An Interview with Greg MacLeod (circa 2010)

Father Greg passed away on May 3rd, 2017.

Preamble

Greg MacLeod was an important figure in the early history of Cape Breton University. He was part of a small group at Xavier College who led the struggle to separate from St. Francis Xavier University. Greg also helped initiate some of the programmes that have been significant in CBU’s history, including the MBA in Community Economic Development, Mi’kmaq studies, and the Tompkins Institute.

Attached is an interview with Greg in which he recalls some of the early history of CBU. Greg is a priest and an emeritus professor of Philosophy. He is internationally known for his work in community economic development (which has garnered him the Order of Canada and several honorary doctorates). The interview also covers these areas of Greg’s life and work. This is my third interview with figures at CBU who have had an impact on its history. The other two were with Charles MacDonald, former professor of Religious Studies, and Michael Manson former professor of English and the union leader who led the strike of 2000. These interviews have been published; but if anyone would like one or both, I would be glad to send them on.

Greg was reluctant to have this interview published, since it didn’t include, he said, his failures and failings. In the end, his friends convinced him to allow it to be published. I admit this is homage in the form of an interview (or an interview in the form of homage). But there’s a place for this kind of interview, I believe, and it’s important to be reminded of our history and the people who have played a vital part in that history. As for Greg’s failures and failings, I leave these to some future historian.

The interview is divided into the following five parts: 1) Growing up in Sydney Mines; 2) Undergraduate Years and Becoming a Priest; 3) Graduate School in Europe, Travel; 4) Life’s Work; 5) The Birth of Cape Breton University; 6) A World for Humans: The Good Life.

Richard Keshen


“A Life of Commitment Lived Graciously”: An Interview with Greg MacLeod

by Richard Keshen


“I remember a book we used, Crowd Culture. I forget the author. But you didn’t have to
read it. The name was enough. Don’t get into crowd culture. Think for yourself and
don’t go with the flow.” –Greg MacLeod

(1) Growing up in Sydney Mines

RICHARD: Edwin MacLellan tells me that you swim every morning at 6:30, and that after your morning exercise you are raring to go on your various business, community and writing projects
[Edwin is an engineering professor at CBU and collaborates with Greg on development projects.]

GREG: I either swim or walk every morning.

R: How old are you?

G: I’m 73.

R: You’ve got a lovely place here on the Esplanade, overlooking Sydney Harbour. Your house has been the hub of numerous community projects. Also, the site of many memorable ceilidhs I want to get to these activities in a moment. But I’d first like to go back to your childhood in Sydney Mines. I know you grew up in a big family. What was it like growing up in Sydney Mines?

G: There were nine in our family, and my father died when I was seven. He worked in a coal mine. I was the 3rd youngest. So my mother was a widow with no income. We didn’t think of ourselves as poor. Somehow the word wasn’t used as such. But in today’s terms we certainly were poor because my mother made all our clothes and cooked all our food and it was always a struggle just to survive. That would have been in the 1940s.

You know each of us had to look after ourselves. I sold newspapers, soda pop and did all sorts of things like that. I lent money to my brothers, if they wanted to go to a dance. I used to trade comic books. I learned how to do business at an early age. Maybe it was these experiences that led me to respect entrepreneurial talent! I find that many social reformers, and left wing thinkers, do not.

I was no good at sports. I can only see out of one eye and I couldn’t play hockey or baseball. I tried to play these things but I just wasn’t good.

R: You were a good runner though. I remember you raced.

G: Yes, I was a very fast runner. But mining towns were macho cultures and if you couldn’t play hockey or baseball, you were kind of pushed aside. You weren’t picked for teams. The thing I was good at was school work. In my own mind, I made a decision. Since I was no good at baseball or hockey, and since I enjoyed school work, I’d focus on that–an unusual focus in our town.

We didn’t have books in our home, but my mother read newspapers and she had a very quick mind. She only had a grade 9 education, but she had amazing recall of anything she read. I had five older brothers and sisters, and I would read their school textbooks.

We didn’t have a library in the school. But I loved to read. The teachers called me spellbound. When I’d read, I’d forget everything around me. All through school, I always led my class. And that was at least something I could excel at.

R: When it came to university, did you have any models?

G: Nobody in my family went to university. None of my aunts or uncles. So this was something new. It was my decision. I saved up money selling beer bottles and stuff like that so I could pay my own way. And after my junior matriculation (grade 11), I decided to go to Xavier College in Sydney [the predecessor of CBU].

R: That was in the early 50s?

G: Yes, that would have been about 1953.

R: Xavier College had just started then?

G: It started in 1950. Actually, I think it’s a good thing to shorten your time in school. But, I must say I had wonderful teachers in high school, the Notre Dame Sisters. I always remember algebra. This nun said that there are two ways you can remember formulas. You can just memorize them or you can derive them yourself. But to be a good student, you should derive the formulas yourself. Don’t rely on your memory to do mathematics; work it out for yourself.

This was a real lesson to me, and not just in mathematics. The nuns were also very strict on reading and writing. So I had a very good high school education. In fact, I think I learned more from those nuns than I did during my BA in university. And in the school, we had practice in public speaking, formed a credit union in the class and a Red Cross group. We took turns being President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

In the town, as I grew older, I became aware of poverty and unemployment and mines closing. You learned there were needy people and rich people. And from high school on, I had the idea I wanted to do something in my life about poverty and inequality.

(2) Undergraduate Years and Becoming a Priest

R: What are some of your memories at Xavier?

G: In my first year at Xavier, I went into the Reserve Navy, officer training. Although I took the job to earn money, I found the navy exciting. After Xavier College I went to St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish. I sailed to Antwerp one year on a frigate. I had all kinds of training in amphibious warfare in Norfolk. Stuff like that. I still have a commission.

In my second year at Xavier College, I bought a car for $100.00 and charged three other people $2.00 a week to drive them back and forth. That paid for gas. I had to fix the car myself, and I had an arrangement with a garage to get second hand oil.

R: What led you to Philosophy? Was there a particular teacher or event that influenced your choice of discipline or was it self-discovery?

G: Mainly, self discovery. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. I liked science. I suppose I was always inquisitive. I asked questions. Professors would become annoyed because I asked too many questions. In the end, I majored in Philosophy because it seemed the discipline that gave me most scope.

R: While at St. F.X. you decided to become a priest. Was the church an important part of your growing up?

G: Our family was not pious. We were Catholic, but there was little strict religiosity. Most of the people on my street were Catholics. We went to a Catholic school. So it was part of growing up. It was assumed you went to church. But, I think my mother was quite a libertarian. She had the idea that only two things are important: to be healthy and to be happy. The rest looks after itself, including your ability to help others. She didn’t worry about a lot of things. Like the look of the house or your clothes So there was leeway to make your own way. You had to. Then as I went through university I thought of different things I could do. I thought of law, I thought of medicine. In general, I was interested in a career that made a difference. I wasn’t interested in just getting
a job.

I decided to go into the Church because I figured that by being a priest, you can make a difference. I also thought I would like the intellectual side of the priest’s formation.

R: It must have been important that you had examples of people like Rev. John Angus Rankin and, further back, Jimmy Tompkins and Moses Coady. Priests that were socially engaged.

G: Yes, that was important. At St.F.X., it wasn’t the narrow idea of the priest. There was a culture of intellectual and political engagement. Priests did Physics and Economics; others were involved in practical affairs, like housing projects. I never viewed the priesthood as just being in a parish or having a church on Sunday—though of course that’s important. I viewed it as a kind of a reform movement. You joined a movement to bring about change in the world.

R: I get the sense that your faith is very fundamental to your life, but it’s a very liberal interpretation of what religion is.

G: I think if you look at the scripture, the essence is clear-cut. You have to love your neighbour. Whatever you have, use it to improve the world. I have that very basic understanding of Christianity. Also, there is a long intellectual tradition in Catholicism that I identify myself with. Theologians and philosophers were always part of the culture, and so it was never at its core a fundamentalist religion.

And that attracted me. I would have never been interested a fundamentalist approach to religion.

R: And then later, Rev. Michael Gillis was an influence on you.

G: That was after St.F.X., when I went into the seminary.

R: Where was the seminary?

G: I did theology in Halifax. That was 4 years. Actually, that turned out to be pretty dull, because it wasn’t really a university type of formation. It was a religious order and there was strict training. You get up at 6:00 a.m. You were only allowed out once a week for about three hours and you couldn’t speak most of the day. It was useful because I learned to organize my life and keep my nose to the grindstone. And I studied in Latin for four years.

R: Four years of Latin!

G: When I finished at the seminary, I was ordained and I went to work with Fr. Michael Gillis. He was an older priest who was a social activist.

R: So he would have known Tompkins and Coady?

G: Yes, he was one of the leaders, like them. He was a very good intellectual too. He’d have us read newspapers, on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. He said it was important to read both, and that usually the truth is somewhere in the middle. So, there was a critical attitude. And it was very interesting.

We talked a lot about what was wrong with society. So when I was there, I asked him, “What am I supposed to do”. He said, “Look there are all kinds of people out there who need help. Get involved in a parish and see if you can help make their lives better”. It may sound simplistic, but that’s the way it was. My first parish was in a coal mining area.

R: In Cape Breton?

G: No, up in Stellarton, the mainland. We formed a community organization and we built a little hall. Second-hand lumber. Somebody had torn down a building and we did the work ourselves with that material.

R: So, was that your first community project?

G: Yes. I was there only three months. I worked all the time. From there I went to a parish in Glace Bay. And there, I was quite active in forming youth groups. But I spent most of my time trying to help people get jobs. There were a lot of unemployed. One of the things I did was set up a communication line between Glace Bay and Boston. Historically, Cape Bretoners have strong relations with the Boston area. I’d call a family in Boston and say I’m sending some young fellow up, can you find work for him?

R: You’d be in your late 20s?

G: I would have been 27.

R: And then you decided you wanted to do more academic work?

(3) Graduate Work in Europe, Travel

GREG: I was invited to teach at Xavier Junior College. The university then was run mainly by priests, and if they thought somebody had academic ability they would recruit him. It wasn’t just priests they would recruit, sometimes lay people too. It was hard to get professors in those days. They didn’t pay much, especially to the priests. Priests got just subsistence pay.

Dr. Malcolm MacLellan was principal and he got me teaching Latin and a kind of introduction to university life. I remember a book we used, Crowd Culture. I forget the author. But, you didn’t have to read it. The name was enough. Don’t get into crowd culture. Think for yourself and don’t go with the flow.

Richard: This would be the 1960s?

G: This would be 1962 or 63. In the summers I went to Laval, and the Catholic University in Washington. Actually, the priests in Cape Breton had a tradition of going all over the world: Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium or the United States.

My friend Charles MacDonald went to Germany to do his doctorate.

Then Dr. MacLellan asked me where I wanted to pursue my graduate work. It was up to me. I decided I didn’t want to go to a university in North America. I wanted to experience a different kind of culture, and to have an adventure. One of the priests I knew had studied at Louvain in Belgium. Louvain had a great reputation. So I went to Belgium. The university gave me some money, but I had a Canada Council scholarship. I competed and had scholarships at that stage.

R: What was it like to study Philosophy there?

G: It was rigorous. I was there for 5 years. The tradition at Louvain is that you study a different language each year of your graduate work. That’s apart from your main disciplinary studies and your thesis. So my languages were French, Latin, Spanish and German. You also had to do science, the philosophy of mathematics, Greek philosophy, and medieval and modern logic. That was before
you chose your thesis topic.

R: Did you enjoy it?

G: Oh yeah. I liked everything.

R: You liked being in Europe?

G: I loved it, and I did a lot of travelling. I travelled to Spain. I was in Prague in 1968 when the Russians invaded. I wrote to officials in Poland and Czechoslovakia about the co-op housing movement. I was invited to visit, and I interviewed officials when I was there.

I was very interested in the debate going on about the economy. Some of the Czech thinkers wanted to combine free-market economics with socialist political principles. But the Russians repressed them. It was an exciting but dangerous time.

One summer I bought a two cylinder car–cheap to run– and with a German speaking friend from Switzerland, I traveled into communist East Berlin.

R: Were there any professors at Louvain that really had an impact?

G: Yes, the most wonderful professor was John Ladriere. His specialty was Philosophy of Science. He wasn’t married. He lived like a monk. He was completely devoted to his work and to public affairs.

He was my thesis director, and we got on very well. Ladriere was active in debates with other thinkers about politics and economics. In Europe there was a debate raging about Marxism, and Ladriere participated in these public discussions. I followed those debates with great interest.

R: Did your ideas about philosophy evolve?

G: Yes. I had been reading the French and German phenomenologists—people like Merleau-Ponty. I found them interesting, but I came to believe they complicated things too much. I became attracted to the English style of philosophy, which I found clearer.

But it also started to dawn on me that I didn’t want to write abstract philosophy books as a career. I wanted to use philosophy as a practical tool to improve society. I wanted philosophy to be empirical and pragmatic, to have an effect on people’s lives.

R: But you still had a thesis to write.

G: I chose the topic of human action. In one way a human action—lifting my arm–is just a physical movement. But in another way it is much more than a physical movement because intentionality is involved. My arm movement becomes a different action depending on my intention. It could be wave of hello or a wave of goodbye or a sign for the orchestra to play if I’m a conductor–all depending on my intention. My thesis was about how to understand intentionality.

This topic cuts across issues in ethics, such as the abortion issue, and raises at the deepest level what the nature of what a human being is. To me the issue had implications for the real world.

R: This was an issue being discussed in England as well, especially by the followers of Wittgenstein.

G: Yes, I knew that at the time. Professor Ladriere followed English philosophy. He knew who was who, and was a bridge between the two types of philosophy. I asked if he’d help me arrange to study in England for a year; and he did. He had the connections.

R: So you were able to study in Oxford for a complete year?

G: Yes, it was a very enriching experience. Alan Montefiore, who taught at Balliol College in Oxford, helped me a lot. When he wrote to accept me, he said “You’ll have to prepare”. He gave me a list of 50 books I had to read that summer. So I said, “I’ll go over to Oxford for the summer and I’ll study there. I’ll find a place”. He said, “Look, my wife and I are going to Spain. Come and stay at our house”. He gave me his house for the summer. Alan and Helen Montefiore became good friends.

R: You worked hard that year.

G: I buried myself in books, and got a sense of the English style. I sat in on classes with some of the best-known philosophers of the day, people like Elizabeth Anscombe and Tony Kenny.

R: Did you notice much of a difference in the styles of teaching between Louvain and Oxford?

G: Yes. In Louvain or Paris or Germany the professor is an authoritarian figure. Generally there isn’t a back and forth discussion with the professor.

R: It was different at Oxford.

G: Oxford is a tutorial system. There’s a kind of equality. You socialize with your professors. I really enjoyed being able to talk to the professors, and argue with them. There was more of a sense of a community in Oxford.

R: How was your thinking influenced by English philosophy?

G: I learned from both the English and Continental (French, German) traditions. The analytical and empirical habits of mind I picked up in England were important, especially when I was starting community businesses. To me community organization is always a pragmatic exercise. You learn that something works or doesn’t by trying it. Now, I find even in business schools they say you should do business this way or that way. I say, “How do you know”.

They say “I read it in a book”. That’s not empirical. Reading something in a book is not empirical. I make a similar criticism of some left-wing thinkers. The Continental tradition then had more of an historical orientation, and I appreciated that too.

R: How was your thesis received back in Louvain?

G: Well, I had the highest you could get—summa cum laude

R: You got to know Charles Taylor during your student years, probably Canada’s most distinguished philosopher.

G: I met Charles Taylor at Balliol in Oxford. He was a friend of Alan Montefiore’s, and I’d get invited to their discussions sometimes. Charles is a tremendous person, especially interesting to me because he is an active Christian. And yet he’s very analytical, as well as possessing a profound historical perspective.

R: And politically involved.

G: Politically involved too, so he was a model for me. He was vice-president of the NDP in Canada. Just a good person. And remember we brought him to CBU as a guest speaker.

(4) Life’s Work

RICHARD: After you finished your doctorate did you return directly to Cape Breton?

GREG: No. I decided to return to Cape Breton via Latin America. I spent three months travelling, and I visited practically every country in Latin America. I was interested in the progressive movements there, and I talked to people wherever I could. I was in Chile when Allende was campaigning for president.

I came back home travelling through Toronto and Halifax. They were booming, but Cape Breton, when I got here, seemed almost as underdeveloped as Latin America. So I felt I had to make a decision: Would I put most of my energy into becoming a professional philosopher or into social activism? The answer seemed to me clear. I would always enjoy teaching Philosophy, but my focus became social and economic development. Not that I saw my social activism as separate from philosophical thinking, or publishing.

R: You started teaching here again in the early 70s?

G: I taught at Xavier College. At the same time, I began talking to people in the St. F.X. extension department, the social activist wing of the university. I found they talked too much. I get impatient with jargon, just a lot of words that don’t lead anywhere.

I wanted to start something. A real business, dealing with money, creating jobs. I recruited students. In those days, I always had students working with me. We started a craft co-operative, so local craft people would have an organized market to sell their goods. Debbie MacInnis and others were a great help. Debbie was a student then, and now works in CBU’s library.

R: That was the beginning of the School of Crafts, which now has that beautiful building on Charlotte Street.

G: Soon we wanted to start more substantial kinds of businesses. So we recruited people who were successful at business but who wanted to make a contribution to the community.

I didn’t want to get mixed up in all the theory of economics or business. I took a very simple view. We bought a building, fixed it up and rented it. That gave us cash flow that allowed us to buy other buildings. The main criterion was community need, but the business had to be efficient. All the profits went back into expanding the business, and so we created more jobs. At the same time, we were providing good housing at a reasonable rent for people who needed it. I accept the necessity to make a profit, but that was not our motive. This question of motivation is a key to my thought about business. I reject the view of many economists that personal profit has to be a motive to make things run efficiently. At the same time, I reject the view of some on the left who do seem not to understand the importance of entrepreneurship and of business expertise.

R: I guess that was the beginning of New Dawn? Now more than 30 years later it’s thriving. The last I heard it has holdings of over 15 million dollars.

G: Yes, and it regularly employs 150 people.

R: And it’s self-sustaining?

G: It gets hardly any government money.

R: Let’s go back for a moment to the mid-70s. It was early on, wasn’t it, that New Dawn started some dental clinics?

G: There was a shortage of dentists in the 1970s. We talked to people. It seemed that new dentists, just starting out, found it prohibitive to build a clinic here. So we said we’d build a dental clinic and rent it to the dentists. And, with the rent, pay the cost of the building.

R: That’s the clinic in Westmount?

G: Actually, Glace Bay was the first. Westmount was the second. We answered a need in the community. At the same time, we eventually made a profit on the building, which we could then re-invest. We were able to buy a building for senior citizens.

R: You began to write articles and books based on your experience.

G: I learned much more from studying legal history (for example the history of the corporation) than from business or economic texts. My studies in legal history informed my writing. I was critical of the Canadian co-op movement. The movement had become quite ideological. Each co-op focused on one thing. Groceries or housing or banking. We came to the conclusion that a community enterprise had to be multifunctional.
We built New Dawn as an entity with assets that could respond to different kinds of needs.

R: How did BCA come into being?

To start businesses you need capital. BCA is an investment company that raises funds from Cape Bretoners to invest in Cape Breton enterprises. Like other investment companies, it pays regular returns. We aim to match the interest payments of the other investment companies. The idea is to keep investment money in Cape Breton.

The usual view is that venture capital should have nothing to do with loyalty to a particular community. You place the money wherever in the world it will earn the most. But we put a social objective on the venture capital we raise. People are not just motivated by narrow self-interest. They want to contribute to their community. We are showing that you can contribute to your community and at thesame time make a good financial investment.

R: BCA has been successful in seeding some important projects. There’s an interesting story about the rope factory, for example.

G: The government had spent a lot of money buying state-of-the art rope making equipment, which it used to help start a private company in Cape Breton. In the early 1990s, the company failed. The government put the equipment up for sale, and it was bought by an American firm at a relatively low price.

We thought this was wrong. We organized a picket and stopped the trucks from taking the equipment away. At the same time, we publicized the issue. Eventually, the government bought the equipment back, and BCA and some local investors acquired the equipment. We hired one of the top experts on high-tech rope-making in Canada, a man from B.C. named Henry Lim. With his help, we re-organized the company.

It’s now very successful. It makes a good profit. We have two manufacturing sites, one at the Industrial Park in Point Edward and one in North Sydney. There are over 50 full-time employees.

R: I imagine that as you were starting these businesses, your thought developed in tandem with these activities. I know your were deeply influenced by worker-owned enterprises in the Mondragon region of Spain. Much of your writing at the time was influenced by the people you met there. Have you tried to transfer this kind of enterprise to Cape Breton?

G: It’s hard to get people interested. In general, the labor union movement in Canada opposes worker ownership. They figure it dilutes the bargaining power of the worker. They prefer a system where you have owner/managers and then you have workers and negotiators. So, it’s very difficult. I’m in favor of unions generally but I am also in favor of other forms of enterprise. I think we have to innovate and come up with new ways of doing things.

The purpose of Mondragon is to create jobs and at the same time preserve the local culture. So it’s not conventional. The enterprises are democratically organized. But they use the best technology and scientific research. They have 100,000 workers and have never had a bankruptcy. Good intentions aren’t enough. You need engineering and business expertise. At the same time, the connection between business enterprises and local culture is something that particularly interests me.

R: I know for many years you regularly took people to Mondragon to learn from the experience there. My brother went with you one summer. Also, you and some Mexican colleagues have set up parallel enterprises in the Yucatan area of Mexico. How is the relationship with Mexico going?

G: It’s going very well. I want to mention that in this early period, I was influenced by a great friend, Denne Burchell. He was a lawyer who eventually became a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.
Denne said something that really stuck with me. He said don’t let legal structures get in the way of what you want to do (not that you should do things that are illegal). Start with what you want to achieve, and build a legal structure that facilitates your goals. Don’t ever let structures, bureaucracies, or hierarchies become ends in themselves.

If you look at the history of corporations, you find that the first corporations, such as the Hudson Bay Company, were set up, at least in theory, to serve the wider community. They were given that legal mandate by the monarch. Structures, including business corporations, should serve the public good.

One point I wish to emphasize is that I always recruited people who had more expertise than I. In New Dawn, BCA and all the other projects, I relied on very dedicated community people, especially ones from the business community. I tried to accept my own limitations and realize that I had to depend on others.

R: What are you working on now?

G: Cape Bretoners spend tens of millions of dollars on oil—90% of our heating comes from oil. This means we are creating jobs in Saudi Arabia. I’d rather create jobs here.

We think we can produce a much higher proportion of our energy locally. BCA is working with our research centre. We’ve brought in an expert, Denis Lanoe, to help us. He is an engineer and also has an MBA. He is working with Edwin MacLennan and Bill Bailey at CBU.

Our aim is to develop in Cape Breton a relatively new process called torrefaction. It could make wood a viable source of electricity in Cape Breton. Torrefaction toasts wood at high temperature. Through this process we can produce wood pellets that have a BTU close to that of coal. At the same time, the product is much more environmentally sound than traditional wood pellets, because
torrefaction removes most of the impurities from the wood, such as nitrous and sulphur oxide.

It’s a big project. We need a capital investment of $18,000,000. We’ve brought Nova Scotia Power and Point Aconi into the discussion.

R: Do you really think you can bring it off?

G: Yes, definitely. We’re getting the capital, and we have the expertise. Others are working on the process in North Carolina and in Holland.

R: We could talk for a lot long time about New Dawn’s and BCA’s economic activities. But before our time runs out, I’d like to turn to the early history of CBU. I know—because I was there—that you played a vital role in the breakaway from St. F.X.

(5) The Birth of Cape Breton University

Greg: That was quite a battle. When I started teaching at Xavier College, a small group of us resented the fact that government money went first to St. F.X. and would then be apportioned by Antigonish to us in Sydney. Also, we had to get permission from St. F.X. for every course we taught, and we couldn’t offer our own degrees. We were annoyed by this situation, and we started to speak out. We organized a lobby group.

We tried to convince St. F.X. to become like the Open University in Britain, so that students could get a degree without going to Antigonish. When they insisted that every student had to spend at least two years in Antigonish, we decided that we had to have our own university if we really wanted to help Cape Bretoners. We began a massive political effort in Halifax, with the Cape Breton public, and at St.F.X. itself.

Richard: Who were some of the other people that you worked with?

G: D.F. Campbell, Xavier’s principal, was an important leader. Charles MacDonald was involved. From the community, Denne Burchell made a great contribution. And there were others.
Senator Hicks, the President of Dalhousie, campaigned against us. He said we didn’t need a university in Cape Breton. It would be good for young Cape Bretoners to leave the Island and become acculturated to a big urban centre. And of course there was great resistance from factions within St.F.X. So we needed to have persuasive arguments.

Finally, the province allowed us to incorporate as a distinct institution. We started with one degree—the Bachelor of Arts Community Studies. I was on a steering committee to facilitate our move to autonomy. Pretty well the same committee became the Board of Governors. Later of course the College of Cape Breton became the University College of Cape Breton and finally Cape Breton
University.

R: I recall too that around this time you helped initiate Mi’kmaq courses and a centre for Mi’kmaq students.

G: I would ask some of the local Mi’kmaq kids why they didn’t take courses at the College of Cape Breton. I was told that Dalhousie was the only approved place for the Mi’kmaq students. There was a transitional year for them in Halifax (and for black students). Money was made available only if students went to Dalhousie.

I thought the situation was ridiculous. A group of us went to the provincial government, but that didn’t work. We had better luck with the federal government. The Conservatives were in power in Ottawa, and David Crombie was minister of Indian Affairs. We wrote to him, and arranged for an interview. A lovely man, humane and reasonable. We told him what was going on. I said most of the Mik’maq nation live in Cape Breton. They should be able to stay home and come to our university. He agreed, and took action. So we were able to accept Mik’maq students at our institution, and their tuition was paid for by Ottawa.

R: Where did things go from there?

G: We studied how Native Studies were taught at other universities. In most places –this is the late 1970s—Native Studies were taught as social science or history.

Our view was that we should teach the history and culture of the Mi’Kmaq, but also, and most importantly, the language. The language was the key. We were already teaching oral and written French, and Gaelic too. Why not Mi’Kmaq? I resisted the term Native Studies. I thought it important to recognize the particularities of each culture, rather than lumping them together into one pot. Without the language, there’s no culture. That is almost a cliché now; but back then it was an important insight that had to be defended.

We hired Dorothy Moore and Murdena Marshall, both Mi’Kmaq speakers. At first Mi’Kmaq studies were housed in our department, which was then the Humanities Department. Charles MacDonald helped a great deal at this point. Later Mi’Kmaq grew into its own department, and now of course there is a centre at CBU. Dorothy and Murdena introduced and taught the first courses. They built a bridge between the university and the Mi’Kmaq community. They and Charles laid the foundation for what developed later.

R: That’s an important piece of history. I’d briefly like to turn to another part of CBU’s history—the beginning of the MBA.

G: One day Ray Ivany and I were on the airplane going to Halifax. Ray was vice-president of UCCB. We talked about the importance of getting a graduate degree at the university. I suggested that we should push for a distinct kind of MBA, one that emphasized community development. We’d never get a traditional MBA that competed with Dalhousie or St. Mary’s. But we might get one that emphasized our distinctive strengths.

I wrote up some ideas, and Ray said let’s see how far we can go with it. I’m no good at dealing with bureaucracy, going to meetings and writing up reports. I was Director of the Tompkins Institute at that time and I had about $10,000 in the kitty.

We hired Gert Macintyre, a retired teacher, who had just finished a doctorate in adult education at the University of Toronto. Gert did an excellent job of working out the logistics, and shepherding the programme through the bureaucracy. Of course, there were others who came in a little later, and they developed the MBA into the success it is today. But Gert did the important initial work.

R: That’s an important piece of history too.

(6) A World for Humans: The Good Life

Richard: Greg, I know you’ve given a lot of thought to the role of technology in our lives. You started the Tompkins Institute in the university as a home to reflect on that issue.

Greg: The predecessor of CBU was an amalgamation of a technical school (Eastern Institute of Technology) and an academic school (Xavier College). We wanted there to be a place where the two faculties could meet to discuss technology and human values. This would be the bridge and help unify the two faculties—or so we hoped.

We often fall into the trap of letting the economy or organizations or consumption take on lives of their own. But we have to remind ourselves that these things are valuable only if they contribute to people’s well-being and dignity. A great danger is that technology comes to rule us, and not the other way around. These are the issues I wanted the Tompkins Institute to discuss.

R: What sort of projects is the Tompkins pursuing now?

I believe religion is one of the most important ways we can transmit humanistic values. We’ve set up the Abraham Centre as part of the Tompkins. I would like to raise money to make appointments in Christian, Jewish and Islamic Studies. The Abraham Centre would be a focus at CBU for the discussion of religious and social values. We would look at what we have in common rather than what divides us.

R: These are all monotheistic religions. Did you think belief in God is necessary for a proper value system?

G: The monotheistic religions are important, and Christianity is where my personal commitment is. But I don’t believe they’re the only way to think about values or live a moral life. About the fundamental questions of life we can know nothing with certainty. Or that is what I believe philosophy shows. We are always dealing with probabilities. Modern results in logic and mathematics teach the same lesson. There are many ways of understanding the universe. Each religion has its way of coming to terms with what I call the absolute other, something that gives meaning to our lives but which we cannot fully grasp. Ultimately, you make a commitment to a particular tradition, whether it is Christianity, Buddhism or secularism. It’s possible to live a good life within any of these traditions. At the same time, I believe it’s essential that our culture not allow the monotheistic religions to lose their power for good.

R: You were very generous to me when I came to Cape Breton. As a point of minor history, I was the first Jewish faculty member (though Hymie Goldberg preceded me as an instructor on what was called the “tech” side of the institution).

G: Well, a university should contain different sorts of people with different backgrounds and ideas. The university should be the bedrock of a community, and therefore should reflect the community’s diversity.

R: Greg, what’s your idea of the good life?

G: One of the main things I try to convey to students is that the good life is a life of commitment lived graciously. When I say “graciously”, I mean being good to yourself. Having music, friends, good wine, dance, stimulating conversation.

In the 60s, a lot of activist colleagues visited from other universities. Working with them, I observed something important. They talked a lot about workers’ rule, the end of capitalism, and so on.

But I found when I tried to sit down and talk to them, they had no time. They were like dedicated machines. And I said to myself what kind of world would there be if they won and they were to mould society. There wouldn’t be much fun in that society; it would be a sad society. I’ve observed that quite often. So I’ve concluded that if you lead a politically committed life, you have to live a gracious life too—enjoy the pleasures that add to our humanity. And to foster these pleasures you need to preserve local culture.

I push that idea whenever I talk to students. Not enough time to do everything.

I sense the interview is nearing its end.

R: It’s been good talking to you, Greg, on such a beautiful day in this lovely spot overlooking the harbour.

Greg points to flowers on the table near his chair:

G. And don’t forget the flowers

Earlier in the interview Denis Lanoe had dropped by to talk to Greg about their project on wood pellets. He and Greg went to Greg’s office for about 10 minutes. In the interim, another person came by to see Greg, and I took his name and phone.

Richard: Oh, by the way, Greg, while you were talking to Denis, another colleague of yours dropped by. He left his name and phone number.

As I got up and started for the door, Greg turned to pick up the phone:

Greg: He’s from Newfoundland. Great fellow. I work with him on projects….


I would like to thank Harvey Johnstone, Edwin MacLellan and Margaret MacLeod for help with this interview.

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