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Our History

Egypt Falls trail, Cape Breton stream and trees on a sunny day

In 2022, Leeside Society celebrated 30 years of service, since Leeside Transition House
first opened its doors.


1986 - The Beginning

The journey began with a small group of women in 1986. The group were known as Women Aware, and they were in search of access to further education. During that search, they met many women, who were struggling to cope with violence. A resounding message to the group was the lack of services and the many barriers to accessing services in neighbouring communities. The members of Women Aware called together a cross section of people to meet and discuss their concerns.

The first meeting was held November 29, 1987. The participants at this meeting came from the Strait, Inverness, Richmond, and Guysborough areas. In attendance were community people, social workers, day care workers and health care workers. A presentation was offered by Cape Breton Transition House which reiterated the concerns of rural women. Services were inadequate to meet the needs of abused women. Resulting from this initial meeting, an interim Board of Directors was established, goals and objectives were defined and plans for incorporation were initiated. 

Leeside incorporated as a not-for-profit Society in May 1988. Our name, Leeside, was created by board member Holly Peterson. The lee side is the safe or sheltered side of a boat and what better name for a house designed to weather storms in a town once called Ship Harbour. Board members began applying for funding under the Department of the Secretary of State to conduct an extensive needs assessment.

1988/1989 - We Can No Longer Pretend

The purpose of the needs assessment was; 

  • to obtain data on the incidences of family violence,

  • identify existing community support,

  • determine barriers to access existing community-based services and

  • develop recommendations which would empower the Board to begin to address the issue.


The report, We Can No Longer Pretend was completed by Johenna Kennedy. With the recommendations of the needs assessment in hand, the task of developing a shelter began.

1988 - Application for Construction Funding

They applied for funding in 1988 through the Central Mortgage and Housing Commission to build a shelter. With confirmation of federal funding in 1989, they then applied for operational funding from the Province of Nova Scotia.

1990 - Helpline/Crisis Line Service

While the funding applications were being processed, they turned their attention to the development of a crisis line. A proposal was put together for funding to Canada Employment to hire a coordinator and to develop a training model and evaluation tools. Volunteers were recruited and trained. The crisis line service opened in 1990 with 40 community volunteers. In 1991, the Province of Nova Scotia approved operational funding. Stephanie MacInnis-Langley was hired as Executive Director in August 1991 and the project development efforts took off. Shelter construction proceeded with completion and an opening date of April 22, 1992. 


1998 - New Directions

In 1997, Stephanie MacInnis-Langley resigned as Executive Director. Stephanie was an original member of Women Aware back in 1986. Her energy saw Leeside go from a dream to a reality and in her six years as Executive Director, she stamped the Society with her vision. Marina Martens was hired and began work in March 1998. The Society was now firmly established, thriving and ready for a growth spurt.

1999 - Strategic Plan

The process of strategic planning began November of 1999. Staff and Board members had an initial meeting facilitated by Peggy Mahon of the St. Francis Xavier University Extension Department. The Mission Statement and Philosophy of the Society were revised and restated as a Vision Statement and Values. The result, after a year of work, was a Strategic Three-Year Plan. 

2000 - Day Camp Program

Leeside applied for a Community Health Promotion Fund grant to create a summer day camp program. The program was designed for children ages 6-9 and intended as a prevention program. Three, one-week camps were offered in Port Hawkesbury and two other communities within Leeside’s catchment area. The camp program has always been very popular with children and parents. Twenty years later, the camp is still being offered in a modified form. The curriculum for the camp has been used by other shelters and organizations across Nova Scotia.

2001 - Threatened Closure

In April 2001, the government of Nova Scotia announced they planned to cut the Family Violence Budget and close five shelters. Leeside was one of the shelters in danger of closing. The public outcry across the province was overwhelming. In our area alone, more than 1600 letters went to the premier’s office on behalf of Leeside. What followed was a four-year redesign process and a small increase in the Family Violence budget. After some very painful moments, a much-improved relationship with the Department of Community Services grew. Although in the long run Leeside has benefited from the redesign process, our three-year strategic plan was effectively stalled after one year.   


2004 - Community Development Coordinator


In 2004, the Society identified the need for a community development coordinator to raise the community profile of Leeside and to explore Leeside’s fundraising potential. The finding was that Leeside had the potential to raise more money than we had in the past, but it would require a dedicated staff person. The position was continued on a 24-hour-a-week basis and its effectiveness was evaluated annually. The focus of the community development coordinator's position was on fundraising, public relations and volunteer development. By 2008, Leeside had successfully gained a greater community awareness. The Development Coordinator role was converted to funding the array of programming and supports we were able to offer to our growing community.

2006 – Renovations


In 2006, Leeside received a grant from the federal Rural Homelessness Initiative; a forgivable loan from the provincial Shelter Enhancement Program and a bequest from an estate. These funds allowed us to do some major renovations. The carpets were replaced with laminate flooring or vinyl, most of the rooms were painted, the fire escape banister was brought up to code, the heating system was upgraded, a new tub surround was installed, the roof was re-shingled, the parking lot extended, and the wheelchair ramp repaired. We also were able to replace light fixtures, install blinds in the kitchen and buy new furniture for the living room.


2009 - More Renovations


Leeside received another forgivable loan through the Shelter Enhancement Program. This allowed the replacement of all the windows.

2010 - Increase in Operational Funding


In April, the provincial government implemented an NDP campaign promise to increase the funding for transition houses. As a result, Leeside’s operating grant was increased by approximately $21,000. This was the first increase for operations since the mid-nineties, so it was very welcome.

2011 - Expansion of Services and Changes to Organizational Structure

The Strait Area Women’s Place was opened on May 10, 2011 to provide a broader access to services to women in Inverness and Richmond. The women’s centre started as a partnership between Leeside and the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association. It was made possible through a grant from the IWK Foundation. The centre is in the Professional Centre at 609 Church St. Port Hawkesbury. When it was first opened, their hours were 9 to 4:30 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.


After the first year of operation we were unable to secure Department of Community Services funding. The Leeside board decided to bear the costs to keep the doors open for another year. On April 1, 2013 we received partial funding from the Department. This, along with a substantial investment from the Society’s reserve fund, allowed the full-time operation of the Strait Area Women’s Place. In 2019, after years of lobbying we were granted funding equal to what other women’s centres in the province receive.

A new supervisory staff position was created to assist the Executive Director in the day to day management of the transition house. The Supervising Crisis Counsellor provides direct services to clients and supervises the in-shelter staff. They also share on-call duties with the executive director.


In 2017, we marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the shelter. Leeside is a living organism that changes and grows. When Leeside Society first formed, we relied on the experience and expertise of others. After more than twenty-five years we could rely on our own experience and record of excellent service. We looked forward to continuing to provide outstanding service to the community, as we faced new and ongoing challenges. 

The Future

In 2022 we marked the 30-year anniversary of the Leeside Society opening its shelters doors. Over the last two years we have been dealing with the impacts of COVID-19. We have seen an alarming increase in our communities of domestic violence, family violence, homelessness, addiction, food insecurity, housing crises, mental health crises and human trafficking. Current inflationary pressures have only compounded all of the above and we have seen the effects of this on our most vulnerable members of our communities. 

In 2021 we designed a new strategic plan to guide our work through the end of 2023. This included:

  • building a sustainable funding model

  • strengthening our focus on the health and wellness of our staff to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout.

  • working  to achieve a greater diversity internally and externally.

  • increasing awareness and understanding of Leeside including its mission, services and impact in the community and in the province.


Leeside belongs to the community. With the support of the people of Port Hawkesbury, Inverness and Richmond, Leeside will continue as tangible proof of the community’s compassion and concern for its most vulnerable members.

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