The local and regional impact of the Antigonish Movement was powerful, especially during the 1930's and early 1940's when the region grappled with severe economic problems. First, people like Father Jimmy Tompkins and Dr. Moses Coady provided a vision of hope, self-help and mutual cooperation when the response of traditional institutions was insufficient or non-existent. Their provision of technique and stress on self-agency at a time when most workers had little education should not be underestimated. In the words of pioneer fieldworker Ida Delaney: “There was a personal enrichment brought into the lives of those who participated…. The study clubs gave men and women a way to continue the education that had been abruptly cut off when they left school.” This consciousness-raising process is demonstrated by the life of Claire Gillis from the coal-mining region of Cape Breton who advanced far beyond his Grade 4 education by participating enthusiastically in the Movement; ultimately, he strongly influenced the coal miners and became a social reformer and Member of Parliament.
Second, the Movement created significant economic assets that directly benefited those most in need. During the 1920's and 1930's, when government and commerce retrenched, withdrew and exploited, the credit union and cooperative ideas represented practical solutions that people could implement to their own benefit. From about 1930 to the first years of World War II, these community-based institutions were an important positive impact on the regional economy. The table below provides an overview of the rapid regional growth of study clubs, credit unions and cooperatives during the 1930's.
|Co-op Buying Clubs||3||10||5||3||4|
|Co-op Fish Plants||3||5||5||10||11||11|
|Co-op Lobster Factories||8||12||14||17||17||17|
The work of Dr. Moses Coady, Father Jimmy Tompkins and A.B. MacDonald in Extension and the broader movement was to lead or assist in the creation of many important institutions. In 1921, Coady began to organize the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union and started its newsletter. Today, the union is one of the strongest in the province. As well, Coady’s epic organizing tour in the winter of 1929-30 led to the creation of the United Maritime Fishermen’s Union that improved the lot of the inshore fishers by providing a regional network of cooperative associations. A.B. MacDonald was the managing director of the Nova Scotia Credit Union League since its inception in 1934. He and other organizers helped start the Canadian Livestock Cooperative in Moncton, New Brunswick with its two branches in Nova Scotia – the Canadian Livestock Co-operative in Sydney and Eastern Co-operative Services in Antigonish. Tompkins returned from Britain and the US with inspirational ideas about adult education and went on to become a founding member of the Canadian Association for Adult Education (CAAE). Perhaps his most enduring impact was his role in bringing libraries and housing cooperatives to the common people of Nova Scotia. He attracted two talented women to the cause, Sister Frances Dolores, SC, and Mary Arnold. Sister Dolores helped to start the regional library system, and Mary Arnold wrote legislation and helped local housing cooperators execute their vision in Reserve Mines.
The success of the housing cooperative in Reserve Mines sparked many similar endeavours in Sydney, Whitney Pier, Glace Bay and other locales across Nova Scotia. At the end of World War II, there were 71 completed co-op houses in the Maritimes and another 171 under construction. By 1978, 2000 families were living in co-operatively constructed or improved houses throughout the Maritimes. Joe Laben, a miner, one of the original housing cooperators in Reserve Mines, eventually worked for the St.F.X. Extension Department for eighteen years and was nationally recognized as a pioneer in the field.
Leadership by example has been a staple in the Antigonish Movement as new generations have been inspired by the vision of its founders. Today, economic development organizations such as New Dawn Enterprises, Ltd. (housing, medical services, community organization support services), the Seton Foundation (social housing) and Cape Breton University’s Tompkins Institute for Human Values and Technology (community capital fund) in Cape Breton can trace their lineage directly back to the Movement. The same is true for scores of successful credit unions across the Maritimes, such as the Bergengren Credit Union in Antigonish, named after the American credit union expert Roy Bergengren who Tompkins invited to speak at a Rural and Industrial conference in 1931. His speech launched this most vital aspect of the Extension program locally and through the Coady International Institute eventually into world beyond.
The Antigonish Movement also touched the lives of Nova Scotia’s First Nations, the Mi’kmaq, when Extension Department fieldworkers began working in Cape Breton during the 1950's. Initially, the Mi’kmaq were suspicious and reserved, but as they began to work together on small projects that produced immediate tangible results such as organizing fund raising dances and socials, they were encouraged to tackle larger ones like housing. Extension helped get native children enrolled in local schools for the first time and by the late 1970’s some of those had gone on to attend post-secondary colleges.
Extension's work on the Cape Breton native reserves, and in the Black communities of northeastern Nova Scotia, highlights again the Department’s desire to develop leaders who would be able to take charge of their community’s own destiny. For example, at one time, Extension's Sydney office had two natives on staff. The jobs themselves were not as important as the training they provided; one of the native workers went on to become the first president of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and the other became editor of The Micmac News.