Generational Giving in North Nova

By Sarah Lyon

What are the things you pass down in your family? Typically, families might have their grandmother’s recipe for a favorite dish. Or a piece of jewelry, or another heirloom to treasure. In North Nova, there is a family who intergenerationally has passed down a passion and a calling to give back.

It starts with Norma Barker, who loved animals and constantly supported her local SPCA. She didn’t want gifts for her birthdays and Christmas; instead, she asked people to donate to the SPCA.

Norma passed down her value of philanthropy to her daughter, Marsha. She also turned out to be an animal lover, often helping animals needing extra special attention, like squirrels she found and housed in her garage. Marsha’s giving back goes further than just her community; from music, to health, to animals, she has helped countless organizations.

And like her mother before her, Marsha handed down the idea of helping others to her daughter, Emma. Emma has been volunteering on the fundraising committee for the past year to bring the new SPCA in Stellarton, to life.

“Pets play an important role in our lives,” says Emma. “The SPCA is essential to a community. Not only does it help with emergency and cruelty situations, but adoptions create families and decreases isolation in seniors.”

Emma is a mom to six. Her three children, and her three dogs, Cooper, Max, and Mocha. She grew up having a pet – usually a dog – and has so many fond memories that as an adult, bringing a pet into her home was an easy decision.

“Dogs are great company and I love seeing ours interact with our children. They seem to know to be gentle with them. By coincidence though, all three of them are labs,” laughs Emma. A favourite activity with the dogs is seeing them at the beach playing in the ocean, a perk of living in Pictou County. So, when Emma was asked to join the fundraising committee to bring the community a new SPCA, she says it was an immediate yes.

“I didn’t need to think about it. I am passionate about animals and I know that a new SPCA is very much needed, especially since it will house a veterinary animal hospital.” Emma joined a growing fundraising committee led by Marsha Sobey and Antigonish’s Steve Smith.

Emma did more than join the committee, she jumped in with both feet by hosting a fundraising event. Paws for the Cause was a concert held at the Shoebox Cantina in New Glasgow. The local restaurant donated both the space and the food for the event.

“It was wonderful,” smiles Emma thinking about the event. “I’ve hosted fundraisers before, but not one of this size. This one was very special for me, and I am proud of the way our community came together to make it a success.”

The event was a sell-out. Over the course of the night, bands Kitchen Criminals and Not Like Yesterday, had everyone dancing, while Robyn Alcorn Martin hosted a live auction. Emma is proud to say that a good portion of the money raised, came from the auction, from local businesses.

“Items from the Keltic Quay in Cape Breton, Highland Ford, Chelsea Laine Salon & Colour Bar, D Barker Farms, the SPCA, and more… everyone was eager to help,” says Emma who also donated items from her own business Neezies Inc.

Nova Scotia SPCA representative Creston Rudolph was on hand to speak about the build project and help with on-the-spot donations. In total, over $7,000 was raised.

“I think the event was inspiring for all who connected emotionally to why we were having the event and what the North Nova SPCA will mean for pet owners in our community,” says Emma who already has started planning another event. “The next event will be a comedy night fundraiser, so stay tuned!”

Beyond being an entrepreneur and volunteer fundraiser, Emma has begun to inspire the next generation of her family to continue the tradition of giving back. “I believe that children should learn about and participate in acts of giving. My kids overheard me talking about the new SPCA, and this committee that I am on to raise money, so they started to raise money.”

Emma’s three children have a love of animals themselves and they know that the Nova Scotia SPCA helps pets. Aged nine, seven, and five, with their shared love and desire to help animals, they have started fundraising for the North Nova SPCA.

Years may go by, and trends may come and go, but for this family, generosity and giving, has never gone out of style.


Sarah Lyon

Sarah is the Director of Marketing and Communications with the Nova Scotia SPCA. At home, she parents rescue dog Mz. Roxy Roller and son Lochlan. Telling the stories of adopters, donors, and volunteers is what makes her tail wag. Connect with Sarah at or 902-229-8620 today.