Nova Scotia

'It is a shame': Women's employment project ends after 33 years in Sydney

The Ann Terry Project has ended after 33 years of helping women in Sydney, N.S., find work, with one organizer blaming a partnership with a provincial employment agency for the sudden shutdown.

Ann Terry Project stood out from other programs because it catered specifically to women

The Ann Terry Project helped find jobs for thousands of women. (Shutterstock)

The Ann Terry Project has ended after 33 years of helping women in Sydney, N.S., find work, with one organizer blaming a partnership with a provincial employment agency for the sudden shutdown.   

The Ann Terry Society, the non-profit organization that ran the project, announced the closure in a letter to the editor in Saturday's Cape Breton Post. The society itself plans to carry on.

The project recently shared office space on George Street with Island Employment, a non-profit organization funded through Nova Scotia Works and Service Canada.

Both offered career counselling, resume assistance and child-care support for people looking for work. However, the Ann Terry Project catered specifically to women. 

'One-stop shop'

Joan MacDonald, chair of the Ann Terry Society, said the Department of Labour and Advanced Education decided several years ago it would only fund one organization offering career counselling services.

"They were looking for a one-stop shop and the Island Employment agreed to take us as a partner within their three-year contract, but as soon as we were in, it became apparent that we weren't really going to be a partner," she said in an interview Tuesday.

"We were a necessity for them to get their contract."

Women's services still available

Murdoch Moore, chair of the Island Employment board, disagreed with MacDonald. He said people working on the Ann Terry Project had great difficulty accepting that Island Employment was delivering their programs.

Women seeking job assistance can still do so with the provincial agency, he said.

"Island Employment is not going in any other direction other than what we have for the last four years. We are committed to continuing to deliver services to women and to carry out all our other services, as well."

But MacDonald said the Ann Terry Project offered services specifically for women that aren't available from the province.

Helping women in poverty

It was open to all women, but was especially helpful for single mothers or low-wage earners. The project helped women gain confidence, despite barriers to employment.

"It is a shame," said MacDonald. "We're looking to improve the lives of families that live in poverty, and you know that if you can improve, you have a better chance for the children to be successful, as well."

Under Island Employment, the Ann Terry brand disappeared, she said. Despite having a separate entrance for women, there were no signs indicating where the project was located and promotional materials didn't indicate special programs were available for women.

The Island Employment board had three Ann Terry Society members on it, but it operated under strict rules that excluded society members from some information, said MacDonald.

Board members quit

That led the Ann Terry members to quit the Island Employment board.

"We felt they didn't appreciate us," MacDonald said.

The society has a small office elsewhere and is in the process of moving out of the Island Employment space.

MacDonald said the society doesn't qualify for funding from the Department of Labour, but it will apply to the Department of Community Services for one-time projects that support women getting back into the workforce.

Differing philosophies

Moore said it was " a very unusual arrangement" having a couple of society members on the Island Employment board because it meant two very different philosophies coming together.

As for promotional materials, he said Island Employment was at the mercy of the province when it came to what was approved. However, he said the Ann Terry programs were advertised on the radio and on a billboard in the office. As well, promotional materials mentioned women's programs, said Moore.

"We did everything in our power to make them part of our organization," he said.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.