Research Summary

The Invictus research project set out to explore the state of hope and agency on the Northside.

Developed as part of the Northside Rising initiative, the rationale behind the project was that hope and agency are key ingredients for community renewal: in order for positive change to be achieved, people have to believe that a better future is possible and that they have the capacity to make it happen. As the project evolved, trust was identified as an important related factor and became an additional focus of the research.

Broadly conceived as a community-based research initiative, the aim of the project was to generate data and insights for community consideration and action.

With input from a community advisory group, a small team of researchers designed and implemented two main research tools: a broad-based community survey (502 participants) and a series of in-depth interviews (41 interviewees). Specific efforts were made to ensure representation in the research from 3 groups of people: members of the general public from a wide array of backgrounds; individuals with lived or living experience of substance use and community members experiencing economic hardships. 

Preliminary findings were presented to members of two Citizen Review Panels. One panel focussed on the overall findings about hope, agency and trust; a second session focussed specifically on findings related to substance use.

Feedback from these sessions informed the development of two public talks sharing data and insights with the wider community.

Key findings explored more fully on these webpages include:

  • Overall, levels of hope on the Northside were found to be low to moderate. With the options ‘fragile,’ ‘stable’ and ‘thriving,’ most participants scored in the fragile and stable levels.
  • Significant variations were found in participants’ levels of hope and agency by gender, age and economic circumstances:
    • Women had lower levels of hope than men
    • Young people (ages 24 to 34) had lower levels of hope than other age groups while seniors (age 65 and older) had noticeably higher levels of hope than others
    • Participants who indicated that they ‘often or never have enough to get by’ had much lower levels of hope than other demographic groups.  
  • Economic circumstances in particular were identified as a key dividing line between people with higher or lower levels of hope as well as other conditions explored in the research such as agency, trust and health.
  • Both ‘generalized trust’ (trust in other community members) and ‘institutional trust’ (trust in people associated with formal institutions and systems such as doctors, lawyers, police and teachers) were found to be low, especially for participants experiencing economic hardships, younger people and people self-identifying with serious or very serious substance use problems.
  • Substance use problems were found to be very widespread on the Northside (85% of survey participants indicated that either they personally or close family members experienced problems with drugs or alcohol).  Problems with substance use were associated with lower levels of hope and trust.

Despite these serious concerns, the research also identified significant foundations for building ‘community hope,’ the ability of people to work together to achieve shared goals: 

  • 92% of survey participants agreed that “the Northside is a good place to live”
  • 96% agreed that “people are friendly to you”
  • 89% agreed that “someone would help you if you needed it.”


Dr. Ed Michalik: Biography

Edward Michalik was born and raised in Glace Bay. Michalik holds a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of New Brunswick. His dissertation, “Cape Breton Gothic: a cultural history of the coalfields” (2016), is a corrective to the New Left romanticism that dominates island historiography. In 2019 Michalik teamed up with Dr. Margaret Dechman of CBU. They co-created the Invictus research project, which was piloted on the Northside. An amalgam of positive psychology and contemporary sociology, the Invictus survey and interviews use the themes of hope, trust, and inclusion as touchstones to study community life.