GORDON—The Gordon Hall was packed this past Monday for the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the Women’s Institutes (WI) of Ontario. The celebration was hosted by the Gordon Women’s Institute and included 53 members of the two WI’s on Manitoulin Island, Gordon and Big Lake and many members of past women’s institutes throughout the Island.
After the singing of our national anthem, ‘Oh Canada,’ all those in attendance took part in the WI grace.
“Good afternoon ladies; thank you for coming to share in our celebration of 120 years of Women’s Institutes in Ontario,” stated Melody Hore. “The Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario is a 120 year-old not for profit charitable organization worldwide. Our motto is for home and country. FWIO was founded by Adelaide Hoodless in 1897 after her baby died from drinking impure milk. Erland Lee along with his wife Janet encouraged women of Stoney Creek to attend a ladies’ night meeting held by the Farmer’s Institute of Stoney Creek. Adelaide was passionate for advocacy and an educational movement for women and spent her lifetime accomplishing profound, unmeasurable tasks to the benefit of everyone then and all of us today.”
“These were the beginnings of the WI; when 101 women came to listen,” said Ms. Hore. “The initial purpose was to improve the conditions for rural women through the promotion of domestic science education. This was soon expanded to include self-improvement, government lobbying and community betterment-causes which still remain strong. There are over 300 branches across our province.”
Tweedsmuir history books capture and preserve local history, noted Ms. Hore. “Tweedsmuirs are comprised of a variety of information and include local W.I. branches, early settlers, agriculture practices and industries, social and public buildings such as churches and schools and local personalities such as veterans.”
“WI did a lot of knitting socks, toques, vests etc. for those at war as well as sending boxes of candy, cookies and fruit,” said Ms. Hore. “Our Gordon branch has a marker at the cemetery with names of the veterans of the First World War,” said Ms. Hore.
The WI grew by leaps and bounds and FWIC was organized to coordinate the work of various provincial organizations. “There are 10,000 members across Canada. FWIC was organized so that rural women could speak as one voice for needed reforms,” continued Ms. Hore. “WI advocacy has lobbied for traffic to stop for school buses, mandatory use of breathalyzer blood tests to determine sobriety, listing of antidotes on all products containing toxic ingredients, reflective paint or imbedded markers on the centre lines of highways, pasteurization of milk, the wrapping of bread and many more.”
The WI’s ongoing advocacy includes the issue on the lack of knowledge of human nutrition cooking skills and wellness practices; lack of veterinarians to care for large animals in rural areas of Northern Ontario; lack of locally produced and processed chicken in Northern Ontario, and we are still advocating against the consumption of raw milk, she said.
Ms. Hore noted, “in the early years of WI on Manitoulin there were at least 30 branches. The ladies would meet on an afternoon, bringing along their children. Transportation would be horse and buggy or cutter. They did a lot of knitting and packaging during the wars.”
“We now have two branches. Big Lake, which was formed in 1906, is a very hard working group that sews and knits for Canada Comforts,” continued Ms. Hore. “They make wash cloths, blankets, shorts, dresses, teddy bears and more. After these items are boxed Manitoulin Transport takes them to British Columbia free of charge. The much needed items are sent around the world to destinations of great need. Friends and neighbours donate material and other needed items as well.”
“Our Gordon branch was formed in 1910 and we also have a very industrious group,” explained Ms. Hore. “We fundraise by hostessing community suppers, serve lunch after memorial services, have a branch auction in the fall of garden produce and, this year, a pancake breakfast. We donate to our local library, medical centre, high school bursary, fire victims, give Christmas baking to the sick and shut-ins, send greeting cards for sympathy, get well wishes etc.”
“Our first Gordon WI meeting in 1910 was held under an apple tree at the airport corner,” said Ms. Hore. “The lunch was homemade bread and butter and the hostess carried the loaf under her arm and sliced it to each as she walked about while someone else followed with the butter. The minutes from this meeting are included in our Tweedsmuir Minutes, a WI ode, Mary Stewart Collect and WI Grace.”
Reading from the December 1983 edition of Through the Years Ms. Hore noted, “‘For Home and Country’ is the motto of the Women’s Institute and the different branches on our Island have justified their claim to this motto. The Women’s Institute was first introduced on the Manitoulin in the year 1905, by Miss Blanche Maddock. We have now in Eastern Manitoulin seven branches with a membership of one hundred and eighteen and in West Manitoulin six branches, with 117 members, making a total membership on the Island of 235. Now we have two branches, the Gordon WI with 11 members and three associate members and the Big Lake WI with 13 members.”
Among the many WI books, pictures etcetera on display in the hall was the Gordon WI 75th anniversary Tweedsmuir history. As well, Ms. Hore noted that there was information on display that showed that Cockburn Island also had a branch of the WI at one time.
A lovely lunch was provided for all those in attendance, and included a beautiful WI 120th anniversary cake prepared by Christine McCartney.