The Antigonish Movement Today

The successes, challenges and shortcomings of the Movement have been studied far and wide. The question many continue to ask is, “Where is the Antigonish Movement today?” Some cite the decline of the multitude of co-ops as evidence of the demise of the Movement. Father Alex MacKinnon, recalls that Dr. Coady would often stress that enterprises may come and go, however, it is the philosophy that is important. While the social and economic landscape of northeastern Nova Scotia has changed significantly over the past century, many of the root challenges of community sustainability remain, and that strategies involving economic cooperation, access to information, and collective action to address injustices are just as important today if not more so. Many of the organizations that mobilized the Antigonish Movement and those who grew from its impact continue to thrive today.

Wilf Bean, who has been active in the adult education programs of The Coady since the 1980s, tells how Dr. A. A. MacDonald, a former Coady Director, described that it was originally intended that the Antigonish Movement would be carried on within St. FX through three institutions. Dr. MacDonald described this as the three legs of a stool: the Coady International Institute would be responsible for overseas training and work, the Extension Department for work in the region, and the Department of Adult Education responsible for theoretical development and higher level training to serve both Coady and Extension and beyond.

The Coady International Institute
Building on the experience of the Antigonish Movement and on contemporary development practice, the Institute continues to provide programs that promote education, innovation, group action and sustainable economic activities for disadvantaged groups. Through the work of the Coady Institute, the impact of the Antigonish Movement continues to increase with the cooperation and networking of community-based organizations and educational institutions around the world.

The Extension Department
The Extension Department is a vibrant agency of St.F.X. that strives to promote and advance, according to the principles of the Antigonish Movement, the economic self-reliance and social well-being of people and communities locally, regionally and nationally. The educational and research processes used by staff follow a straightforward strategy: Listen, Learn, Discuss, Act.

Over the past decade the Extension Department has been active in a number of initiatives that demonstrate this continued commitment to community mobilization. The department has collaborated on work with women in community development, a community-led health planning program called PATH, and profiles of local enterprise development arising from an Ideas Fair.

The Extension Department of St.F.X. celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2018, and continues its long history of consultancy work with unions, Aboriginal fisheries, and rural towns throughout the Atlantic region.

Adult Education Department
The Master of Adult Education program at the University continues the vision of the Movement. In particular, the program has a focused stream of teaching on community development which draws development workers from domestic and international contexts. A number of faculty in this program are interested in the connections between social justice and adult education. Fittingly, the Adult Education Department is located in the Extension Department’s original home, Xavier Hall.

Contemporary inspirations

In addition to these three core aspects, the story and lessons of the Antigonish Movement continue to be studied and critically assessed in the coursework of a number of disciplines at St.F.X. As well, other programs and services on the St.F.X. campus give expression to the mission of social justice and community cooperation.

The Congregration of the Sisters of St. Martha began their mission on this campus in 1897 to meet the domestic needs of the college. When Dr. Coady invited the sisters to join in the work of the Antigonish Movement, they answered the call with enthusiasm. The Marthas continue to maintain a presence on the St.F.X. campus today at Wellspring.

Service Learning
Service Learning provides students the opportunity to integrate experiential learning, academic study and community service. It builds upon StFX’s tradition of social responsibility and brings a philosophy of outreach to the undergraduate academic experience. Students in the Human Nutrition course Effecting Change (HNU 475) are gleaning insights from the past in addressing today’s challenges related to food security and nutritional health of vulnerable population groups, and have studied the legacy of Antigonish Movement. Two students were so struck by what they learned about building capacity for social justice that they extended a class assignment about effecting change beyond the classroom setting – indeed beyond Canada. Their efforts resulted in raising enough money to buy 12 goats to provide Bangladesh families with a stable supply of nourishment and income.