The Tompkins Institute


Dr. Tom Urbaniak, Director



Founded by Dr. Greg MacLeod in 1973, Cape Breton University’s Tompkins Institute leads applied research demonstration projects and offers continuing education in community leadership and community regeneration.

The Institute is named after Dr. Jimmy Tompkins (1870-1953), one of Cape Breton’s leaders in adult education and community enterprise. An activist-scholar and priest, Dr. Tompkins championed inter-faith social action, giving rise to dozens of co-operatives, housing projects, credit unions, public libraries, and proposals for major changes in public policies. His work and the work of his contemporaries has been studied around the world.


Dr. Greg MacLeod died on May 3, 2017, leaving an impressive legacy of thought and achievement.

His successor as director the Tompkins Institute is Dr. Tom Urbaniak, CBU Professor of Political Science. Dr. Urbaniak is Past Chair of the National Trust for Canada, Past Chair of Faith and the Common Good (national inter-faith charity dedicated to sustainability and the environment), and the author of six books and numerous articles and edited collections. He has led many non-profit organizations and is an experienced social entrepreneur. He has been active in crime prevention, child welfare, public libraries, neighbourhood regeneration, affordable housing, and as a leader in the Polish Canadian community. He is a columnist and frequent media analyst on public policy, giving interviews in English and French.

Dr. Urbaniak works extensively with community organizations and faith communities. Among other services on behalf of Cape Breton University, he facilitates tailored workshops to help organizations renew themselves, govern themselves effectively, and realize their full potential.

Dr. Urbaniak is a Past Chair of the CBU Senate and is currently serving as University Parliamentarian (advisor on procedure and effective meetings).

Tom can be reached at or 902-563-1226.


The CBU Tompkins Institute facilitated the sister-city agreement between the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Wałbrzych, Poland, in 2019. Both municipalities have similar population sizes, economic histories, and innovative approaches to revitalization. The Tompkins Institute is currently facilitating the Sister City Steering Committee, which oversees multiple initiatives, including a student-exchange program, collaboration on the development of the student-designed Twin City “pocket park”, and, most recently, helping Wałbrzych to look after more than 6,000 refugees in the city.


The CBU Tompkins Institute facilitated an innovative student summer field school in collaboration with Angelus Silesius University of Applied Sciences in Wałbrzych, Poland, sister city of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The field school took place in Wałbrzych in June and July 2023. Using a remarkable curriculum of experiential learning, students examined Wałbrzych’s “clean, green” revitalization after the collapse of the coal industry in the 1990s. Students also examined best practices in sister-city collaborations, special economic zones, business incubation, poverty alleviation, recreation policy, and “urban acupuncture” using public spaces.

You can read about the summer field school here.


During of the pandemic, working with CBC Radio Cape Breton’s Mainstreet program, the CBU Tompkins Institute converted its in-community, continuing-education “People’s Schools” to radio. More than 30 episodes have been broadcast, with suggested readings, informative guests, and discussion questions.

You can find the archived episodes of the “People’s School on Community Leadership” here. Please scroll down to find multiple links that start with the words “People’s School.”


In June 2023, the latest book in the Tompkins Institute series was released. It is entitled In the Public Square: A Citizen’s Reader. It is authored by Tompkins Institute director Tom Urbaniak and is a sequel to the 2018 book Dignity, Democracy, Development: A Citizen’s Reader. You can order copies here.

Please also check out the recently published e-book by Karla Winham, part of the Tompkins Institute Series: Gardens Built By Love: Faith-Based Community Gardens.


The Tompkins Institute is currently facilitating the Neighbourhood Handyperson Pilot Project in the community of New Aberdeen (part of Glace Bay, Cape Breton). It is being supported by the recently established Cape Breton Tompkins Affordable Housing Fund, which the Tompkins Institute established within the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia. It is a legacy fund created at the time of the dissolution of the Cape Breton Council of Churches. The same fund is also supporting the Mechanic Street Housing Project (demonstration project using a revitalized historic “company house”), which is currently a collaboration of the Affordable Housing Renovation Partnership and Warden United Church.


The Tompkins Institute works with boards of community development organizations, non-profit societies, as well as municipal councils to deliver training modules on governance and effective meetings. In 2023-2024, the Tompkins Institute is working with the Cape Breton Credit Union on governance training.