The arrival of the Women’s Institutes marked the beginning of a social movement in British Columbia. Isolated women on the frontier found a home and companionship in membership.
“As the women met and planned community events, they grew to know one another. Cooking and homemaking ideas were exchanged, and hidden theatrical and musical talents came to life through various outlets,” 100 Years, B.C. Women’s Institutes 1909-2009.
With a pioneering spirit, they took up the mission to fill the gaps of an austere land with community and fellowship.
Exploring more than domestic science and the agricultural arts, they improved education, living conditions, and healthcare in their communities. In addition, they worked as activists for women’s rights, social justice, and social reform, all while providing entertainment for settlers.
“Card parties, musical evenings, bazaars, flower shows, lectures, and exhibits of handiwork brought about a greater sense of togetherness. Competitions in growing flowers, vegetables, and small fruits enhanced their agricultural capabilities and expanded the variety of foods and flowers available to the settlers”, 100 Years, B.C. Women’s Institutes 1909-2009.
Below is the inscription that lies on a Bronze Plaque in Stoney Creek, Ontario, dedicated to the WI
The world’s first Women’s Institute was organized at Squire’s Hall, Stoney Creek, in 1897. Erland Lee, a founder of the Farmer’s Institute, arranged the meeting assisted by his wife. About 100 Women from the Saltfleet district attended and were persuaded by Mrs. Adelaide Hoodless to form an organization to improve their skills in the art of homemaking and child care.
Here, in the Lee home, Mr. Lee subsequently helped draft the new society’s constitution. Mrs. E.D. Smit of Winona became the first president of the Mother Institute. The Women’s Institutes went on to become a worldwide organization.
– 100 Years, B.C. Women’s Institutes 1909-2009
The first Women’s Institute in British Columbia was founded at Gordon Head on Vancouver Island on September 28, 1909. Annie E. Somers, Secretary, recorded the minutes of Gordon Head WI’s first meeting:
October 15, 1909
The first regular meeting of the Gordon Head Women’s Institute was held in the Hall, on the afternoon of the above date, at 3 o’clock; fifteen ladies were present, twelve of whom were enrolled as members.
President Mrs. Watson opened the meeting with a few remarks regarding the object of the Institute. Enrollment of members then took place. It was decided to hold the meetings in the Hall on the second Friday of each month, meetings to commence at three o’clock.
It was also decided not to have refreshments. Instead, the following program was arranged for the next meeting – Bread Recipe by Mrs. Holmes; Recipe for Xmas Pudding, Mrs. Evans; Paper on Xmas Gifts and Giving by Mrs. Smith. The meeting then closed with the national anthem.
Early records of Colwood WI showed that hostesses at meetings often brought their silver tea service, fancy sandwiches, and hand-dipped chocolates for tea.100 years of B.C. Women’s Institutes 1909-2009
Adoption of the motto, ‘For Home and Country’
In 1911, groups worked from Cranbrook to Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Okanagan, and the Kootenays. A four-member Advisory Board oversaw the entire operation.
Appointed by the Department of Agriculture, the first board was composed of Mrs. W.V. Davies of Chilliwack, Mrs. R.L. Lipsett of Summerland, Mrs. J.F. Kilby of Nelson, and Mrs. Alfred Watt Metchosin.
Among the decisions made at the first meetings, August 14 and 15, 1911, was the adoption of the motto “For Home and Country,” – the group also created a badge with the motto using the colours green, gold, and white, during this occasion.
Green was chosen as the primary colour for the badge to complement British Columbia, also known as the Evergreen Province.