The biggest country club in Canada
For 95,000 rural women the Women's Institute wraps up high society, service club and self-betterment circle. And this club gets action—look what happened when thirty members started putting new life into Domain, Manitoba
A motorist speeding along the dusty Class B highway twenty-five miles south of Winnipeg may—it the dust is in his eyes or if he looks cast instead of west—barrel through Domain, population fourtyseven, and never know it. East of the highway Domain consists of seven trim houses and a little green-spired United church.
BY ROBERT COLLINS
For 95,000 rural women
the Women's Institute wraps up
high society, service club
and self-betterment circle. And
this club gets action—
look what happened when thirty
members started putting
new life into Domain, Manitoba
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVE PORTIGAL
A. motorist speeding along the dusty Class B highway twenty-five miles south ol Winnipeg may—it the dust is in his eyes or if he looks cast instead of west—barrel through Domain, population lortyseven, and never know it.
East of the highway Domain consists of seven trim houses and a little green-spired United church. To the west Domain is two hunch-backed grain elevators, a diminutive railway station, a one-room school and a two-room school, a curling rink, cooperative store, garage, community hall. Haverstick’s General Store and post office, a Mennonite church and six dwellings. At thirty miles an hour it takes forty-three seconds to drive from portal to portal.
But if you look around Domain you can't help seeing the Domain Women's Institute, one branch of a nation-wide country-w'omen's organization that's making "do-gooders'' a respectable word again. To Domain women, as to ninety-five thousand sister-members in fifty-three hundred other Canadian communities more or less Domain s size, the Institute is everything: social circle, service club and rural woman's university.
The w'orks and women of WI are everywhere. Domain and district has sixty-seven housewives. For a dollar a year any woman can join the Institute. Twenty-two Mennonite farm wives haven't joined, although some w'ould like to. Five other district women are ill or busy with babies. Of the remaining forty, thirty belong to WI.
The storekeeper's wife, white-haired Edith Haverstick, is a member. So is Erna Arbez, a twentyseven-year-old brunette and the stationmaster's wife; Mary Litster, the elevator man's English war bride, and Jean Manson, whose husband runs the co-operative store. Others are Catholic, Protestant, French-Canadian, Ukrainian, grandmothers in their seventies and granddaughters in their twenties.
No cause is too large or small for WI. Some women's clubs confine their efforts to reading Edgar Guest or taking on knitting for the local Red Cross. The ninety-five thousand Canadian members of the Institute are dedicated to the betterment of home, country and points beyond. In other words, WI takes on the world.
To find the Institute at work one needs only to look at the hub of any community; in Domain’s case, the green-and-white community hall. Everyone goes there sooner or later for 4-H meetings,
fowl suppers, political rallies, dances. Farmers’ Union, C hristmas concerts or bazaars, which is why everyone thanks the Institute. Until WI was formed in 1947 the hall was simply a one-story building with a roof. Since then the women have given \[ $4.300 worth of chairs, drapes, piano, tea kettle, coffee-maker, cutlery, dishes and material for a new' basement, kitchen and second-story clubroom.
The curling club, next door to the hall, depends on WI to cater for its banquets and donate bonspiel prizes. In the high school, beside the curling rink, one student is chosen annually, on the basis of scholarship and general awareness, for a fourday visit to a United Nations seminar in Winnipeg, awarded by the school and WI.
Five years ago the community cemetery, four miles east of town, was windswept, weedy and marred with the ruins of a church basement. The WI raked, hoed, mowed and bought ninety-six dollars' worth of ash. honeysuckle and evergreens. The husbands, before they knew it, were talked into planting the trees and clearing the foundation.
Four years ago Mrs. Doris Magarrell, a slender handsome brunette and current Institute president, was shocked to realize Domain hadn't celebrated Canada's birthday since before World War II. And here the Institute had been studying citizenship and the flag! She mobilized WI which, in turn, lit a fire under the local men. Now the entire district turns out for a first of July picnic in the schoolyard.
The Institute does all canvassing in the district and in eleven years has continued on page 46
MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE, JULY 5, 1958
The biggest country club in Canada
Continued from page 19
“Men have been heckling the Women’s Institute for sixty years and eating their words later”
wheedled four thousand dollars for charity. Two hundred and eighty-three of Domain’s sick, bereaved or pregnant have been sent cards, flowers or fruit.
The Institute has given $941 worth of food parcels to Britain, eighty-one dollars’ worth of codfish to Korea and, in 1950, fifty dollars for Manitoba flood relief, although Domain itself was flooded that year. It has sponsored the Brownies and compiled a community history. Three members compose the local civil-defense committee. CD is no more active here than elsewhere — there’s been only one meeting in Domain — hut the three WI women are determined to ready the community for its role of reception centre. Two members head the 4-H garden club; two are on the municipal fair board and three arc on the community-hall management board.
WI has so thoroughly infiltrated Domain life that farmer Cecil Manness tells his wife, Yvette, “You ought to call yourselves the FBI.”
As long as they’re busy and their husbands are making fun of them the Institute members consider the situation normal. Men have been heckling WI for sixty-one years, and living to eat their words.
The Farmers didn’t last
The first local Women’s Institute was founded in Ontario in 1897. Adelaide Hoodless, a Hamilton housewife, conceived it as a household-science educational program after her eighteen-month-old son died from drinking impure milk. A month later an official of the Ontario Farmers’ Institute said, "It would be a decided mistake for you to form an organization entirely separate from the Farmers’ Institute. If the ladies strike out independently it will be a long timr' before they receive recognition.”
The Farmers’ Institute collapsed not long after this speech, but the WI movement spread quickly to B. C., Alberta and the United States. By 1913 nine provinces had Women's Institutes (Newfoundland-Labrador joined in 1951). During World War I the movement jumped to Britain, then Belgium. In 1933 a Canadian. Mrs. Alfred Watt, founded the Associated Country Women of the World, an extension of WI. Now flourishing in twenty-seven countries, the WI has a membership of six million.
Itis not enough to say, as do some WI handbooks, that the organization is "dedicated to home economics, citizenship, United Nations, agriculture and cultural activities.” Cultural activities means the Kincardine, N.B., Institute paying school choirs' entry fees and transportation to the county music festival: or Facts. Fingers and Fun, the Quebec Wís' annual course at Macdonald College, which teaches such things as crafts and how to conduct business meetings; or the fifteen Fthelton. Sask., Homemakers (Saskatchewan's name for all institutes) sponsoring an art and sculpture show.
Agriculture means Mrs. Grant Floyd of Sussex. N.B.. national conveneof agriculture for WI, saving her neighbor-
hood from soil erosion. She watched melting snow and rain eroding her farmer-husband’s hilly land, borrowed a film on erosion through WI, and persuaded her husband and their neighbors to rent government - owned terracing machines. They won their fight against erosion.
Citizenship is the Jubilee Guilds (as Newfoundland Institutes are called) waiting at Gander airport to shake hands with deplaning Hungarian refugees; or the Wís of B. C.’s Kootenay country who warmly welcomed Japanese-Canadian women into their midst when the latter were ousted from their west-coast homes in 1942.
Home economics means ninety-five thousand women learning better ways to cook and sew; or the Altona, Man., Institute publishing a cookbook of home recipes that sells across North America; or the women of Windsor, N.S., raptly watching a demonstration on "How to make a footstool out of tomato cans.”
Still other activities fall under no particular heading except “doing good.” In Alberta, Wís are kind to bachelors: the Manyberries women spring - houseclean for unmarried men, free of charge; the Hillsdown Institute bakes Christmas cakes for them. In Prince Edward Island, Institutes led a successful drive for a provincial sanitarium. Members of Skead Road Institute, Sudbury, have trudged a mile at thirty-five below to make cocoa for school lunches. And in New Minas, N.S., when a mother went to hospital for a month, the WI cared for her children and gave her a daily parcel of Kleenex, cosmetics or stationery.
Member countries such as Pakistan and Burma are still concerned with sanitation and child care, as the Canadian founders were in 1897. But in Domain, with pure milk taken for granted, WI filled a broader need.
When Red Cross work tapered off after World War II, Domain women suddenly found they had nothing to do except cook, preserve, hoc, sew and raise children. Legion and church auxiliaries accommodated only a few. The days dragged by. It was worse for the husbands; there was nothing to jeer at.
Early in 1947, after visiting a neighboring WI, Domain formed its own branch. Nineteen members joined at the inaugural meeting. Doris Magarrell, who is fond of politics and current events, wanted "to show my husband I could do a thing or two besides housework, which is boring.” Wilma Harrison, an ex-teacher, joined because "a woman must look beyond the confines of her own four wails.”
Gladys Manness, a brisk little matron who tends a two-story farm house and five children, wanted something to keep her busy. Besides being on the civil defense and fair boards she teaches Sunday school and has been WI secretary since 1947. Other women wanted "to get out of the house and meet people.”
By the end of 1949 there were thirtyfive members. That year they heard eleven education talks (mostly prepared and delivered by members) on everything from housing and home-and-school
to a travel talk on the Rockies. They attended a sewing course, weeded, raked and mowed the cemetery, drew plans for the new hall, sent nine food parcels to Britain, interviewed old-timers for the community history and learned to make things out of flour sacks. They held a tea for grandmothers, a picnic for husbands and an ice-cream social for everybody, at which the guests devoured seven freezers of ice cream and a hundred and twenty hot dogs.
Average attendance that year was twenty-five per meeting, which is about par. A peculiarity of WI is that members will get to meetings come husbands, mud or high water. At Watch Lake, B.C., a member traveled ninety miles to a meeting on foot, by sleigh and by car. In New Brunswick, Mrs. J. D. Ross, of the Surrey-Edgett’s Landing WI, snowbound at home atop a hill and unable to persuade her husband to shovel her out, mounted her son’s “tlying saucer" sled. With a half-knitted afghan in one hand and a fresh pie in the other she sped downhill and thumbed a ride to WI. Her husband, touched by her loyalty, shoveled a path so she could come home.
Probably no Wís can match the stiff upper lips of Change Islands, on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, where some members habitually row a fifteenfoot boat across a quarter-mile bay, or "tickle.” Once ten of them left a meeting to find the tickle full of drift ice. They promptly loaded the oldest member, who was sixty-five, into the boat and pulled, pushed and carried her home.
In Domain the problem is mud. One meeting day a cloudburst turned the Red River gumbo into taffy. Roads were glutted with women and cars in ditches, women riding tractors, and barefoot women trudging heroically into town. Now, before meetings, Jim Manson, an elderly wag with a lean craggy face and a Scottish brogue thick as porridge, phones his neighbor, Lloyd Harrison, and rumbles, “It must be going to rain. Those crazy women are on the march again.”
Husbands also grumble about having to baby-sit, having to start their own dinners and, on social evenings, having to buy back the food they’ve already furnished. When Marie Roberts became vice-president her son asked, “What’s Vice’ mean?” Farmer Paul Roberts sprang at the straight line. “According to Webster, son, it’s ‘an instrument with two strong jaws.’ ”
But patience and good deeds are wearing the men down. Once Gwen Parker, a university graduate in home economics, rushed to her farm home from WI to check the roast and found husband Lome meekly making gravy.
The president's husband, Henry Magarrell, a farmer and reeve of the municipality, admits, “We often call on WI when we want something done." Tall blond Don Manness, the secretary’s husband, agrees, “We tolerate ’em. After all, they’re good at raising money.”
Specifically, the WI has raised twelve thousand dollars in eleven years. Part of it came from campaigns for the Red Cross and similar organizations and went directly to the charity concerned. The rest was raised at teas, bazaars and more ingenious schemes dreamed up by the ways-and-means committee. Sometimes, at meetings, members are fined two cents per child, per shoe-size or per inch of waistline. Sometimes the committee circulates a sunshine bag (feed the bag a penny every sunny day) or a traveling shirt (sew on a patch containing a coin).
There’s yet another devilish moneyraiser. Around noon on any given day the chairman of the ways-and-means
committee arbitrarily selects, say, Doris Magarrell as a subject. She phones as many other WI members as she can rouse with the word: “Hobo tea at Magarrcll’s.”.
The members drop what they’re doing, fling on their coats without making-up or changing frocks, and hurry to the Magarrell farm. There, the unsuspecting Mrs. Magarrell drops what she’s doing, rustles up canned beans, beef stew or whatever’s in the icebox, and collects a quarter a head for the Institute kitty.
The Institute rarely finishes a year with a hundred dollars in the bank. What comes in goes out, to Greece or Korea or Ceylon, or the Appeal for Children, or a local project like the cemetery. In the case of the cemetery, local male slave labor was employed to cut expenses but, according to Wilma Harrison’s annual report, it didn't always measure up.
“1952—Arbor Day; Lloyd (her husband) made a heck of a job of getting the ground ready . . . Just before harvest Lloyd mowed the lawn and cut off a tree ...”
“1953—After a very successful cemetery bee in the middle of the mosquito season, Lloyd cultivated the trees three times, for which he has charged the WI . . . Paul Roberts broke up the old foundation but it still sits there ... I think it should be dumped in Abe's pond because the men will never make a driveway of it, unless a bomb hits them . .
The men finally removed the rubble and every year the women rake, weed and mow the cemetery, thriftily taking home grass clippings for their cows.
Not the least of WI's achievements are the intangibles: bringing the community together and bringing individuals out of themselves. For elderly Mrs. Helen Manson, whose family is grown and away from home, WI is something to look forward to each month. For Mary Litster, a Lancashire girl who came to
Domain last summer after a few years in another Manitoba town, the Institute was a passport to belonging in the community.
“I hated to move because people were so friendly in our old town,” says Mrs. Litster. “But here, through WI, I had thirty new friends in a few weeks.”
For president Doris Magarrell, WI meant new assurance: “When I started, even the thought of answering roll call petrified me. Now I’ve been president three years and vice-president of the larger WI district, and I enjoy it.”
“It’s broadened our outlook,” says Gladys Manness. “We think and talk about current events, citizenship, other provinces, other countries. We don’t always agree but at least we hear another’s viewpoint.”
Perhaps, too, WI is stemming the retreat to the city. Most prairie villages are shrinking. Domain has grown by a half dozen houses since 1950. Retired farmers settle here instead of in Winnipeg because, for one thing, Domain and particularly the Institute has community spirit.
The spirit was evident one day last February when twenty-eight members chattered in from fifteen-below-zero weather to a meeting in the community hall. Perhaps one reason the WI gets along so well is the five mother-daughtersister or sister-in-law groups within the membership. Every meeting is like a family reunion.
When I visited the Domain WI, I was prepared for a bevy of squat formidable dowagers in flowered hats. I was less prepared for Margaret Harrison, a brunette in a lime-green dress, who looked like a fashion model: Gladys Manness in a form-fitting red knitted suit and Doris Magarrell in a blue-and-white frock with blue polka-dot shoes.
After six folk songs the members recited their creed: “Keep us, O Lord, from pettiness; let us be large in thought,
in word, in deed . . Then they handed in a mountain of old Christmas cards, which Domain sends to hospitals as far away as Johannesburg. Twenty women had knitted heavy grey sweaters for Korean orphans since the previous meeting. Others finished sweaters during the meeting and asked for twenty pounds more wool.
There was a thank-you from the Unitarian service, a plea from the Red Cross and a request from the Canadian Association of Consumers for comments on consumer goods.
“Let’s complain about the cheap elastic they put in clothes nowadays,” said a member. “It’s sewn in, so you can’t replace it. And it always breaks down in some embarrassing place. Like the middle of Portage Avenue.”
“It’s a letdown, alright,” giggled Yvette Manness.
“Back to business,” smiled the president, with a tap of her gavel. Later she explained, “We aren’t too strict about parliamentary procedure. If the members didn’t have fun they’d drop out.”
Ways-and-means committee reported it was barely solvent but would fatten the bankroll with a bonspiel banquet and community smorgasbord. The meeting discussed an educational tour in Winnipeg, voted ten dollars for bonspiel prizes and heard Doris Pitura, a tall pinkcheeked farm wife (who was once “frightened stiff” of speaking in public) deliver a ten-minute talk on oil in Manitoba.
They stood up for another song, then heard the district president report on her trip to the 1957 Federated Women’s Institutes convention in Ottawa. She told about WI activities across the land and described a visit to the House of Commons: “They’re so rude! When Mr. St. Laurent spoke, Mr. Diefenbaker turned away. When Mr. Diefenbaker spoke, Mr. St. Laurent began to read a newspaper. They wouldn’t last long in WI!”
Before adjourning the women discussed food, a subject dear to their hearts. It is worth noting that, although rural income may be down, rural food supplies are up to par. A few days earlier Gladys Manness had offered me heaping platters of fruit bread and chocolate cake for afternoon tea. Another day Doris Magarrell produced strawberry shortcake with ice cream for a midafternoon snack. Yet again, Mrs. Anne Babiak at 2.30 p.m. asked, “Would you care for a steak?” And now, soliciting donations for the smorgasbord, Yvette Manness discussed food the way Bay Street brokers discuss dollars.
“I need ten plates of scalloped potatoes and six dozen buns and a dozen pies,” she cried.
“I'll bake six pies,” said Mrs. Edith Haverstick, sounding as though she’d enjoy it.
The meeting closed with a light lunch of three kinds of sandwiches, three kinds of pickles and two kinds of cake.
“The men think we gossip at these meetings,” said Mrs. Magarrell over the coffee. “That’s the one thing we don’t do. No time. For gossip you ought to hear those men when they get together in the Domain garage . . .”
Then it was five p.m. and the women of WI, like thousands of sister members across the land, hurried home to make supper and placate their husbands.
“Oh, mon, they go on and on into the wee hours of the night, those meetings,” teases Jim Manson, with an eye cocked to his wife’s reaction. “Why, sometimes, I'm done the chores before she gets home. But . . .” and he turned serious a moment, summing it up for Domain and all communities where WI takes on the world
. . ah well, they do good work.” ^