“Alfred Watt Road is in the vicinity of Metchosin, but who was Alfred Watt? He was Dr. Alfred Watt and was stationed at William Head as chief medical officer, Superintendent of Quarantine, for British Columbia. But though Watt was well known and held in high regard, it was his wife who was truly renowned.
Mrs. Watt was born Margaret Robertson of Scottish Canadian stock on June 5, 1868, in Collingwood, Ontario. Few women of that era attended university but “Madge” Robertson received both a BA and an MA. degree from the University of Toronto. Following her graduation with honors, this talented woman wrote for a newspaper in New York and wrote and sold stories, articles and poems to a large number of publications.
Pictures show her as an attractive, smiling lady, She captured the affection of Alfred Watt and the couple were married in 1894. The Watts moved to Metchosin in 1897.
Mrs. Watt gave unstintingly of her time and talents organizing Women’s Institutes up to 1911. Among the offices she held was that of secretary to the Advisory Board of Women’s Institutes. She was also a member of the University of British Columbia Senate.
Somehow Mrs. Watt found time to write for pamphlets and journals, and also become president of the Vancouver Island Women’s Press Association. Despite her many outside activities, she was a fond mother to her two young sons, Robin and Sholto.
The family circle was broken, however, when Dr. Watt died in 1913. Mrs. Watt then took her two sons and went to live in England. She was just as active there as she had been in Canada. In fact she founded the first Women’s Institutes in Britain. Queen Mary expressed interest and Mrs. Watt met with her at Buckingham Palace. The Queen became honourary president and the King later honoured Mrs. Watt by making her a member of the Order of the British Empire, primarily for the increase of food production by the Women’s Institutes during World War 1.
Mrs. Watt, who had always had a prodigious amount of energy, went on to organize the Associated Countrywomen of the World, which gave an international basis to Women’s Institutes and similar organizations. In her office as President of ACWW, she traveled to many countries. Meetings of the organization were held in Vienna, Stockholm, Washington, London and Amsterdam. Conferences took place in Paris, Brussels and Rome. Mrs. Watt traveled right around the world in 1936 – 1937 and returned to Victoria on a number of occasions. Her achievements were not only recognized in Canada and Britain, but also in France and Belgium. Both these latter countries awarded her the Agricultural Order of Merit.
In July, 1934 “The Countrywoman” lauded her efforts and stated that owing to her organization of the ACWW “the golden thread of friendly cooperation have been carried around the world … A sure foundation has been laid on which to build up in the rural homes of the world, a well-informed public opinion in favour of peace and goodwill among nations.”
Mrs. Watt had come a long way from the young wife in her 20’s who came to live at William Head, and had joined the Women’s Institute at Metchosin many years before. She was now a figure of international prominence.
The golden jubilee of the founding of Women’s Institutes came in 1947 – the first in Canada was at Stoney Creek, Ontario. Of the WI’s humble beginnings, Mrs. Watt said:
“That Institute started the Institutes all over the world and from that day on Canada has taken a great part – and has helped other countries start Women’s Institutes.”
A photograph taken that year shows a gracious, smiling older woman at a suite in the Empress Hotel tending a tiny indoor garden, a special hobby of hers.
The following year Mrs. Watt died in Montreal at the age of 80, survived by her sons. We remember Mrs. Watt, as well as her husband, in the naming of Alfred Watt Road.”
SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
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