A dead man’s co-op mission doesn’t die

Moses Coady
I wish I had known Moses Coady, founder of the Antigonish Movement in Nova Scotia. He had a way of looking out of a photograph straight at you, with the level stare of someone not to be budged or bullied.

He was director of the extension department of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, a Roman Catholic priest who took up the cause of the poor with a passion and an organizing skill that attracted attention and inspired emulation around the world.

Coady’s goal was « to educate the people by assisting them to become masters of their own economic destinies.’’ His method was to call community meetings to study problems and strengths. Solutions were usually found in creating cooperatives — to sell fish, for instance, or to establish retail operations, or to market farm products, or build homes, or, as in 1931, to create Nova Scotia’s first credit union.

He died in 1959, at age 77, but his passion has lived on in others, and last week I met one of these people. He has the same unswerving gaze, the same hint of quiet tenacity. He, too, is a Roman Catholic priest.


His name is Brian Hart: 47 years old, and parish priest to about 350 families in Erinsville, a tiny town about 30 kilometres north of Napanee, that was settled in 1847, at the height of the Irish potato famine. Today, Erinsville is at the heart of a deprived area that has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Canada.


As Hart sees it, tending to the faith of his parishioners includes helping them struggle for economic justice, using a co-op as a vehicle. « People really need to come together, to lean on each other,’’ he says. It gives them strength and purpose.


A year and a half ago, he and parishioners formed Hearthmakers Energy Co-op, and based it in Kingston, about 30 kilometres east of Napanee. Membership is $10. There are « close to 200 members,’’ he says, and two full-time, paid staff. The purpose of the co-op is to educate, inform, and improve the economic situation of members.


« We want the community to keep more of its money out of the pockets of super-wealthy multinationals, so it can go to the families whose kids are dying prematurely,’’ he says.


So the Hearthmakers has joined a buyers group of school boards and municipalities that purchases heating oil in bulk at significant discounts. It’ll allow co-op members to heat their homes for less.


It also is establishing community gardens so people can grow their own food at a fraction of supermarket prices. It’s working with Queen’s University to test solar hot water panels, developed at Queen’s, that are expected to be twice as efficient as competitive panels and half the price.


One of its staff members is completing a training course on conducting energy efficiency audits on homes, and once he has his certificate, the co-op will be able to advise homeowners how to reduce their heating and lighting expenses.


And finally, the co-op is in discussions with an engineering group that wants to put up wind turbines in Kingston. The co-op is searching for a way that it can participate.


« Ignorance is the biggest threat among us,’’ Hart says. « The system is set up to make us mindless, wasteful consumers…. The whole economy is based on waste, and we’ve been trained not to think about these issues. We have to help people think in terms of efficiency.’’


While he was studying for the priesthood at the St. Augustines Seminary in Scarborough, he learned of Coady, « But at that time, I was more interested in religious issues,’’ Hart says. « However, as I got older, and read more about him, I came to admire him…. I admire any churchman who says things don’t have to be the way they are, and who does his best to change them.’’


And so Hart is paying Coady the greatest possible tribute. He’s keeping the inspiration alive, he’s continuing the fight for social justice, and he’s doing his best to change things.

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