Grateful to return to a transformed PEI
As a young girl growing up in Woodstock, PEI, just outside of O'Leary, Jillian Kilfoil witnessed sexism, homophobia, racism and intolerance. She says she was born a feminist. Her outspoken personality and actions like protesting her grade nine prom created a lot of tension living in the traditional community she did.
A resentful Kilfoil left the province at 17 looking for new places and new spaces. She attended St. FX University in Antigonish and upon graduation in 2007, joined Katimavik, a Canadian non-profit whose mission is 'diverse, engaged and empowered youth working together to create just relationships and transform communities, the environment and themselves for a better Canada.' The program eventually took her to Montreal where, in time, she began working with a national feminist organization.
"Just as I began to think about a professional move in Montreal, an interim position came up at the PEI Women's Network that I was encouraged to apply for, " said Kilfoil with a laugh as she spoke about the contingent of friends who worked to bring her back home. "Even though I didn't plan to move back to PEI, I always considered myself an Islander,"
As fate would have it, she got the job yet planned only to stay for the six month term to get the professional experience she wanted.
"The PEI I returned to was not the PEI I left. I had been saying 'no' to something that no longer exists," she said. "It was the right time, the right work and the right decision to come home."
Kilfoil sees that PEI is in the midst of a transformation that she describes as "a more diverse Island; we are retaining more LGBTQ youth and now have more space for people to be who they are in an authentic way. These changes are extremely positive."
Two years later, she is settled here and loves being away from the 'big city stresses' like commuting. Although she now lives in Charlottetown, her favourite place in PEI is still 'up west' with its sunrises and sunsets, West Point Lighthouse and the beach as well as "the best milkshakes at a tiny spot called Huntley Horizon, in back of Alberton and the turkey sandwich at the Alberton Bakery with fresh bread and a turkey cooked every day."
Despite moving from the vibrancy and diversity of Montreal to Charlottetown, she does not feel like she gave anything up, but rather gained a lot. She recognizes that PEI still has its challenges but feels that citizens have more access to government to be part of the solutions here than in larger places.
"Don’t make assumptions about past experiences," said Kilfoil. "Come back, be part of the change that is happening here."
Now in a permanent position as executive director of the PEI Women's Network, Kilfoil herself is advancing the Katimavik mission, instilled in her more than a decade ago, as she works with diverse, engaged and empowered women and men to create just relationships and transform communities.
"This is where I should be right now and I am grateful for that."
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