You might say “What’s Women’s Institute?” as today it seems that this great world-wide organization is only vaguely known to many women.
Let’s start with a little history. In the 1890’s most people were unaware of the danger of using unpasteurized milk, which was consumed by rural families, and also delivered to townspeople for their use. In Ontario, Adelaide Hoodless lost an infant son because she did not know the risk but after his death she worked tirelessly to form a movement that she visioned would be an educational influence for rural women.
The first Women’s Institute (WI) was organized in Stoney Creek, Ontario on Feb. 19, 1897 when a group of 100 rural women met under the auspices of the Farmer’s Institute. That meeting was the birth of a vast organization of country women which now is the largest women’s organization in the world.
Soon a motto, “For Home and Country,” was chosen, which has become the world-wide symbol of the WI movement.
In B.C., before 1900, people of all stripes were encouraged to become settlers, though many lacked farming experience and found themselves in isolated areas. Pioneer women were often responsible for unfamiliar tasks, and found the first years isolated, lonely and frustrating. However, word was spreading about the Women’s Institute that had started in Ontario. The organization gave women a reason to get together and the opportunity to learn more about rural homemaking.
When one of the Ontario organizers, Laura Rose, was in B.C. judging at fairs in 1909, she was invited by the government to tour the southern part of the province where she organized the first 15 WIs, which were under the Agriculture Assistance Act. By 1911 a superintendent was named, and four women appointed from four areas to form an advisory board to guide the new W1 body.
The organization grew and spread. The first provincial convention was held in 1925 and WI hasn’t looked back since.
A centennial book published by B.C. Women’s Institutes in 2009 has information on the Grand Forks area:
Sunshine branch was organized in 1930. The membership of this group grew from 16 to 80 in the first year. During the Depression, much attention was offered to needy people: they ran a community chest, made and distributed over 1,800 articles and gave 52 hampers at Christmas.
In 1935 they changed their name to Grand Forks WI: this branch kept up a community room, the equipment of which was at the disposal of the school and some local clubs. Many members also worked for the Red Cross and by 1943 they found they could not support both groups. The WI ceased to function.
Sunshine Junior formed in 1940 by Mrs. A.S. Riley. They had 30 members, specializing in handicrafts and candy making. Disbanded 1943.
Sunshine Valley WI was organized in 1953 by Mrs. Molly Plant, with the first meeting in November. They were the 240th active Institute in B.C. First president was Mrs. Plant with Mrs. John Holmberg as vice. Early meetings were held upstairs in the old firehall. The group were more than a social gathering, they soon becan1e involved in catering, sponsored a Fall Fair Queen candidate, helped with the annual Field Day, and more. An early banquet cost $1.50 per plate.
• Began supporting WI projects of Children’s Hospital and Queen Alexandra Centre
• Entries to WI section of PNE, hosted local annual flower show in August
• Erected service clubs sign at east entrance to city
• Active with entries in the fall fir, and had food booth, both in old Fireman Park
• Five-minute weekly radio programs on CKGF, started by Mollie McArthur of Greenwood,, continued for several years by Jean Johnson
• Sarted craft fair, a tradition for over 15 years
• Wrote letter of support for Dry Grad
• Set up junior aggregate trophy and prize at Grand Forks Fall Fair (still in place)
• Unitarian Service recognition for outstanding support with boxes of gently used clothing,
quilts and homemade soap, spearheaded by Bea Weed
• Presented cookbook to Grade 12 student during Awards Day
• Made gingerbread houses to sell at the Market Place Craft Fair
• Sponsored Youth of the Year recognition
• Hosted Hands Across the Border picnic
• Hosted several workshops on variety of topics from cooking to fitness to finances
• Sponsored Safety at Play poster contest for Grade 4 pupils
• Booth at fall fair
• Hosted several workshops
• Collected toys and donations for victims of December flood at Princeton
• Sunflowers and centennials community quilt stitched to celebrate both WI and city
• Partnered with others to provide two child car seats in transit bus
• Collected clothing/bedding for fire victims at North Thompson area
• Gave children sunflower seeds to grow and enter the blooms in the fall fair
• donation for equipment to Public Health Nurse
• Our WI received funds from fall fair as share of being a “pillar”
• Still going strong. Recent recipient of sizeable funds to put toward a literacy project.
Agreed to offer canning sessions to young mothers. We are also urging the city to provide a sidewalk past Silver Kettle.
Interested women are encouraged to contact Jean at 250-442-3060, and/or come as a guest to a monthly meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Silver Kettle main floor coffee room.