By Kirk Starratt
They’ve worked silently and without fanfare for a century to help improve their community, province and country - and show no signs of slowing down.
The Women’s Institute of Port Williams celebrates their 100th anniversary in 2013 and the organization is as active as ever when it comes to working “for home and country.” The organization also celebrates its centennial anniversary at the provincial level this year.
President Liz Johnson said the women’s institute has evolved over time, but they still work for the betterment of their community, province and country.
“I joined as a farm wife with small children,” Johnson recalls.
She wanted to get out and socialize with other women in her community. Johnson said she learned many practical skills involving various crafts and a lot about the importance of women in society.
“We could make a difference and we have made a difference, and that’s exciting,” Johnson said.
It was primarily a farmwomen’s organization at one time, and although it still is to a certain extent, there aren’t as many farmwomen today. However, the members still work silently and without fanfare on many projects aimed at improving safety and quality of life. They also do a lot of cooking and traditional crafts, as they don’t want these skills and art forms to be lost.
“It’s amazing how it has changed through the years,” Johnson said.
She said they also do a lot of work involving health, with this year’s theme focusing on heart health.
Helping on a larger scale
Women’s institutes exist on the community, provincial, national and international level. Johnson said examples of changes they worked successfully to implement at the provincial level to improve safety were the painting of yellow centre lines on roads and the use of reflective hazard triangles for farm tractors.
Presently, for example, to help improve safety, the women’s institute is working at the province level to have legislation amended so people walking or cycling along roads would be required to wear reflective clothing.
Ruth Blenkhorn is a member of the Port Williams group and is past-national president of the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada. She thinks one reason why the organization has evolved and stood the test of time is that they do what is needed. They identify need and take action. The organization is non-political and non-denominational. It’s a fellowship and life-long education for members.
“We work with whatever government is in power and we work with other organizations as well,” Blenkhorn said. “We learn good life skills.”
They share what they learn and support their community, improving the quality of life for all.
The Port Williams group currently has about 20 members. Blenkhorn said life circumstances sometime take members away for a while, but it seems they always return.
The Women’s Institute movement started in Ontario in 1897. It came to Nova Scotia in 1913 and the Port Williams organization was one of the first established.
It was a Canadian woman who took the concept to England and began the movement there. Now the Women’s Institute is in more than 70 countries and has more than 9 million members worldwide.
Blenkhorn has attended four world conferences, in Canada, Australia, Finland and the United States. There have been three provincial presidents and two national presidents from the Women’s Institute of Port Williams and a woman from Nova Scotia served two terms as the president of the world organization.
Women’s Institute of Port Williams meetings are held in the multi purpose room at the Port Williams Community Centre on the second Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. New members are welcome. For more information, contact president Liz Johnson at 542-5314.
This year, the Women’s Institute of Port Williams began its 100th anniversary celebrations in January. In March, they’ll be presenting Life Memberships and, in April, they’ll be hosting a dessert party to pick an Apple Blossom Festival Princess for Port Williams.
The annual general meeting will take place in May and the potluck supper and fun night happens in June.
The provincial general meeting happens in July and they’ll be holding a garden party in August. October is Friendship Month and they’ll be holding a quilt raffle draw. The 100th anniversary banquet happens in November and there will be a Christmas party in December.
Did you know?
Presently, the Women’s Institute of Port Williams supports the Adopt a Highway Project (since 1994); a farm safety workshop for children; the Apple Blossom Princess Dessert Party; the flag pole at the community centre; maintenance of the Planters Cairn; a tree they planted at the community park; visiting shut-ins on Valentine’s Day with flowers; providing treats for kids at Christmas; a music festival; education scholarships; 4H groups; Safe Graduation programs; Chrysalis House; Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and much more.
In the past, the Women’s Institute of Port Williams supported the Red Cross during the first and second World Wars; the Kindred society with Brownies and Girl Guides; a fund to support a room at the Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre; clothing for refugees after the Second World War; school exhibitions; the adoption of a British family (1947-1950); assistance with work at the Fox Hill Cemetery; Sunshine Boxes for the sick and shut-ins; gift boxes for children following the Springhill Mine disaster of 1958; street signs for the Village as part of a 1967 Canadian centennial project; published “The Port Remembers”; planted a maple tree at the post office; erected a Cairn in memory of New England Planters and much more.