Canada’s oldest community development corporation has been making a difference in the Cape Breton community for nearly half a century

A $17-million renovation turned a Catholic convent built in 1895 into the Eltuek Arts Centre.

In the 45 years since its inception, New Dawn Enterprises has touched a lot of lives. The Cape Breton non-profit is the oldest community development corporation in Canada, and helps people become more self-reliant in such areas as health and housing.
The organization has been in the news recently for its overwhelmingly successful four-day workweek pilot project, but community projects are at its heart. As with so many ventures, COVID-19 threw a curveball into the timelines. Now that three new projects have begun to materialize, the organization is rejoicing.
“It certainly feels like everything we’ve dreamt of and more,” says New Dawn president and CEO Erika Shea.
Not that the hard work is over. Operational funding is an ongoing challenge, but each project has been able to get off the ground with much support from the community.

The Eltuek Arts Centre in downtown Sydney is a prime example. Built in 1895 as a Catholic convent, the building underwent a $17-million renovation to meet the need for affordable studio space. The centre opened six weeks before COVID hit and now employs up to 100 people. Every weekday, people stop by to create, host exhibitions, or deliver programming.

Shea says it wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance of the Elders Advisory Committee, which also ensures the space is welcoming and relevant to Mi’k maw artists and community members. Proceeds from the on-site café get reinvested in the community kitchen and Meals on Wheels.

Also taking shape is a youth centre for Glace Bay, one of the nation’s poorest communities and home to some of the highest drug-addiction rates in Canada. Based on a successful Icelandic model, the goal is to break the cycle of addiction that in some cases has extended to a third generation.

“When you have a community that’s been in crisis and a post-industrial pop- ulation that’s been steadily spiraling for years,” says Shea, “it can be very hard to have hope.”

Community response to the project has been “phenomenal,” she says, adding that they hope to break ground in July.

The third feather in New Dawn’s cap is a 3.24-hectare property housing a private nursing home called Carefield Manor in Sydney. The 12-bed facility allows adults with physical disabilities to live their lives with dignity and support. New Dawn spent two years retrofitting the building, in partnership with the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment, to convert its energy supply to solar power.

Shea explains that it was a way to dip their toes into renewables and help democratize energy at the same time.

Community CARES Youth Outreach (CCYO) knows the challenges facing residents all too well.

The non-profit development organization is located in Sydney Mines, which has one of the highest child poverty rates in Canada. This area also has one of the country’s worst housing crises. With rising rents, near-zero vacancy rates and housing prices out of reach for many, life is tough in this part of the province.

CCYO has a broad mandate. It runs food programs, helps newcomers, raises awareness of poverty levels and more. The organization recently signed two new service agreements with the provincial government, one for outreach and the other for family peer support.

“Some program supports ended with COVID, but the need is still there,” says CCYO executive director Dorothy Halliday. “You can’t just cut off access.”

Funding is often short-term, and many organizations like hers have had to reinvent themselves.

“Agencies are saying they need to extend their reach to fulfill their mission and reach those who are most vulnerable,” Halliday says. Much of that work involves repurposing spaces, such as the Eltuek Arts Centre.

At one time, organizations like CCYO could reach out to community development practitioners — such as the local St. F.X. extension office — but many have disappeared.

“That’s a huge loss,” says Halliday.
Still, she remains optimistic.
CCYO is busy transitioning to a community hub, where young people play hands-on roles in their own development and connect with valuable resources. Recent events include a workshop on tenants’ rights and responsibilities, and another on community justice.

The organization has also paired with partners such as Chebucto Connections in Halifax’s Spryfield neighbourhood, a community with a similar demographic and challenges. Together, the two parties worked to improve youth employment.

Halliday advises communities in similar straits to approach potential partners early about collaborating and sharing resources. A lot of it comes down to relationship-building, she says. And tenacity.

New Dawn Enterprises aims to create a culture of self-reliance by partnering with various organizations to engage the community. You may contact their office in Sydney by emailing
Community CARES Youth Outreach is a non-profit youth development organization serving the Northside of Cape Breton Regional Municipality. CCYO helps adults 35 and under, as well as young families, overcome significant social and economic barriers. Email for more information.

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