New society at StFX promoting Inverness County on the mainland and beyond

February 9, 2024

Inverness County students attending StFX University have always enjoyed a special bond.

But now that bond is helping to promote the county to other students at the Antigonish school and to young people in other parts of the world.

The StFX Musical Coast Society was recently formed to help promote Inverness County as a place with growing opportunities. Ben MacKay, the society’s president, says the idea for the group came from the Municipality of Inverness County.

“This is a project that was brought to us by the municipality, and the municipality wants to make sure that StFX students who are from Inverness County give the county a chance,” MacKay explains.

The executive team of the StFX Musical Coast Society includes: (seated) secretary Lauren MacDonnell; left, treasurer Alexandra Beaton; (standing) vice-president Keisha Gillis; left, and president Ben MacKay. Photo courtesy Ben MacKay

“There are always opportunities everywhere – across Nova Scotia, across Canada and across the globe,” he adds. “But it’s to give Inverness County a good look, to really give it a chance as far as building a future because it’s quite the place, we think, to build a future.”

MacKay, who is deputy curator at Inverness Historical Society, operators of the Inverness Miners Museum, is in his fourth year of a political science degree, with a minor in public policy and governance. He is joined on the society’s executive by vice-president Keisha Gillis and secretary Lauren MacDonnell, both fourth-year students at StFX hailing from Inverness, and treasurer Alexandra Beaton from Mabou, who is in her third year.

Membership in the society currently sits at about 50, but MacKay says there’s no cap on membership, and that the only prerequisite to join is to be a student at StFX.

“They’re welcome to join us, regardless of where they’re from, what programs they’re in,” he says. “We want to make sure it’s open and accessible to as many people as possible.”

“We’re very grateful to have such supportive sponsors in the County of Inverness.”

MacKay says once the group receives ratification as a not-for-profit society, it will then be able to accept private and corporate donations.

“What we’re going to try and do with that money is try and do events on campus with members of the society,” he explains. “As well, we’re going to do some field trips to the county so that people can get a firsthand experience and appreciation for everything Inverness County has to offer.”

As far as his own future is concerned, MacKay says he hasn’t yet decided what career path he may choose following university.

“That’s not unlike a lot of people,” he says, noting that people who are in their final years of university are a key demographic being targeted by the society.

“I think for the first time in a long time, there is a certain sense of optimism about the future for a lot of communities in the county and the county as a whole,” MacKay says. “For a long time, a lot of these communities have faced a lot of hardship economically, and there’s always been that slow drip, drip, drip of people leaving.”

“There seems to be some optimism about what these communities are going to look like going forward – more inclusive, more diverse, more economically capable. I think those are going to be positive attributes for Inverness County, and I think that’s what we need to promote here at StFX and all across Nova Scotia and beyond.”

“We’re optimistic about the spot that we’re in,” MacKay adds, “especially with the backing of the municipality, which is a big help.”

With the entire executive potentially nearing the end of their university years, the society is also looking towards a succession plan.

“We’ve got a good amount of folks who are interested – who are advisors for our executive team – that are in their second and third years, so hopefully they’ll be willing to take on the mantle in future years to make sure it still exists going forward.”

He says if the StFX Musical Coast Society’s success grows, it might spawn opportunities at other universities in the region.

“We’re kind of like the guinea pig here in Antigonish, because if it takes off here, there will be possibilities for such societies elsewhere across the province.”

“I think we live in one of the best places in the world, and so we have an obligation to promote that to younger people, to ensure it stays that way for many generations to come.”