How and Why X-Project Began
Joe Webb was a founding member of the X-Project organization on campus in 1965. While the organization became ratified that year, the origin of X-Project dates back to 1957. This document is Yanik Gallie’s treatment of notes written by Webb on how and why X-Project began. Webb graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and intended to return for a Bachelor of Education. Before he could enroll, he was offered the position of principal on a teacher’s permit at the Lincolnville school. Webb then pursued his teacher’s license during summer school for four years and continues to substitute at the age of 74.
The origin of X-Project traces back to Webb’s call for help to his friend Rollie Chiasson who was still at the university. Chiasson posted a sign in the dining hall asking for volunteers who might want to take a drive down to Lincolnville and work with some students hoping at least a couple people would show up at the designated date and time. Much to their surprise, 13 people volunteered. At the same time, Joan Dillon and a number of friends from Antigonish were teaching pottery in Lincolnville. They too travelled in borrowed cars from Antigonish each week. The two groups joined forces primarily to share transportation. They quickly began to share programming ideas working with students and adults to promote literacy, offering cubs and beavers, providing recreational programs, and more. X-Project is one of the oldest student societies on campus and has grown to include surrounding communities Guysborough, Paq’tnkek, and Pictou Landing.
Joe Webb’s wife, Nancy Webb, inspired him to write the origin story a year ago. According to Webb, the intent behind writing the story was to preserve the society’s initial commitment to “anonymity. If you look at old yearbooks, you will not find our names, and that is a good thing.” Webb added, “I am at peace with the fact that the small seed planted in 1965-66 at StFX has grown in scope and effectiveness. Joan Dillon, Lisa Lunney Borden, and the thousands of others have provided a wonderful example of how when one group chooses to help another, both groups benefit.” Webb remembered, “the first 20+ volunteers said they got more from X-Project than they ever gave, and I know that is true for me.”
I was at Good Counsel Academy in Monastery as a student and was privileged to accompany the legendary Father Anthony Henry to Lincolnville on many occasions where he had established a community center from which he ran various programs, met many needs of this poor community, and got to know many of the folks there.
I attended StFX and about midway through my studies Father Edo Gatto and Mr. Angus MacGillveray were instrumental in getting a university-owned building just off campus where they established Abelard’s coffee house. Many of us gathered there to play anagrams or chess and have organized a spontaneous discussion group about the social issues of our time. By the time I graduated, some of us were chagrinned that during those years of college revolts in U.S. and Canada about civil rights and concerns, our focus, including my own, were a tiddly-winks club which challenged the oxford debaters. I posted an announcement for an Apathy society and no one came to the meetings. In April of 1965, the drama society won the Dominion Drama Festival. Director Frank Canino wanted to redo the campus logo. That year, no StFX sports team went on to finals. He wanted the faces of drama rampant over a field of jock straps. So much about our concern for society while attending a university known world wide for the Coady institute and dedication to helping communities all over the world.
While speaking one day to Brian O’Connell who was upper administration at StFX at the time he commented that his twins both young with down syndrome (called Mongoloid in those days) were at a loss now that school was nearly over and there was no summer program. I discussed this at Abelard’s and along with several friends who, I hesitate to name them because I would miss most people, set up a program every evening for two hours at Abelard’s outside and inside. And, on Saturdays we went on field trips. All this while we worked summer jobs, but this was the spirit fostered at the coffee house and I have often felt since that Abelard’s had a lost to do with X-Project before the fact.
I was waiting to go back next year for my Education degree when I received an urgent request through my godfather Mac Mackenzie from social services. A teacher from the school in Lincolnville had quit and they had no one as replacement. They arranged a temporary permit for me, and I became the principal. Please understand that no one wanted to go there in those days and the community was looked upon as a problem area. There were at least 31 organizations travelling to Lincolnville, Upper Big Tracadie and Sunnyville all with a solution for the “Lincolnville problem.” At that time, no black people lived within the Antigonish town limits. You could not be black and get supper at many restaurants. Even in Guysborough, the Nova Scotia home for colored children, it was a house of horrors and we in Nova Scotia were proud believers that we were not prejudiced. And, do not even get me started about indigenous folks.
While teaching in Lincolnville at a school ingeniously built in a location so that, wonder of wonders, it was only within busable distance of Lincolnville and Upper Big Tracadie. Mattie settlement kids who were white went to the school at Monastery while there was not a single white child at our school. I discovered that the junior and senior high kids, who were bussed to Guysborough, could not get homework help there because of the bus schedule and like most other parents then and now, theirs could not help much. Here arose the founding tenet of X-Project. Instead of coming to Lincolnville with an agenda, ask what the community-identified needs are then help. I asked my Abelard’s friends and we started to go down one or two nights a week to help with homework at the school rather than the center. I got that advice from locals too, some of who were Baptists and not comfortable with the center. Soon it was evident we needed more people. I got a friend, Rollie Chiasson, to post a small notice outside the dining hall. It read, “Are you interested in helping tutor students from nearby communities and a contact person?” We were amazed. Soon, we needed extra cars to help and added more nights. We also discovered that StFX students working with the young people were getting as much from the young people as they were giving.
Spring of 1966
As the college year wore down, the students who knew I was leaving the next fall wanted to form a society on campus to continue the process and maybe expand it. I again asked Mac and several other social-service types for help to set this up. We advised and the students agreed to some cornerstone provisions for the constitution as they became a functional college organization.
No publicity, no agenda. Just ask community people what they need and try to help. Avoid thank yous and all advertising that might attract those looking for something good to put on a resume.
So now, what do we call this club? After soul searching by one and all, we picked the name X-Project because no one would even know what it was other than those who joined and there would be nothing to gain except possibly a good feeling that accompanies a good deed. And so, it was born when I left to teach in Canso that September. We had no idea how this project would flourish. As I understand it, the university hired Joan Dillon some years later as liaison between college and the project. She had been doing pottery along with the brilliant potter May K. MacDonald at the center and knew most of the people in Lincolnville and I believe even had been involved with the students in the project. I think there were several staff involved as well, but I have only a passing knowledge of the growth of the project until Joan invited me back for a celebration. I could see that she was beloved by one and all and had given heart and soul to continue the good work begun so many years before. I was pleased to see that the students had even branched out into forums and gatherings to discuss social issues and their work within the Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities.
If it is important at all to know our origin, I hope my descriptions herein will serve to provide a factual account of the very crude beginnings of what has become such a wide-ranging program. May we all continue to serve one another.