The Antigonish Chamber of Commerce held their annual celebration of local business with its business gala and awards night, Oct. 23, at the St. Andrews District Community Centre.
Taking home the event’s top prize – the CBDC-NOBL sponsored Ian Spencer Award: Excellence in Business – was Atlantic Broadcasters Limited 98.9 XFM.
Hi-Crest Enterprises was the other nominee in the category.
Other award recipients on the night included; El Gordo Tacos – Mac, Mac & Mac Lawyers Young Entrepreneur Award, hairdresser Darlene Hart – East Coast Credit Union Outstanding Service Award (individual), Antigonish Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) – RBC Emerging Business Award, and Steinhart Distillery – Nova Scotia Business Inc. Export Recognition Award.
Taking home the Centre for Employment Innovation Kay Thompson Desjardins Award for Social Entrepreneurship was third-year St. F.X. student Claire MacDougall, who has deep family ties to Antigonish.
MacDougall’s social enterprise focuses on dealing with the affordability of school supplies for all youngsters.
She recognized the importance of having the proper items is to the children, and how that plays a significant role in their learning.
“Growing up, there were always kids who had less than other kids at school,” MacDougall said in talking about starting up the project.
“And then I read about the issue again through the Poverty Reduction Coalition. Someone had noted they were having a lot of difficulty buying school supplies for their kids; it was really expensive – especially if you had multiple kids.
“I thought it would be a good thing to do, to level the playing field. If you don’t have the right stuff it’s hard to learn … it’s a big deal for little kids.”
MacDougall said the year, her first with the social enterprise, went even better than expected.
“I received a lot of donations and I received some grant money as well,” said the physics and mathematics student.
“And because I received some publicity, I’ve been gaining a lot of volunteers. So we’re expanding it to make it bigger; doing more fundraising and a couple of more businesses have already reached out to offer more money.”
El Gordo Tacos was a partnership between Elin Cunningham and Grace Lazzuri.
With Elin unavailable to attend, Grace accepted the award on their behalf.
“It’s Elin who should really be getting it, because she did most of the work,” Grace, living up to her name, graciously said. “But it does mean a lot to me.”
Grace described the experience as challenging at times, but very enjoyable.
“Being at Half-Cocked Brewing Company, the Farmers’ Market, the art fairs, the Highland Games, all those places; getting to meet and work with all those people was really fun.”
General manager Ken Farrell spoke on behalf of XFM; its 12 employees, board of directors and shareholders. He noted receiving an award which honours the late Ian Spencer is “huge.”
“Ian was a big community guy; he did a lot of work with CJFX, now XFM, years ago,” Farrell said. “You could always rely on him in the community for a business opinion and community support; it’s significant, huge.”
Farrell was in his customary role of emceeing the event and talked about the importance of recognizing small businesses and what they mean to XFM
“For us to operate, we rely on small business,” he said.
“We have a significant area as a coverage area, and we need our small businesses to support us so we can support the communities which we cover. And, of course, CJFX, in 1943, was formed on that community support.”
Chamber president Dan Fougere also talked about the Antigonish area being a supportive environment overall.
“Antigonish town and county is a great place to live, work and invest,” he said.
“We have it all here; a quality of life second to none, a safe and secure community, and cultural amenities you would see in a big city but don’t expect in a small town. Then you have St. F.X. and the hospital adding to our economy.
“So it’s a great community for small businesses to start up and flourish and people are supportive of one another in our community, and that makes a difference.”
And more and more people are staying home to shop, Fougere added.
“We’re gradually convincing people they don’t need to go to Halifax or other areas to shop,” he said.
“There are specialty stores right here at home where they can receive customer service second to none, help their neighbour and help their community. It’s that community spirit which makes a difference.”
The community spirit was well on display during what was a major highlight of the event as Donnie MacEachern was recognized for his many years owning and operating one of Antigonish’s signature businesses; Oak Manor Men’s Wear.
“A business established in 1963; I bought my first suit there and I’m sure many people here tonight could say the same thing,” Fougere said. “It was great to see the standing ovation he received; it showed what he and the store meant to our community.”