The Sir William Ford Coaker Foundation and Union House Arts

Written by Maggie Burton (WeavEast Fellow, Newfoundland and Labrador)


Throughout the nineteenth century, rural Newfoundland’s fishing economy depended on the “truck system” of establishing credit with a local fishing merchant. As a seasonal, family-based enterprise, families often traded salt fish for goods early on in the season, before the price of cod was necessarily known by merchants, leaving labourers in debt, often at an unfair price.

In part to fight inequality in the fishing industry, in 1906, Sir William Ford Coaker established the Fisherman’s Protective Union (FPU), a union and political party and later a service organization for members, seeking a better distribution of wealth in the island’s main economic driver. Within six years of establishment, the FPU released a 31-point manifesto calling for radical change in fishery, social and governance policies. These changes included co-operative marketing, government regulation of fish grading, reduction of tariffs on food staples, free and mandatory education, and a minimum wage.


Port Union exists because the FPU built it, starting in 1916. Including its own hydro-electric energy system, the town was designed with a mixed-use planning philosophy, including 50 affordable rental units.

Now, in 2019, the Foundation has just officially launched Union House Arts, an experimental venture based in contemporary arts and skill sharing. It is located in a fully-renovated historic building in the town centre amongst a row of iconic red duplexes that provided important density in the core of the community. The Foundation provides affordably-priced rental units in some of the restored historic homes in the community. Even back in 1995 when work on the Foundation was just beginning, they had the arts and artists in residence as part of the vision for the row-housing on the street.


We’re always trying to be socially-conscious, we have always tried to partner with people that way over the years. - Edith Samson, Executive Coordinator, Sir William Ford Coaker Foundation

Union House Arts was set up as a subcommittee of the Foundation, a supportive organization that is truly committed to partnering with people in the area on projects such as this to help them as they get started and ensure the work is beneficial to the local economy and community.

Union House Arts helps bring together artists, researchers, and community members with the shared vision of restoring valuable built heritage, building community resilience through the arts, and mentoring the next generation of artists by trying something new. Through place-making initiatives such as Makers Nights, they strive to be a safe space for creative youth, for youth that are interested in exploring their relationship to creativity. Having contemporary art and artists that are fully integrated within the community of Port Union is what Union House Arts has in mind.


Visual Artist Jane Walker and others involved with the concept plan for Union House Arts came to the Foundation with an idea that fit into the existing vision.

“Union House Arts would be an experimental space to support people of all ages in this area. The number one thing for me is that I wouldn’t want it to be a tourist arts centre: it will operate all year round and we will take into consideration how the artists’ practice might fit into the area.” - Jane Walker

Having an artist program in Port Union means that there will be a body of work based on the experiences of the town in the 2010s and 2020s, which is invaluable to the intangible cultural heritage of any place.

The biggest challenge is accessing enough funding to accomplish all they aspire to in the town. The future vision includes expanding the Artist in Residency program, including hopefully a space for artists who have children to be able to bring them along on the residency, with childcare provided. They hope to have an official youth mentorship program, and continue to work with local craftspersons in settings such as Makers Nights that bring together people across artistic disciplines. The Foundation, Samson indicated, hopes to continue to support start-up initiatives such as Union House Arts, nurturing new ideas that the community may have.

There has been a surge of activity in the craft sector in the Port Union area in part because of the work of the Coaker Foundation since the early 2000s, starting with a Targeted Initiative for Older Workers and following up with starting a co-op with the local craftspersons which involved fostering skill sharing in areas such as quilt-making.

The Women’s Institute has 45-46 members now. It is thriving. We have a lot of women’s institute members coming to our making nights at UHA. A lot of crossover between local craftspeople and visiting artists. - Edith Samson

At the first week of the Makers Nights in 2019 they had 16 people attend, the second week 21, and the third week an estimated 25, bringing together the Artists in Residence with the community. The participants are trying everything from knitting, to print making. This is a project that refuses to ignore the needs and appetites of the community while catering to the tourism industry.

“I did my Masters in Rural Arts Engagement in NL and Scotland. It was inspired by all the romanticized artist residencies popping up all over the place that perpetuated dangerous stereotypes about a place—that you can go in and create work about a place without having a meaningful connection with it.” - Jane Walker

What can we learn from Union House Arts and the Coaker Foundation? If you want to foster social change through arts, culture, and heritage it is possible if you nurture a sense of place and evolve to meet the needs of the people who live there year-round.

The Good Food Bus in Cape Breton

Written by Lynne McCarron (WeavEast Fellow, Nova Scotia)

Forty five years ago, my parents adopted an eighteen month old boy, a brother for their three girls. At that time, there were Orphanages here and children were placed into foster care on a trial basis for adoption. My brother Craig was with us only a couple of weeks and although my parents knew that there was something amiss, they couldn’t send him back to the orphanage. With no birth records, it took my parents seven years to have him diagnosed with an intellectual disability and their journey continued. They fought for support, created programs to address gaps in services and were the strongest advocates for children with disabilities. Their passion and dedication influenced me and I ventured into the nonprofit world fighting for the most vulnerable population. The longer I work in the field, the more I realize how important advocacy is to our most disadvantaged citizens.


Fast forward a few years of working, attending conferences and learning, I landed at United Way to try to make changes in our communities. I was doing a presentation at our local council meeting about our public transportation system and how it needed to be revamped. During this presentation, I was talking about providing bus passes to individuals that needed to access education and employment opportunities not to mention basic needs such as food. We didn’t have passes at that time, so we needed to create a process for this to happen which included providing the financial resources to purchase the passes for those who could not afford it (which we did with corporate sponsorship). At this meeting, a number of councillors represented rural areas that did not have access to public transit, and wanted to know if there was a plan for those citizens. While I didn’t have a plan at that time, it planted a seed and now we are about to embark on a new adventure.

United Way began working with the Ecology Action Centre and the Island Food Network, Public Health as well as representatives of our municipality (transit & recreation). Through this process, we were needing to partner with an organization that could take the lead on executing and administering this project. New Dawn Meals on Wheels was brought in and we started the process of developing a Mobile Food Market in CBRM.


We held our first information session and were excited to hear the community feedback. In August we plan to launch a mobile Food Market – “The Good Food Bus”. The bus will take healthy affordable food to those communities that are having difficulty accessing it. Not only do we have a strong group of individuals working behind the scenes on this, we are now in the process of researching who we can partner with in each community. Partners such as church groups, volunteer fire departments, service groups, etc. will be working to build a network in each community to host the market.

Murals for systems change: Paint The Park

Written by Ryan Veltmeyer (WeavEast Fellow, Nova Scotia)

Jeremy Williams

Jeremy Williams

Jeremy Williams grew up in Halifax’s North End Community of Mulgrave Park (MGP). As with many low-income communities in Nova Scotia, Mulgrave Park is often stigmatized by people and communities without personal connections to it.

Jeremy, an all-star football player and alumni from Saint Mary’s University where he studied accounting and business, tells stories of growing up playing football — while and playing in dangerous conditions in his community riddled with rusty fences, no green space to play, crumbling walls and cement.

In 2015 Jeremy’s friend and mentor Tyler Richards was killed, and the community had a mural painted commemorating his achievements. Jeremy noticed that the mural was attracting people who normally would never step foot in his community, and his social innovation idea was born. What if he could fill his community full of beautiful murals that would attract attention from ‘outsiders’ to come and celebrate the beauty of his community, but also notice the poor and dangerous conditions his community had to live with. Could this attention lead to empathy and advocacy for investment in his community? Could it help address the unfair stigma that so many people hold for Mulgrave Park and communities like it?

Mural of Tyler Richards

Mural of Tyler Richards

In Jeremy’s Words:

“The social stigma around my community is huge. A lot of people in Halifax consider these communities, lower income communities, to be bad places. They consider people and residents in the community to be ignorant and threatening. They're scared of the areas we are from. By beautifying it with beautiful art, it invites people to come down to the community to socialize and enjoy the art, and when they get there they realize the stigma about the community is basically misinformation. It bridges the social economic gaps.

This is a community that is forgotten by people who live in it. Over time the community has fallen into disrepair. Paint the Park and my new organization The Bigger Picture offers a spotlight. Other communities in the city are focal points by people with resources. MGP is tucked away so people forget about us. With these unbelievable pieces of art a giant spotlight is put on us. Media, politicians and new people pour into our community to witness amazing art. When they're there, they realize social stigma is BS. Then they see the conditions people live in and say ‘how can people live in this community with the broken down walls?’ "

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How did Jeremy do it?

He began pitching his idea, and with the support of local organizations, the Mayor of Halifax Mike Savage, MP Andy Filmore, MLA Lisa Roberts, corporate investors, and professional mural artists from around Canada. In 2016 he brought all of these people together to have a series of incredible murals painted around his community, and threw a block party sponsored by his friend Alex MacLean of East Coast Lifestyle.

Within a year of his event, years of advocacy (including by Jeremy’s mother and community leader Elaine Williams) and help from the attention he brought to his community resulted in a $5million dollar investment in the crumbling infrastructure of MGP. Prime Minister Trudeau flew to Halifax for the announcement and met with Jeremy’s mother.

What have been some other results from his worK? Jeremy talks about how pulling off such an ambitious project has inspired his community to work towards more change. Seeing that it can happen fuels motivation and action in others in his community to work towards something better.

He says that the residents in the community, through art work are finding a new appreciation for their community. Especially the youth are proud of the art. They enjoy walking through their community, seeing different pieces of art all the time, It is inspiring the kids to go outside of the bubble they are put in. Since the project launched in 2017 he has been helping run art programs for youth in the community, with 20+ attending each time. Before they would not experiment and try something new, but now they are. Towards the end of my interview with Jeremy he mentioned that “If one kid goes to art school, it will all be worth it”. No doubt for Jeremy this is especially important since it was when the Saint Mary’s Huskies brought the Vanier Cup to his community, that he became inspired to play football. On a phone call last week I found out that a youth from Mulgrave Park had applied to NSCAD, and Jeremy couldn’t be happier.

Jeremy is curating the creation of 10 new murals in 2019, in close consultation with his community to continue growing his project. For his first round of work he collaborated with Youth Art Connection and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation to support him in his fundraising and community efforts, and Jeremy is now launching his own not-for-profit called The Bigger Picture so he can fully lead his efforts of using art to reduce stigma in communities like his, create a more beautiful environment for youth and residents, and to continue drawing attention and building the relationships and empathy his community needs to get the support to alleviate the challenging conditions of life in stigmatized communities in Halifax and Nova Scotia.

The murals will officially launch on Mulgrave Park Days, August 25th on Jarvis Lane in Mulgrave Park and everyone is welcome.

An example of Indigenous Social Enterprise: Epekwitk Lanyards

Written by Jene Woodridge (WeavEast Fellow, Prince Edward Island)


Epekwitk Lanyards is an Indigenous social enterprise that is driven to create long-term sustainable business and employment opportunities through the production of hand beaded lanyards by Abegweit First Nation. The funding for Epekwitk Lanyards is made available through the Skills and Partnership Fund (SPF) with The Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island’s Employment Services.

The SPF Project was established in 2017 with a group of beaders from Abegweit First Nation. In the initial days of the program beaders would pick up a kit that would allow them to bead at home 25 lan yards and return them for quality control and payment. This has evolved over the years into a social enterprise that allows beaders the opportunity to work in a team environment to complete lan yards orders for conferences across Canada. The project is accommodating to employees assisting with barriers that they have experienced to employment. Through mentorship, training and workplace essential skills each employee works on individual action plans to meet employment criteria.

What was the inspiration for your business?

The inspiration behind the business was a way to teach the Mi’kmaq culture through hand crafted beaded lanyards. The lanyard is a direct representation of the connection between each bead and each colour of man working together to create something beautiful and meaningful. All lanyards are unique and can be ordered in custom colours or the traditional four scared colours. Each lanyard is smudged before packaged for sale.

How does this contribute to social innovation?

All employees are hired on a piece work contract for upcoming lan yards wholesale orders. Employees that complete piece work contracts are unemployed receiving Employment Insurance or Social Assistance. The piece work offers them an opportunity to receive extra earnings while working in a supportive environment gaining soft skills that will advance them in their employment journey and the business development of Epekwitk Lanyards.

What challenges are you facing?

Human Resources - Resistance and delay in bringing about change

Social Entrepreneurs sometimes need to change people’s thinking and behaviors to make a social impact. Changing how people think and behave in society is very challenging and the benefits can take time to materialize. Epekwitk Lan Yards has taken a few steps back over the past couple of months in order to properly plan and move the program forward. There has been high expectations placed on the program and its participants because of the value for Epekwitk Lanyards Social Enterprise and Abegweit First Nation.

Infrastructure – Where do we go from here

Epekwitk Lan yards started small with a big vision. The program up until this year was housed in the Abegweit First Nation Band Office. This was suffice for the production team of beaders but with growth and the vision Epekwitk Lan Yards needed a space of their own that could offer more opportunity for retail sales and exposure. Unfortunately, the community in Scotchfort does not have a building at this time to house the project. Epekwitk Lan Yards has moved to the Echo Tourism Centre in Mount Stewart (3 kms) from Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort, PE. While moving the project forward in the new space, efforts continue for funding opportunities for infrastructure to get the project back into the community!

For more information on Epekwitk Lanyards please contact Partnership & Business Developer, Chelsey Andrews at

Redefining Resources with St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc.

Written by Joshua Smee (WeavEast Fellow, Newfoundland and Labrador)


When we think about investments, we usually think in dollar signs. St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. (SABRI), on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, thinks in metric tonnes. They’re a social enterprise whose core operating revenue comes from a 3000 tonne shrimp quota, and they’ve built something pretty special in their remote community, which sits about 30 minutes drive from the Viking sites at L’Anse aux Meadows.

In the wake of the Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery’s devastating collapse, culminating in the 1992 moratorium, the province’s fishing industry has retooled; shrimp and crab are now the highest-value products being landed. In most places, fishers are selling their catch to private processing businesses - but not in St. Anthony. There, SABRI was established as a nonprofit organization in 1997, with a board made up of fishers, plant employees, community representatives, and economic development staff.

What followed was a great story of community-led success. SABRI partnered with Clearwater (a private fish-processing business) to build a state-of-the art shrimp and crab plant that greatly expanded their sales opportunities; they have since made major investments in port infrastructure, including building a state-of-the-art cold storage plant. As they built their business, they leveraged that revenue to build their community development work. Over the years, SABRI has taken on an oral history initiative, built community trails and tourist infrastructure, invested in broadband internet, partnered with Memorial University to research opportunities for fisheries waste products and provided numerous scholarships for local students headed to post-secondary education. For all this they have been recognized many times, most recently (just a few weeks ago) winning he Economic Development Association of NL (EDANL)'s Economic Development Award of Excellence for community projects with communities under 3,000 people.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for SABRI, of course. With their core “funding” being a shrimp quota, they are vulnerable to ecological, economic, and policy shifts in the fishing space. In 2016, for example, the repeal of the “last-in, first out” policy in the shrimp fishery and the need for across-the-board quota reductions to preserve shrimp stocks meant that SABRI’s allocation plunged - in 2018/19 it is less than 400 tonnes. This makes diversification in business lines all the more important, and SABRI is currently developing a cellular service pilot, converting a former school into housing, exploring medical uses for blue mussels (which have potential to combat obesity and diabetes, major issues in Newfoundland and Labrador), and supporting the small boat fishery with a huge range of initiatives.

“We’re constantly looking at projects that build infrastructure that other businesses can capitalize and grow from, whether that’s trails to support the local tourism sector, cell service to support the whole community, or work to build up our port. It’s a way of turning a quota allocation into a sustainable legacy” says Sam Elliot, Executive Director of SABRI.

So what lessons can we take from the SABRI story? First, that there is a huge opportunity for innovation in how community development work is resourced. Instead of being reliant on ever-unpredictable government grants, SABRI was empowered to manage what is, in effect, an endowment fund - albeit one made up of sea creatures. This gave the community much more control over its own destiny than a cash subsidy ever would have, and the result was a much larger share of the benefits staying in that community. There are also lessons here about partnerships with the private sector. Social enterprises in small communities often face pushback from businesses who see them as subsidized competition; in St. Anthony the conversation moved past competition and towards partnership, with SABRI leveraging the experience and resources of Clearwater to build projects together. Just think of how many other communities could take this approach, with a partnership that adds community benefit to private investment.

The SABRI story is still evolving, and it is one that all of Atlantic Canada should watch.

Joshua Smee, WeavEast Fellow

#WeavEast is born!

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Most recently, a group of 25 changemakers from across the region gathered in Nova Scotia at Windhorse Farm to connect on our shared land and to give shape to WeavEast: a collective of people across Atlantic Canada committed to creating positive social change.

Applying the principles of “Going Horizontal”, participants in this gathering lived the principles of non-hierarchical organization: building co-created agendas, using collaborative decision making processes, and grounding the work in trusted relationships that are now growing across the region.

As this collective gains momentum there will be even more ways to collaborate for social change in an unprecedented way in Atlantic Canada. Follow the progress of #WeavEast as the work of this collective creates greater access to tools, knowledge, and capacity-building for innovation and leadership from the grassroots.

Learning partners and contributors are welcome to join the movement and for more information please contact us.

WeavEast Brand Identity (Logo) Launch

The WeavEast / TissEst logo was created melding the visual of crossing warps and wefts (as in weaving), and a play on the digital hashtag. Where the brand strongly exists in the digital and social media realm, it was fitting to embrace the idea of a hashtag while communicating WeavEast / TissEst’s mission of weaving together change makers and social organizations in all four Atlantic provinces.

Designed by Lizane Tan