Women’s Institutes

If the Women’s Institutes of Canada have done nothing else to justify their existence than compiling the Tweedsmuir Histories, they have earned a place of honour, in this country. To mind, the real history of the rural areas of Canada is noted down in these works.

History, as written by the professional historians, can be deadly stuffy and full of dates and places, that never bring out the human interest.

And what is history, really, other than a great number of human experiences by the people who were actually in the scene and experienced them? The contributions to the history of Canada by the Tweedsmuir histories has been acknowledged in a tangible form. I hope some day some official recognition of them will be given.

The 1967 Centennial celebrations proved a great inspiration for noting down history in the form of family stories. Women’s Institutes all over the country and these stories compiled and bound into book form I have had a chance to read a goodly number, of these local histories, and they had added to my knowledge of rural areas.  It is essential to know the pioneer antecedents of people before you really get right down to understand them. The Tweedsmuir books written by the local Women’s Institute  branches have done this remarkably well.

It is at the risk of being charged with discrimination and Prejudice, that I single out one of these histories. It was prepared by the Cereal Women’s Institute in Alberta.  Cereal is a small hamlet of only about 150 souls, 180 miles east of Calgary, but it still has a dynamic Women’s Institute there.  Its Tweedsmuir history book was a top-notch effort, with large legible type,  illustrated and containing many well written and edited stories of the origins and the progress of agriculture in the community.

Once again this book demonstrated quite clearly that all human endeavours have their genesis  in the rural areas – and it has been left to the women to record, or the rural areas lead the way. There have been many suggestions of how the people in the rural areas suffer, at the hand of our education system. But I am going to tell you that efforts like the publication of Down Memory’s Trails, by the Cereal Women’s Institute has been put together by educated people and will be read and re-read by educators, historians, scholars, sociologists, researchers and economists 100 years from now. As a reference book on the history of the area, it is without doubt the best there is. The efforts of the Cereal WI have been repeated hundreds of times over throughout the nation.

As an amateur historian who has made a study of certain aspects of history in Southern Alberta and the Canadian North, I really appreciate being able to find reference material like this in the libraries and other places where research is carried on.

It is works like these that keep the Women’s Institutes together. Over the years we have seem many of the smaller communities in Canada wither and die. Canada is poorer for the ones who have gone out of existence. As long as there are community-spirited groups like the Women’s Institutes in Cereal which exert a unifying force on the community, the community is given the hope of remaining visible in the Canadian fabric.

John Schmidt, Calgary Herald

The above article was transcribed from the Federated News, Spring 1971 issue, page 6, August 8, 2018

The Federated News is the Newsletter of  WI Canada  aka Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada


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One Response to Women’s Institutes

  1. Norma Tilgner says:

    Hi again Ruth,

    While I was on a trip to Ontario I stopped into the public Library in Lucan, to fill a few hours I picked up a “Tweedsmuir” scrapbook done by the Women’s Institute in the area. I was a new BCWI member at the time and had no Knowledge of the Tweedsmuir Projects, but became quickly involved in acquainting myself with the issues of the time and following the various institute members through their meetings. It was so informative about community development, and fun to learn about the original families , the” movers and shakers” that I returned to the library a second day to finish reading what I had started.
    I’m so glad that some communities value their histories and keep special collections like these in stacks available to the public.
    Thanks for sharing the Spring 1971 Issue of the Federated News.

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