Antigonish Movement

Yes, this poster is too small to be legible, but it shows some of the thoughts regarding the Antigonish movement. I note that one gender and many ethnicities are under-represented. Hopefully in the 75 years since this poster appeared these issues have been addressed, and resolved.

Two quotations from Moses Coady:

If we are wise, we will help the people everywhere to get the good and abundant life… to become masters of their own destiny.

When you stop pioneering, you die.

I first became acquainted with the Antigonish movement, Saint Francis Xavier University (SFXU), and the Coady Institute (CI) when I was living in Halifax in 1975. Since the start of the internet age, I have periodically looked at websites related to these.

It is now a century since the Antigonish movement was started. Jimmy Tompkins (1870 – 1953) and Moses Coady (1882 – 1959) are generally regarded as its founding figures.  They were both Roman Catholic priests from the Margaree Valley on Cape Breton Island. They were double-cousins of each other, of Irish ancestry.

Tompkins was vice-rector then vice-president and prefect of studies at SFXU from 1907 to 1923. He offended Antigonish Bishop James Morrison (1861 – 1950) and was exiled to Canso, Nova Scotia. Here, he observed the plight of the fishing community and helped organize cooperative fisheries, stores, housing projects, and adult study groups. In addition, Tompkins started the first regional library in Nova Scotia, its first credit union and Tompkinsville (as it was commonly called) a cooperative housing association in Reserve Mines, about 15 km north east of Sydney. Tompkins can be considered the spiritual founder of the Antigonish movement.

The movement is named after the Antigonish diocese. It currently includes 99 parishes and mission churches in seven deaneries, located in Northeastern Nova Scotia, including all of Cape Breton Island. In 1924, the area experienced labour unrest, especially in the coals mines, and out-migration.  It was proving difficult to counteract these issues.  Coady was working on a project to put into practice his theory that: The short, quick, scientific way to progress in the world, even in the field of formal education of youth, was through the enlightenment and education of adults. He posed two questions: What should people do to get life in this community and what should they think about and study to enable them to get it? The basic technique of the Antigonish Movement–the formation of study clubs acting as crucibles in which co-operative group action was created through a persistent process of questioning, debate, education and learning–had emerged.

A seminary was established at Arichat on Isle Madame, accessible from Cape Breton Island, in 1853. In 1855, it was moved to Antagonish, on the Nova Scotia mainland, 100 km = 60 miles away and renamed St. Francis Xavier University. In 1928, Coady was appointed the first director of the extension department of SFXU.  In 1930, Coady and the extension department initiated local community actions, calling mass meetings and introducing study clubs.  Coady would speak at these meetings often and lectured the community on its failings; he then challenged them to ask key questions: What do we need and how can we get it? 

Coady’s book, Master of Their Own Destiny (1939) is available at the Internet Archive. After his death, the CI was opened at SFXU to continue his work in emerging nations. CI offers on-site and on-line educational programs with an emphasis on social change. The focus is on practice and participation, using learner-centered and asset-based methods with a potential for personal growth and social transformation.

Currently 12 on-site courses are offered at SFXU in Antigonish. These include Asset-Based and Community-Led Development: Theory and Practice which provides an opportunity to share and to learn about the principles, practices and tools that put local assets and action at the centre of development initiatives. This provides a time-out for participants to question conventional community development practices and beliefs, and to re-evaluate the role of institutions in stimulating and supporting genuine asset-based and citizen-led development (ABCD). Another on-site program has a focus on Community Led Solutions for Climate Change. Human-induced climate change is the most pressing global issue of our time. The course uses case studies from different regions of the world and draws on the experiences of participants, facilitators, local practitioners, activists and community members.

There are also twelve online programs offered by SFXU that use various communications platforms.

While all of these programs invite the participation of women, five of the twelve on-site and two of the online programs are specifically for women, without male participation. These are: Feminist Advocacy for Agency, Equity and Justice; Indigenous Women in Community Leadership; Towards Decolonial Feminist Leadership; Women’s Leadership for Community Development; and, Advancing Women’s Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding for Community Development. The two online programs specifically for woman are: Feminist Leadership for capabilities, ecology and transformation; and, Resources and Tools for Working with Young Women Leaders.


  1. Life-long learning is important. Adult education opportunities need to be provided, including topics in economics related to asset management.
  2. People need a living wage. This is non-negotiable. Learn about this in context. This also means that there should be a maximum wage, and a ceiling on assets.
  3. People need control of the assets that affect their lives. At a minimum, this means producer co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, housing co-operatives and credit unions.
  4. Once the material needs of people have been met, spiritual needs can be worked on.


For the past 70 years I have tried to understand my place in the world. It has been confusing. To begin with, I had to separate an unknown nature, from a misknown nurture. Misknown? Yes, when my paternal Scottish roots turn out to be Scottish and Irish, the latter from Mohill, County Leitrim, and my maternal English roots turn out to be Scottish and English, with the Scottish probably from Roxburghshire in the Borders area. Yes, when my Protestant heritage is largely Catholic.

In this post I attempted to reveal my spiritual connection to the Antagonish Movement and the Margaree Valley of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The MacLellans settled there in 1795 or 1821 (sources vary). Some sources claim that the brother of my MacLellan ancestor was the Catholic priest for these Scottish immigrants.

For most of my life, I have known that the MacLellans had come from the Outer Hebrides. Barra, I was told. However, this turns out to be a fleeting moment on South Uist. Before that it was Swordland, on the mainland of Scotland. Swordland is a small hamlet in North Morar part of the Lochaber district of Highland Council Area. It lies on the northern shoreline of Loch Morar, about 1 km south of Tarbet. Alasdair visited this area in 2023, and found numerous MacLellans including several with the names Alasdair and Shelagh.

On Cape Breton Island, I was told the MacLellans lived in Sydney Mines. It turns out that this was just another stop, on a journey that led to Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. They had actually lived in the Margaree Valley. I had been told that given name Alexander = Alasdair, in Scot’s Gaelic, was common, both meaning, helper of man. Another common given name was Archibald = Gilleasbuig, in Scot’s Gaelic, meaning servant of the bishop.

Nature? In 2017, I found out that my biological father, Percy Bradd (1914 – 1956) was also Catholic. My biological mother was Protestant. I chose to be a Unitarian, and then a Baha’i.

I am planning one last trip to Nova Scotia, scheduled for the summer of 2025. I was last there in 1976, close enough to fifty years earlier. I am looking forward to seeing Cape Breton again, especially visiting the Margaree Valley for the first time. On the Nova Scotia mainland, SFXU and Antigonish more generally, are intended places to visit. I am also looking forward to seeing how Halifax has changed.

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