A modern day salute to the Women’s Institute is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Laurie Gourlay, Nick Longo, as well as the magazines Take 5 and Island Woman. We thank them for their cooperation.Ruth Fenner, BC Women’s Institute Provincial Historian
“The history of Canada was built upon women working with community and civil groups…”Janice Grinnell, Cedar Women’s Institute
“Women of Conscience United
In awe, and honoured to be in their presence, Jackie and I attended the South Vancouver Island Women’s Institute AGM, and celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Cedar Women’s Institute.
That old adage of ‘talk softly and carry a big stick’ came to mind with these women. Check out their website and see for yourself – and be prepared to be impressed (www.svanciswomensinstitute.bc.ca/). The list of current projects connects the dots, each one an example of meaningful and heartfelt contributions to the betterment of humankind, spanning local to global initiatives.
The WI movement began in Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897 with Adelaide Hoodless addressing a meeting for the wives of members of the Farmers’ Institute. Today, linked through the Associated Country Women of the World to other WI’s worldwide, with a membership of nine million in over 70 countries, they are an impressive movement.
Far-sighted, practical and principled angels by anybody’s standards, these women live their values, speak up when they see things aren’t right, and stand up together to make things better. Step by step the Women’s Institutes have been taking on projects that make all our lives and communities a better, safer and healthier place to live.
And they’re modest about it all. No swagger here, though they’d be entitled given their long record of accomplishments. Raising a hundred bucks here and there through sales at the Farmer’s Market, and maybe another $500.00 at a community dinner or dance, the big question at the next meeting is – who will they give it to? Where’s the money going to do the most to help the needy, the sick and poor, the children and families, the elderly who find themselves without the means to go on?
And they pool their pennies and bank accounts to meet what many of us might turn from as being too daunting a challenge – helping in the founding and ongoing needs of the British Columbia Children’s Hospital for example. Or, supporting the development of BC’s Provincial Park system in the 30′s. Or shipping tons of home-made goods to the front lines during WWII, while donating food and clothing to the war-weary in Europe.
In Cedar, back in the 20’s, the Women’s Institute built the Cedar Community Hall – a place where the community and organizations could get together, and where many a hoot and holler Saturday night dance has been held. They work with the 4H Club, remember the history and families who have helped farm the land since the early days, and have dedicated themselves to the well-being of this region, and the world.
Concerned about protecting freshwater in Canada and around the world, the British Columbia Women’s Institute have been addressing global warming, excessive industrial use of potable water, and world growth by donating to a fund called ‘Clean Water For All’ through the Associated Country Women of the World.
The Queen, the United Nations, and just about every reputable organization interested in the betterment of the human condition have given the nod to this refined activist establishment of rural and urban women.
In short, the Women of the Women’s Institutes embody and exemplify all that we hope and strive for as a society. These women are the living examples of what we aspire to be. With quiet humility and dignity, and goals clearly in sight, they take measured steps to address the problems and challenges often forgotten in our busy lives – putting the building blocks of our nations into a bigger picture that embraces all the good in the world.
And here at home in BC … have they addressed oil tankers off the west coast of Canada, had things to say about flooding farmland for the Site C Dam, Free Trade or food safety? Why not ask them?
The Cedar Women’s Institute have a booth in the Cedar Farmer’s Market every Sunday, and I’m absolutely certain that Janice Grinnell and company would be happy to talk with you! Or better yet, perhaps lend you a copy of a book on the history of the VI WI. It’s an exceptional read, but be prepared to be inspired and proud, for we’re incredibly fortunate to be living in the same community and Island as these wise women of the world.Laurie Gourlay, May 26, 2014
Laurie Gourlay has worked with environmental groups for thirty-odd years, and was honoured to speak to the Women’s Institutes in Cedar about VI’s Food and Water Security. With life-partner Jackie Moad, he looks forward to some darn good bed-time reading of the BCWI’s Centennial Commemorative History Book – seeking local solutions to global challenges with the leaders of the women’s movement!
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