In many communities throughout British Columbia there is a very special bond between the community and the Women’s Institute that functions there.
In the early years this developed as the centres expanded to offer the services all communities need: libraries, better health services, community halls, and the fun and friendship that was part of the process of achieving these things.
In 1915 a fruit shipping department was organized by Summerland Women’s Institute. Beginning with an exchange of butter and cheese products with prairie Homemakers Clubs, it soon moved on to cash sales for fresh fruits. Price lists were published and a manager appointed. This operation continued until BC Tree Fruits was organized in 1923.
One early example was in the Peace River District, where, after local residents had banded together to found the Credit Union that continues to serve the Dawson Creek area, the successful Lakeview Credit Union wished to find a way to thank the community for their support. In time, a working relationship developed between the financial organization and the West Saskatoon Women’s Institute. The Credit Union would sponsor the event, handle promotion, and the women would organize, cook and serve a full Thanksgiving type evening meal. The revenue from the event was designated for the West Saskatoon Women’s Institute’s coffers. So what did the women do? They then utilized this money to provide a Christmas Party for the local community, with a visit from Santa who brought gifts for all the community children up to 12 years of age. This continued for many years!
The same type of cooperation has led to the establishment of Seniors Residences such as Glacier Lodge in the Courtney-Comox area and also in Salmon Arm. In the early years, Salmon Arm WI suggested a General Clean Up Day – the Mayor proclaimed a Civic Holiday and and requested citizens turn out with picks and shovels to improve the streets, the ladies provided refreshments and later set out waste paper cans throughout the town.”
Starting in 1948, Baldonnel Women’s Institute, south and east of Fort St. John, served as stewards of a seven acre parcel of land. A 1976 motion named this land “The Colpitts Memorial Sports Ground,” in memory of W. Colpitts who had donated it for ball games and sports days. The WI paid to have the land fenced, and a ball diamond fenced; as well, they purchased playground equipment, ball team uniforms, softball equipment and trophies. They paid membership fees to the BC Parks and Recreation Association in order to have liability insurance on the grounds.
In the decade 1999 – 2008, Quick WI supported activities in their communities by fundraising for such projects as the building of a new Telkwa Seniors Hall; to the Round Lake Hall Flush Fund in aid of proper washrooms and to the Smithers Christmas Hamper Fund as well as the local food bank. There were also environmental letter writing campaigns opposing genetically engineered foods and seeds.
These are but a few of the stories of Women’s Institutes and their communities. Wherever a WI has functioned for a period of time, there will be some record of local projects that echo what is recorded here. Well done ladies, and may there be many more such stories!
Yours For Home and Country, Ruth Fenner, BCWI Provincial Historian.
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