share in BC (especially Vancouver) at ride-share.com.

Shared taxis can be booked and paid for in advance at bandwagon.io, potentially saving up to two-thirds the normal cost of a regular fare, whether anyone joins your ride or not. Taxi2 is a similar initiative created by Virgin Atlantic to arrange shared airport commuters, but riders only save if they can find a match (taxi.to).

Car shares

The major players are mentioned in “Ours is Better Than Yours,” but Canada boasts a range of regional car share programs, including victoriacarshare.ca, calgarycarshare.ca, reginacarshare.ca, vrtucar.com (Ottawa and Kingston), autoshare.com (Toronto) Peg City Car Coop (Winnipeg) and carsharehfx.ca. (Find more listings at carsharing.ca.) Modo has 300 vehicles throughout Vancouver and BC’s Lower Mainland. Community Car Share is an Ontario-based non-profit coop serving Waterloo Region, Hamilton, Guelph, Elmira and St. Catharines, with service coming to London and Burlington in 2014. Many car share programs offer roaming memberships that can work in other cities.

Bike shares

BIXI is perhaps the most visible, stationing bicycles designed for short trips at self-serve parking hubs around Montréal , Ottawa-Gatineau and Toronto (which has just been rebranded as Bike Share Toronto). Bikes with cargo baskets are unlocked by a code obtained by membership or a 24- or 72-hour ticket. Grand River Public Bike Share is coming to Waterloo Region in 2014, and plans to use solar-powered kiosks and connect wirelessly to smart phones, offering maps and directions. Also in Waterloo Region is Community Access Bikeshare, which launched in 2013. Another program launching this summer will bring 750 bicycles and 80 docking stations to Hamilton, Ontario, and the City of Vancouver is currently negotiating a public bike share as well.

NEW: Community bike shops

Bike repair beyond basic maintenance often requires specialized equipment, tools and knowledge. Community bike centres exist across Canada where you can access all three of these (and refurbished bicycles) for free or a very low cost. Check out BikeWorks in Edmonton, Recycle Cycles in Kitchener, LifeCycle in Calgary, Recyclistas in Victoria, the Community Bicycle Network, Bike Pirates and Bike Sauce in Toronto, and on campuses including the University of Guelph and Dalhousie. Find more on the Earth’s Community Bicycle Organizations map.

Variations on "space" by nik harron.Space


Cohousing communities offer shared facilities such as kitchens, storage rooms, heating systems and recreational space, and can be found and joined through cohousing.org and cohousing.ca. Housing coops often incorporate some of these features but are defined by cooperative ownership rather than a focus on collaborative, interactive living (chcfcanada.coop). VanCity Credit Union’s new “mixer mortgage” provides a good example of how to make home co-ownership easier .

Eco-villages add an environmental focus and often incorporates organic farms and other sustainability measures. Scope out Canadian locations at the Ecovillage Network of Canada and gen.ecovillage.org.

Houses without cars might consider renting out their empty driveways through parkatmyhouse.com.

NEW: Travel

From the free couchsurfing.com, to the moderately priced tripping.com, crashpadder.com and airbnb.com, find locals willing to open up their homes – and often show you around – while you’re on the road. Hosteling is a tried and true way to save on accommodations while travelling by sharing simple dormitory-style quarters, and Hostelling International is a trusted global chain, around since 1932. For something more long-term, find a wide range of house swap services online, including sabbaticalhomes.com for the academic crowd.

Bonus: book travel experiences offered by vetted “insider” locals at vayable.com. Guidehop.com offers a similar service, encouraging you to try out new activities in your own backyard as well as in cities around the world.

Shared workspaces

“Coworking” generally refers to employees of different companies and organizations (often from startups and non-profits, or freelancers) sharing anything from a single room or desk space to a full-service office. Many locations include a mix of shared and private offices available for a range of daily, monthly or annual fees, and there are also local networks such as coworkingtoronto.ca.

Coworking Canada represents an alliance of spaces like Hive Vancouver, The Two Twenty in Saskatoon, 10 Carden in Guelph, Ontario, Notman House in Montreal, Queen Street Commons in Charlottetown, PEI, and at least 77 more in 37 cities across the country. Book space in 22 of those cities right now at sharedesk.net or connect globally through the Coworking Google Group .


The Cedars Worship and Community Centre in Waterloo, Ontario, was built in 1996 to be shared by a reform Jewish congregation and a United church.

The Motley Kitchen in Sudbury, Ontario , is a “kitchen incubator” space being renovated and developed for launch this spring. Alternatively, browse Toronto’s “hot kitchens to rent” at alimentaryinitiatives.com.

NEW: Need a bathroom quick? Find one nearby – from private homes to grocery stores – at airpnp.co.

Learn about the space you live in with Jane’s Walks, free neighbourhood tours on foot organized and led by volunteers. Guides share historical knowledge of the area, and walkers share their time and new perspectives with their neighbours.

Stuff you can share: music, drills. Both make noise.Stuff


There are more than 10,000 Little Free Libraries in 56 countries worldwide that self-operate in public spaces using a very simple honour system: take a book, leave a book. Find one in Canada and get reading at littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap, or start one in your community – it’s as easy as having an accessible, weather-protected shelf and a few books to share.

Looking for a specific book or curated reading options? Free international shipping is available to users of the US-based used book seller betterworldbooks.com, whose proceeds support global literacy programs. Buying books can also offer opportunities to support community-building organizations. The Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore , for example, is a Montréal-based student-run non-profit that offers a book consignment service.


While thrift and vintage consignment shops are full of fabulous finds, online platforms are enabling global-scale clothing swaps and some major retailers offer reselling and renting options to solve tricky problems like finding that perfect dress you’ll only wear once.

The Common Threads Partnership allows online shoppers to buy, sell, repair and donate used clothing and outdoor gear made by Patagonia and MEC runs an online gear swap as well as swap events at its stores. Label-conscious shoppers can hunt for curated outfits and accessories at closetdashshop.com, which is currently developing capacity for Canadians to send in their swappable items or trade directly with other swappers at swapstyle.com. Need a killer look for just one night? Rent a designer dress and accessories from rentfrockrepeat.com for about 80-per-cent less than retail price – and get a free “backup size” in case the measurements don’t match up.

The SWAP Team is a volunteer-run non-profit that has organized local clothing swaps and donated the leftovers to charity since 2007 – most famously during its perennial “Take Off Your Clothes” events. Chapters of the ever-expanding network are in Halifax, Québec City, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.

Miscellaneous goods

Informal and organized freecycling networks have long been the best place to find or give away used goods, and many online resources aim to expand such options. Find locals to share with and borrow from (or to ask for things you need but can’t find) through neighborgoods.net, which allows its network to post items and receive notices when a desired item becomes available. The platform myturn.com enables users to create online inventories and tracking systems for their personal lending libraries. Add bartering to the mix via tradegoodz.com, which allows users to post items they want to trade – electronics, phones, toys, even cars and houses – and solicit offers of other items in return. And launching soon with an inspiring manifesto, unstash.com is a peer-to-peer platform that enables members to list, share and track various goods specifically among their existing social networks.

Co-ownership platforms enable groups to purchase and share various products. Currently operating in beta form, jointli.com provides co-ownership agreements, usage scheduling, expense tracking and more, although the service will eventually charge a low monthly fee. Similarly, sharezen.com helps its users manage big-ticket items such as vehicles and equipment for $19 per month.

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore is a great place to find building supplies and paint for reuse, plus they allow users to barter for goods. Tool libraries are established in large cities across the country, including Halifax (halifaxtoollibrary.ca), Toronto (torontotoollibrary.com) and Vancouver (vancouvertoollibrary.com). In some cities, tool libraries are just one component of the services offered by more elaborate community-building organizations, such as HARRRP in Hamilton, Ontario. Find organizational resources for starting your own tool-lending library at sharestarter.org.

NEW: Time

Time Banks

Like bartering, time banks connect you with others in your community to trade time and skills, using an “hour for an hour” system of exchange in which everyone’s time is valued equally. Put in some dog-walking time and claim it later for graphic design services. The Directory of Timebanks has a sampling of networks across Canada.

Work bees

Many hands make light work. Work bees harken back to the days when whole communities came together to get a project done quickly, like raising a barn, harvesting a field or canning a batch of vegetables. Try one for getting your garden planted – or take it on the road and run errands with or for your neighbours to save gas! 

Work trades

Find out if your favourite yoga studio or organic farm offers a work trade program: you put in a few hours of work a week (or month) and you get a free membership or food to take home! Work exchanges can also be a great way to travel inexpensively. Try World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Help Exchange (Helpx) for openings.

Keep exploring

  • Shareable is a news hub and network with a wealth of information and resources including a whole bunch of “how to share” guides.
  • Collaborative Consumption features news, resources and a directory. Note that the most local you can get with this directory is nationwide.
  • Mesh offers another directory, with a broader focus that includes more tech, energy and data related examples. Searching by location gives you companies based in that region, but might miss ones active over a broader area.
  • Society 3.0 shares stories and examples of people who are reinventing society by working to “create value instead of growth.”
  • Crowd Companies is exploring what role companies can play in the collaborative economy. For a broader economic picture, check out the New Economy Coalition.

Shareable is trying to create a network of 100+ “sharing cities” by 2015. A sharing city is one in which resources, skills and work are locally and collectively owned, governed and shared. What that looks like varies from city to city but the starting point is building a network to share best practices. Two Ontario towns, Elora and Toronto, are on the list of 51 cities so far that have created online maps of their sharing resources and joined the network. View the maps of the participating cities and towns, or add your own.

Laura is a past A\J managing editor. She has an MA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, is an organizing aficionado, lackadaisical gardener, and former musical theatre producer. @inhabitings