Antigonish Movement

Antigonish Movement, a social and economic movement sponsored by the Extension Department of St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. During the 1920s, following several decades of adversity in fishing, mining and agriculture in eastern Nova Scotia, St Francix Xavier became involved in a series of social and economic programs, and in 1928 it established the Extension Dept. The department was under the direction of Father Moses Coady, but it relied heavily on the inspiration of Father J.J. "Jimmy" Tompkins and on the organizing zeal of Coady's assistant, A.B. Macdonald.

The "Antigonish Movement" was unusual - a liberal Catholic movement at a time when conservatism was dominant in the Roman Catholic Church (see Catholicism; Catholic Action). It focused on adult education as a means towards social improvement and economic organization. Typically, one of the movement's organizers would enter a community, use whatever contacts could be found and call a public meeting to assess the community's strengths and difficulties. A study club would be created and a program for a series of meetings developed. Usually, at the end of these meetings, one or more co-operatives would be established to help overcome the difficulties that had been discussed. The credit union was most common, but the movement also organized co-operatives for selling fish, retailing consumer goods, building homes and marketing agricultural produce.

During the 1930s the Antigonish Movement spread to, or was imitated in, many areas of Atlantic provinces. It also became well known in other parts of Canada and in the US, publicized by its own leaders, the churches and the credit union movement. During the 1940s a series of articles and books made the movement known in Europe, Latin America and Asia. In the 1950s adult educators and social activists began coming to study the movement in Antigonish, and in 1959 the Coady International Institute was established.

The institute, a training centre for adult education and social action, soon attracted students for courses on the Antigonish method. Thousands of community organizers have studied in Antigonish. Upon returning to Asia, Latin America and Africa they have attempted, with differing degrees of success, to duplicate the movement's early accomplishments in Nova Scotia. In recent years the movement has played an important role in Canada's foreign aid programs.

Locally the Antigonish Movement has found its study club approach difficult to sustain since the 1950s. The arrival of television, road improvements and a gradually increasing standard of living made it difficult to assemble groups for sustained study and community activism. The movement has been forced to embrace new communication and information technology and to face current issues, most of which are not resolved through co-operatives, in order to maintain its momentum. The success of these efforts is not as easily demonstrable as were the very concrete accomplishments of the 1930s and 1940s.

See also DISTANCE LEARNING; CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT.