As the church bells rang out on September 11 after the 11 a.m. service at St. James Anglican church in Ormstown, the crowd slowly filed out of the church and made its way towards the back of the old Sunday school building. It was soon joined by many other members of the community. This gathering was to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Women’s Institute, and members across the country celebrated by planting trees to mark this important milestone. A retired local member, Eunice Hicks, remarked, “It goes to show you the dedication of all those women over the years.”
In 1897 the Women’s Institute founder, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, assembled the wives of members of the Farmers’ Institute in Saltfleet (now Stoney Creek), Ontario. The women met to discuss how to educate and organize women about food safety, homecare, and domestic science. Their goals were not only for Canada, but for the world. Hoodless, a young mother at the time, was grieving the loss of her 14-month-old son who died due to Tuberculosis bacterium in unpasteurized milk. It is poignant that the efforts of the Women’s Institute led to the mandated pasteurization of milk in 1938.
Over the years, the organization expanded into 70 countries around the world. Today it has nine million members. The W.I. has been instrumental in helping accomplish many goals, from supporting hospitals and nursing homes to implementing literacy projects.
The mayor of Ormstown, Christine McAleer, joined the W.I. regional county president for Chateauguay and Huntingdon, Linda Janes, and the vice-president, Ruth Chalifoux, in welcoming those assembled at the celebration. W.I members from four branches were in attendance: Riverfield, Howick, Hemmingford, and the largest branch in the province, Dewittville. There were speeches made by McAleer and Janes. Chalifoux translated for all present. Claire Isabelle, MNA for the Huntingdon riding, and Claude DeBellefeuille, Member of Parliament for Salaberry, were unable to be there but had presented the W.I. with certificates of merit, which were recited to those in attendance. It was noted that Isabelle had been instrumental in enabling the W.I. to officially recognize its Quebec provincial tartan.
The tartan was worn by many W.I. members as vests and sashes, and Janes wore a tartan jacket that she had sewn. Janes had also sewn a sash for Mayor McAleer, which the latter wore proudly. Chalifoux wore the tartan vest her late sister had sewn and left to her. “I am doubly proud,” she said about wearing it to the ceremony.
Mayor McAleer was thanked for her donation of the red oak tree that had been planted to mark the anniversary. She also paid for the brunch that was served. B. Brunet Monuments of Ormstown donated the commentative stone that stands at the foot of the tree, and Isabelle had donated money for the engraving of the inscription. Lastly, St. James Anglican Church was thanked for donating the land where the tree has been planted. The congregation provided the dessert for the celebration.
Photos were taken and then ladies of the W.I. gathered around the buffet table while some took a tour of St James church to admire the stained-glass windows. The crowd of 40 enjoyed the sunshine and chatted against the backdrop of the large banner which proudly displayed the W.I.’s motto, For Home and Country.” Hicks observed, “Women have always been steadfast in this community.”