Many of us are travelling in Canada these years. With the news coverage of trials and tribulations in places we may wish to visit, along with the concerns about air travel, the attractions of our own country which we may not have yet visited become far more attractive!
Two such sites are the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead at St. George, and the Erland Lee Home and Museum at Stoney Creek, both in Ontario. Both are related to the founding of the Women’s Institute movement in Canada. Since that time, in 1897, the organization has spread around the world.
Adelaide Hunter Hoodless was the driving force behind the idea, and Erland Lee arranged for her exposure to women who were not only interested, but ready to join!
Since that time, local Federated Ontario Women’ Institute members have been active in acquiring and refurbishing the Erland Lee Museum Home.; and the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada have done the same with the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead. Members from across Canada have assisted, monetarily, and sometimes with donations of suitable historic items, to the maintenance and restoration of “The Willows” the home where Mrs. Hoodless was raised. The homes are both furnished with items from the era when Mrs. Hoodless and Mr. Lee lived there.
While I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Erland Lee Home, I have toured the Adelaide Hoodless Homestead and it is well worth the effort to travel there and take a step back in time to when Mrs. Hoodless was active.
Mrs. Hoodless was held in high regard in educational circles: she was the founder of the Ontario School of Domestic Arts, and he obtained the means which which Macdonald Institute at Guelph was erected. She was appointed by the International Congress of Women to the post of Chairman of the Technical Education Committee; for several years she was acted in an advisory capacity to the Department of Education of Ontario.
In the meantime, Mr. Lee was not idle. He first trained as a teacher, then in 1885 he obtained a certificate in Agriculture from the Agriculture and Arts Association of Ontario. He was a Charter member of the Farmer’s Institute, and secretary for nineteen years.
Erland Lee was a prominent, public-spirited, broadminded farmer and followed his ancestors in mixed farming with purebred Jersey cattle, fancy dairy butter, maple syrup and fruit. His wife, Janet, was also a teacher and was chosen by the city of Hamilton to take a special course in Toronto, then to return to Hamilton to help set up a kindergarten system.
So, when these three activists joined forces in 1897, the world soon had the first Women’s Institute in the world! The spread of this idea has been phenominal! Women’s Institutes, and a host of other women’s organizations with a similar focus, now abound on six continents, and their efforts in women-to-women self-help projects has changed the lives of millions of families in al corners of the globe.
So, if you are looking for a Canadian success story, and more information about the people behind it, try touring the Erland Lee Museum and Home as well as the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead in Ontario!
Ruth Fenner, Provincial Historian, British Columbia Women’s Institute.
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