Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

The New Brant Women’s Institute

arlingtonA week ago, Kate Belair and I had our Women’s Institute Information Open House at the Arlington Hotel. It was a huge success with much excitement and delighted feedback.

Especially from the women at the provincial head office who came to offer support. Kate and I met with them for dinner ahead of the meeting. dinner“How are you doing?” I asked Kate. “Nervous,” she said. “What if no one comes?” I shared her worry. It was a bitterly cold night. Threats of snow squalls. Who would want to be out on a night like that?

Almost 100 women, as it turned out. Doors opened at 7:00 and the women were lined up already. So many, in fact, we had to ask the gals who were already WI to meet elsewhere in the hotel to free up space.

Survey saysWe held the meeting in “Hiram’s Tavern”, the cellar bar of the hotel. It is a period pub, with coarsely plastered walls, wooden beams and sturdy walnut tables and benches. Kate and I and our volunteers (bless them!) set up while the visitors enjoyed their drinks.

Kate started the event by taking roll call. She named the names of a dozen women or so. These familiar local names were those of the charter members who formed the first Paris WI in 1905. As she called out Mrs. George Guthrie, Miss Lottie Deans, and so on, a hush fell on the room. It was almost reverent.

Paris WI 1905 Picnic at Grand Valley Park with St George and Moyle & Tranquility WI members

Paris WI 1905 Picnic at Grand Valley Park with St George and Moyle & Tranquility WI members

Both Kate and I spoke about how we came to learn about and admire the Women’s Institute. Then I put my PowerPoint presentation skills to the test. Yeah, still some work needed there, but Kate helped me get through it. Besides, the audience was a kind and forgiving bunch.

The group learned about the organization. Who, what, and why. In a nutshell – the “who” is “you” and the “what” is anything you want it to be. Arts, gardens, food, health, family, the environment, the community. The WI is an inclusive bunch – all ages, all interests, and “all shoe sizes.”

Who is WI

Why WI? It is an established, non-profit organization with the force of 9000 women in Canada and hundreds of thousands globally. The Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) is the global network of women’s groups. We even have connections with the UN.

We are known historically as “hobbyists and lobbyists” Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, one of the co-founders of the WI, lobbied for pasteurized milk after she learned that poor industrial hygiene was the cause of her infant son’s death. More recently, WI’s have been the motivating force behind reduced speeds in school zones and nutritious food choices in school cafeterias. The Niagara WI’s saw a need for a university in their area so they lobbied for one. Brock University is the result.


I said to the audience, “In the UK, there are over 220,000 members and there are new branches starting up every day. The movement is huge over there. I want some of that.”

My Sister's ClosetIn other business, Dana Gignac spoke about our first fund-raising event. We will be holding an accessory swap March 28 at the T.B. Costain Community Center in Brantford. We collected two hampers of non-perishable food items for the “Northern Neighbours Program” and we had a couple of craft tables set up, too. It was our intention that the women would try their hand at a Valentines fortune cookie during the final thirty minutes of the evening. As it turned out, our guests were too excited to focus on crafts. The place was a-buzz with women talking and sharing ideas.

The excitement carried over next day on our group’s Facebook page. Already 40 women have RSVP’d for the March 12th meeting.

I think we’re on to something. Something BIG!

Special thanks: 

It was an incredible night. The reason was two-fold: an overwhelming response from the public which was met by the outstanding service of the staff at the Arlington. The gallery below is composed mainly of images courtesy of Sara Naim, FWIC’s Craft Advisor. You can see more of her work on her blog Kisstorta


Categories: In Other News

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63 replies

  1. Reblogged this on The Federation of Women's Institutes of Canada and commented:

    Here’s a blog post I wrote about our Information Open House for our new WI. Lot’s of images, including one from the first Paris WI in 1905.


  2. All this is what’s been keeping you out of the blogging eye, I’m sure, Maggie – and I’m FULL of admiration ! That last bit of artwork is wonderful, and explains every bit of your enthusiasm. If I were up there, I’d join in like a shot !
    Well done you ! – it must be super to feel part of such a body.


  3. Maggie – I’m happy for you; proud of you and oh so grateful ‘we’ (globally) have women like you. It is so touching that you read the founders’ names, and brought that connection to your attendees. It was also encouraging to see women from varied ages and, most likely, backgrounds, especially on a night when weather could have interfered. All your hard work paid off!


  4. How exciting Maggie!! Now I know why you crashed into an inert state this week … the after-effect of a huge SUCCESSFUL event! 🙂
    A hundred women at your inaugural event? … that’s a grand slam home run!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. Just wow. We don’t have anything like this around me, and I’m envious. I can live vicariously through you however and I can miss you.


    • Hi Stephanie!

      When I’ve been researching the movement, it seems to be centered in Commonwealth countries – the UK, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand. I think something similar in the US would be a sorority, but that most often requires an affiliation with an educational institute.

      I will do my best to make your vicarious experience as enjoyable as possible! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Complimenti, avete tanto entusiasmo e questo è di grande aiuto per raggiungere delle mete!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love hearing about empowered women taking action and effecting change, and it’s exciting that you are spearheading a chapter involved with that. Great work, Maggie!


  8. Congratulations on the success of the event! It sounds like it was fun too.


  9. Everybody had fun and good time, you can see it in their eyes and in their faces. Well done Maggie!


  10. Sounds like a rousing success! I expected no less–good on you, Maggie!! So proud.


  11. I love that Margaret Mead quote and your happy photos, too!


  12. Maggie, what a wonderful post! I shall send it on to one of my close friends who is involved in the CWA, country women’s association in Australia. I think they have a similar ethos. Come to think of it, I’ll send it onto my son in law’s mum, who lives in Manitoba!! Well done and congratulations on your presentation!


  13. And I quote: “It all has happened so easily, and with very little maneuvering on my part. As if I’m being carried along.” The Brilliant always make things look easy. That would be you 🙂 Kudos and may the wave continue!


  14. I suspect you got such an outstanding attendance BECAUSE of the cold night. What an absolutely wonderful enterprise you’re involved in, Maggie. Kudos to all involved. And my husband thanks the WI, too. He’s a Brock alumnus.


  15. Great read, Maggie. For anyone in the U.S., there is a (somewhat) similar organization here, founded in 1931 for women as a “What to Read ” club. It evolved into a social, cultural and service group, not affiliated with any academia. Beta Sigma Phi. Lots of info online. Thanks for your commitment. Van


  16. This is so inspiring! Thanks so much for posting this, Maggie. Hopefully, others will soon follow in your footsteps.


  17. Great to get a bit of background. Inspirational


  18. PHEW! Always a scary moment when you’ve done all that preparation and you wonder if anyone will turn up. Looks like it was a wonderful event!
    So when are you doing the calendar? Isn’t that what WIs do? You know, calendars. [nudge nudge wink wink say no more]


  19. Maggie, this is wonderful! It sounds like such a fun, creative, service-oriented organization, and how wonderful that the interest level and attendance were both so great! That is exciting! Thanks for sharing!



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