New Dawn employs over 175 people from the Cape Breton community and it services 600 Cape Bretoners each day through its companies and projects.
Cape Breton Island is known world-wide for its natural beauty, for its gifted musicians and writers, and for its friendly people who have maintained their diverse cultural traditions since the early 19th century. But the history of Cape Breton is really the story of a struggling community that has experienced severe economic and social crisis for generations.
Since January 1, 1821, when Cape Breton was annexed to Nova Scotia, its citizens effectively lost control over their own affairs. Government institutions, educational institutions, financial institutions and religious institutions established themselves at a distance, on the mainland, with absentee control becoming a dominant feature of life on the island. That absentee dominance led to colonial control over the management of mineral rights, the indenture of plant workers to the company — along with the perpetual debt resulting from that indenture, and severe wage reductions in order to meet annual dividend obligations.
All of these contributed to a frustration and resentment against the mainland.
...what can be accomplished when local people come together and utilize the best planning, business and organizational principles in responding to community needs.
In the 1920's, a man and a movement emerged with an idea to deal with that frustration and its causes. He was destined to influence the way in which community development would be understood and practiced throughout the world. The man was Father James John Tompkins – “Father Jimmy” – and the movement came to be known as the “Antigonish Movement”.
Underlying Father Jimmy’s approach to community development was the establishment of a mature leadership inspired by a constructive alternate vision. Education and organization would be the driving forces in people regaining control over their work and their lives, and the principle vehicle was the People’s School established by Father Jimmy in 1921 at Saint Francis Xavier University. The purpose of the school was to bring young adults from eastern Nova Scotia together in a college residential setting to learn the skills of leadership and to challenge and inspire them to become masters of their own destiny.
The People’s School was a conscious effort to deal intelligently and wisely with the challenges facing Cape Breton, to liberate the creative energies of people, and to inspire them to work together for the common good.
This is the foundation upon which New Dawn is built. It attempts to demonstrate what can be accomplished when local people come together and utilize the best planning, business and organizational principles in responding to community needs. New Dawn is therefore both a business and a social development organization. From the beginning, New Dawn’s initiatives reflected that dual approach by providing much needed services in a business-like way. Early examples of this dual approach are: the establishment of dental clinics in Cape Breton, the Cape Breton School of Crafts, half-way houses and a variety of housing projects.