The Impact of The Antigonish Movement

The Antigonish Movement, arising in the first decades of the 20th century in response to socio-economic decline in Maritime Canada, had by 1945 begun to demonstrate possible solutions to the problems of underdevelopment in distant lands. Throughout the years, it has touched the lives of thousands of people in Canada and abroad, and today, some 80 years later, especially through the Coady International Institute, it continues to promote democratically-based and locally-organized grassroots cooperative action in many parts of the world. The impact of the Antigonish Movement unfolds in many different ways, but the most important influence has always been the change it effects within the hearts and minds of people as thought and imagination become actively engaged in social action through adult education.

Beginning in the 1920’s with both the publication of Fr. Jimmy Tompkins’ famous pamphlet Knowledge for the People and the opening of the People’s Schools at St.F.X. University, citizens, mainly from the Diocese of Antigonish, were inspired and empowered through adult education. With the establishment of the Extension Department in 1928, many more people from across northeastern Nova Scotia and beyond became committed co-operators through membership in study clubs and as users of the valuable services and information delivered by the Extension Department and its supporters. In 1959, the establishment of the Coady International Institute formally propelled this strategy of mobilizing the people into the international arena.

The impact is also reflected in the large number of organizations and institutions which owe their genesis in some way to the Antigonish Movement. Credit unions, and co-operatives of many varieties - housing, producer, marketing and consumer - were directly created from the study clubs of the Antigonish Movement. A number of labour organizations - trade unions and union associations - also owe their existence to the movement. Moreover, Nova Scotia’s regional library system is indebted to visionaries like Father Jimmy Tompkins.

Leadership development has always been a central concern of the Movement since adult education in the socio-economic sphere is primarily about empowering people to effect change themselves. Successful change requires inspirational leaders. The founders of the Movement not only modeled leadership, but also helped to establish and then play important leading roles in many national and international organizations. Thus, they demonstrated leadership that attempted to maximize the influence of useful ideas. Of course, the Movement produced many second and third generation leaders who followed in the footsteps of the pioneers as they pursued worthwhile projects on the global stage. Finally, the careers of many men and women who were not formally part of the Antigonish Movement have been inspired and shaped by the ideas and deeds of its leaders.