The Stanstead County W.I. – Cel­e­brat­ing a Cen­tury

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Hat­ley

On May 16th, dozens of cars con­verged from all di­rec­tions on the tiny ham­let of Hat­ley, the driv­ers and pas­sen­gers head­ing there to cel­e­brate a re­mark­able mile­stone: the 100th an­niver­sary of the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute. Women’s

In­sti­tute mem­bers from all across the Eastern Town­ships, Austin, Brome, Bury, Kin­n­ear’s Mills, Lennoxville and Rich­mond, and as far away as Que­bec City, came to congratulate their Stanstead County ‘sis­ters’, fill­ing ev­ery seat in St. James Hall, now the town’s Com­mu­nity Cen­tre.

Or­ford MNA Pierre Reid and Lu­cie Le­feb­vre, as­sis­tant to Stanstead/Comp­ton MP Jean Rousseau, were a few of the in­vited guests and, when Hat­ley mayor De­nis Fer­land ar­rived and was told to sit any­where, he got a roar of laugh­ter from the room full of fe­males when he said: “I think I’ll sit with Mr. Reid!” The pres­i­dent-elect of the Fed­er­ated Women’s In­sti­tutes of Canada, Lennoxville’s Linda Hoy, also at­tended along with Sheila Need­ham, Canada Area Pres­i­dent of the ACWW (As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­try Women of the World), Norma Sher­rer, pres­i­dent of the Que­bec Women’s In­sti­tute (QWI), and Judy Page Jones, pres­i­dent-elect of the QWI.

The Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute (SCWI), which now in­cludes the Ayer’s Cliff, Hat­ley Cen­tre and Hat­ley/ Stanstead branches, was founded in 1915, eigh­teen years af­ter Canada’s first Women’s In­sti­tute was started, in On­tario. Some of its founders in­cluded Mrs. W. H. Holmes, of Way’s Mills, Mrs. Ralph Libby, of Ayer’s Cliff, and Miss R. W. Brown, of Smith’s Falls. The mission of all Women’s In­sti­tutes is time­less: “To in­form women so that they may make de­ci­sions which will im­prove the qual­ity of life for them­selves, their fami- lies, their com­mu­ni­ties, and the world”, and has re­mained the same over the years.

Scotty Miller, who has been a mem­ber of the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute for over sixty years, sat at a ta­ble of hon­our along with Lois Cooper, who also joined in the 1950’s. “A long time ago, our In­sti­tute used to or­ga­nize sewing and cooking classes, and med­i­cal clin­ics. We were the first sup­pli­ers of hot lunches to school chil­dren in this area, we spon­sored the school fair, and gave seeds to stu­dents, in­spected their gar­dens, then gave them prizes. The Women’s In­sti­tute was a great com­mu­nity builder,” com­mented Mrs. Miller. “Many of the ac­tiv­i­ties that we started were even­tu­ally taken over by the schools and the towns,” said Mrs. Cooper who learnt how to sew clothes for her en­tire fam­ily with the In­sti­tute’s spe­cial classes, an im­por­tant skill to know sixty years ago in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, when cloth­ing stores were rare. “It was nice to get away from the work at home and the busi­ness, the fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and come to the Women’s In­sti­tute meet­ings; it was a good con­nec­tion. And now I can say that I prob­a­bly know most of the peo­ple here to­day,” added Mrs. Cooper.

How­ever, as Mrs. Miller, in her nineties, said: “Times change.” Although membership in the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute was around one hun­dred at the club’s peak decades ago, and now sits at eigh­teen, the mem­bers are still very ac­tive in the com­mu­nity. “We give out schol­ar­ships to young women ev­ery year, and we take care of a fair ex­hibit and the Tea Room at the Ayer’s Cliff Fair. We also give money to lo­cal el­e­men­tary schools for their li­braries and break­fast pro­grams, and make a float each year for Hat­ley’s Canada Day Pa­rade,” said SCWI mem­ber Phyl­lis Dustin, dressed in pe­riod cos­tume for the oc­ca­sion. Phyl­lis’ hus­band, Melvin Dustin, was the only man help­ing tire­lessly at the event, a for­mer re­cip­i­ent of the Women’s In­sti­tute’s Er­land Lee Award, given ev­ery year to a man who helps a branch of the W.I.

“My grand­mother and my mother both be­longed to the Women’s In­sti­tute. So when my kids were grown, I joined,” said Dyanne Saanum, the pres­i­dent of the SCWI. “When I was five years old my Mom brought me to my first meet­ing and asked if I wanted to help. I said ‘yes’ and she gave me an apron with ducks on it. I still have that apron, and I still like to help peo­ple,” she added.

The hosts of the cel­e­bra­tion en­ter­tained the close to one hun­dred guests rather cre­atively. An orig­i­nal poem, read by two mem­bers dressed as men and im­per­son­at­ing ‘W.I. hus­bands’, was both re­al­is­tic and re­ally funny as they be­moaned the desserts they saw come out of the oven but never tasted, and los­ing the use of their trac­tors dur­ing the hay sea­son when a float was needed for the pa­rade. The poem was fol­lowed by a skit that had a cen­sus taker try­ing to gather in­for­ma­tion dur­ing a Women’s In­sti­tute meet­ing, with hys­ter­i­cal re­sults. “How many chil­dren do you have?” he asked. “We have eleven.” “Can you af­ford them?” “We don’t buy them!” was the en­thu­si­as­tic come­back. The cen­sus taker was soon chased from the meet­ing!

De­li­cious sand­wiches, desserts and a beau­ti­ful cake made by SCWI mem­ber Jean Cass was served af­ter the speeches and com­edy, with live mu­sic pro­vided by The Cast­aways as the snacks were en­joyed with cof­fee and tea, served prop­erly in china cups.

At the end of the event, pres­i­dent Saanum pre­sented a young maple tree to Hat­ley mayor De­nis Fer­land, to be planted on the Hat­ley Com­mons. And if you doubt the im­pact of those seem­ingly in­con­spic­u­ous ges­tures of the Women’s In­sti­tutes, such as pre­sent­ing a com­mu­nity with a tree, just take a good look at the mag­nif­i­cent maples that line and de­fine the Hat­ley Com­mons to­day, planted on June 8th, 1939, by mem­bers of the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute.

If you would like more in­for­ma­tion about the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute, or are in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a mem­ber, call Dyanne Saa­mun at 819 838-5092.

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

SCWI pres­i­dent Dyanne Saanum pre­sent­ing a maple tree to Hat­ley mayor De­nis Fer­land in front of St. James Hall with Or­ford MNA Pierre Reid and Janet McLel­lan to the left and Judy Page

Jones and Phyl­lis Dustin to the right.

Pho­tos Vic­to­ria Vanier

The long­est stand­ing mem­bers of the Stanstead County Women’s In­sti­tute, with more than 120 years be­tween them, are Lois Cooper (left) and Mil­dred (Scotty) Miller, seen here with MP Jean Rousseau’s as­sis­tant, Lu­cie Le­feb­vre.

Seen here at the cut­ting of the 100th an­niver­sary cake are (l. to r.): pres­i­dent-elect FWIC, Linda Hoy; pres­i­dent of the QWI, Norma Sher­rer; SCWI pres­i­dent Dyanne Saanum; and Sheila Need­ham, Canada Area Pres­i­dent of the ACWW.

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