In 1929 these same four women were the leaders of the first local Women’s Institute, organized under B.C. Women’s Institutes and known as the West Saskatoon W.I. Fourteen members answered the first roll call April 21st, 1929 with Mrs. Charles Mixer and Mrs. E. Wilford as leaders. This group has always worked with the handicraft section of the Dawson Creek Fall Fair. The West Saskatoon W.I. were hosts to the first district convention in 1930. They worked with the Farmers’ Institute to raise funds and built the Kilkerran Hall in 1931.
In 1929 the second Women’s Institute was organized east of Pouce Coupe, and was known as the Riverside W.I., with Mrs. Esme Tuck as the first president and Mrs. Andy Chalmers as Secretary-Treasurer. In 1930 more Institutes were rapidly organized. Sunset Prairie started up in May 1930 with Mrs. Forrester and Mrs. Mel Young as leaders. The Sunnybrook W.I. was third, formed in 1930 with Mrs. Edith Dayus as the President. The Shearerdale W.I. organized on July 1st that year with Mrs. Hartnell, Mrs. Marion Lindsay and Mrs. R. Shearer as leaders and Willow Valley soon followed. Sunset Prairie is the only remaining institute left of the 1930 group, although Shearerdale lasted for many years and Willow Valley, later reorganized as Bessborough.
The 1931 records show an active growth in the Peace River Institutes with Progress organizing in February with Mrs. Dias and Mrs. A. Nuderman as leaders. The Progress hall was built in 1931 and the women helped by raising funds and taking lunches to the men working on the building. This group worked towards a fall fair (Kiskatinaw Fall Fair.) Stewart Flats organized in April 1931 with Mrs. Nell Roberts and Mrs. Dorothy Wilds as leaders. This institute changed its name to Groundbirch W.I. in 1936. The Rolla W.I. came into being on May 21st, 1931 with Mrs. A. Bergeron and Mrs. Joe Dill as leaders. Devereaux and Arras also organized in 1931 but only lasted a few years. The second district convention was held at Pouce Coupe with the Riverside W.I. as hostess in 1931. The highlight of the convention was a Flower Show and a really large and representative display of B.C. products, organized by Mrs. Tuck. In 1932 the district convention was held in Sunset Prairie, in the new little log hall which still stands. The Pouce Coupe W.I. began its long life of useful endeavors on Oct. 8, 1932, with Mrs. Harry Carlin and Mrs. Rosa Watson as the leaders. This group started a small library of 400 books and carried on with this for many years. An exhibit which attracted much attention in the early years was an embroidered linen map called the “Homestead Saga” by Mrs. Tuck. This won first place at the Canadian Handicraft Guild in Montreal and by special request was afterwards shown at several exhibits in Montreal and in the Maritime Provinces. These “handicraft-loving” W.I. women also designed and made for the B.C. centennial year a panel wall hanging depicting the 100 years of history in the Pouce Coupe district. This work won praise at the P.N.E. and later won points at the World conference (A.C.W.W.) in Australia. In 1968 Mrs. Spencer Tuck won first place for the Pouce Coupe W.I. on the National level, winning the F.W.I.C. Tweedsmuir Cup for a panel in original design.
In 1932 the district convention was held at Sunset Prairie, in 1933 at Shearerdale, in 1934 at Progress, in 1935 at Groundbirch. Then 1936 Pouce Coupe was hostess with the meeting in the old Murphy Hall and lunch served at the Hart Hotel. Twenty-two institutes were represented, with over a hundred women present. The speaker was Nurse I. S. Crook from the Pouce Coupe Hospital.
In 1933 several more institutes organized — Sunrise Valley on Jan. 10th, Doe River in April with Mrs. Lola Hingley and Mrs. Marion Nelson as leaders and Bon Accord on January 14th, 1933. One of its first members and ardent supporters was Mrs. Kate Hannan. In October 1934, the first fall fair was arranged and put on by the Progress and Bon Accord W.I.’s. These fairs are still held in 1973 and sponsored by Groundbirch and Sunrise Valley institutes as well as Sunset Prairie.
The October 4th, 1933 records show that the first Women’s Institute on the North side of the Peace River was formed at Cecil Lake and was named Nor’Pioneer (meaning the pioneer north institute.) Mrs. Margaret Groger and Mrs. Anna Cuthbert were the leaders and organizers. This group has a history of traveling to meetings by many ways and means in the early years. Beaton River W.I. organized March 5th 1935 — in recent years the name was changed to Rose Prairie. In 1935, North Pine also organized and the same year, Baldonnel’s W.I. was organized by Jack Abbott, Justice of the Peace. The first district convention north of the Peace was held in the Anglican hall at Baldonnel.
The Lakeview W.I. was formed on Feb. 12th, 1940 with the first president, Mrs. Ben Miller and Miss E. Moulton (Mrs. Frank Golata) as secretary. A Women’s Institute was active at Pine View for many years. Also, the Clayhurst Institute was formed in March 1940 and was active until recent years.
In 1939 a rest room in Dawson Creek was started in the Pioneer’s building and maintained by all the Institutes until 1947. This was a big effort for all the Institutes to maintain, but was appreciated by country and town people until more modern facilities were available.
The Landry W.I. organized in 1945 with Mrs. Olive Mattson and Mrs. Mary MacDonald as leaders. On July 30th, 1945 some Fort St. John ladies organized a W.I. The Provincial superintendent, Mrs. V.S. McLachlan, was present to organize this group. Mrs. Kearny and Mrs. Gwen McCusker were the first leaders. Almost at once, work was commenced on a W.I. rest room in Fort St. John. In 1959 the rest room was sold. Fort St. John members worked for years through Ottawa to get a marker for the site of the old fort, and finally achieved it in 1959.
In the early years of Institute work in the Peace River, the provincial superintendent, Mrs. V.S. McLachlan was a frequent visitor at the annual district meetings as well as the Ministers of Agriculture and members of the department who gave their support. In 1946 Mrs. Stella Gummow (Now Mrs. H.J. Welch) came to the annual district meeting as superintendent of B.C. Women’s Institutes. She had a charming manner and made friends with all W.I. women. She had a remarkable talent for remembering everyone wherever she went. She retired as superintendent in 1958 and her last district meeting was at the newly organized Bessborough W.I.
South Dawson District organized a W.I. on October 5th, 1951 in the community hall. This group sponsored the Cooking section of the Dawson Creek Fall Fair for many years. Montney W.I. was organized in January 1952. This group works for the North Peace Fall Fair and keeps up the community cemetery. Bessborough organized on November 1957, with Mrs. Dorothy Haight as first president and Mrs. Anita Haight as secretary. In 1958 they co-hosted the district convention with Sunrise Valley W.I. Some history was made at this convention — it was Stella Gummow’s last visit. Mrs. Lyle (Verna) Braden was elected as the delegate for the Peace River, to the first open National Convention, held in Ottawa that October. Mrs. Braden was district secretary at this time and was appointed to organize and start a district radio program for the Women’s Institutes. This was started in February 1959 over CJDC radio station. The Home and Country Calendar was the first W.I. Radio program in B.C. and is still a regular weekly feature. Mrs. Braden organized several institutes in the district while she was a provincial agriculture convener and director. Golata Creek in 1959 and Briar Ridge W.I. east of Pouce Coupe were also organized in 1959 and of the two, the latter is still active. Mrs. Braden organized Hudson’s Hope in 1959 but it was never an active group. Chetwynd followed in 1960 but like Hudson’s Hope, it was too transient. South Taylor and East Bessborough tried institute work for a while but did not endure more than 3 or 4 years. Sunrise/Two-River organized into a W.I. in 1963 with Mrs. Jean Leahy and Mrs. Mazine Bennett as the first leaders. In this district there had been an active farm women’s group for many years, but changed to B.C. W.I. They carry on the same community work and keep up the hall. Sweetwater organized in 1969 but has never been very active.
The new Tomslake W.I. was organized by Mrs. Wm. Stewart, district president, and Mrs. L. Braden in Nov. 1972. Mrs. Louse Dennis is president.
At the present time in 1973 the Peace River District has 22 active institutes:
|Briar Ridge||Doe River||Fort St. John|
|Pouce Coupe||Rolla||Rose Prairie|
|South Dawson||Sunrise-Two Rivers||Sunrise Valley|
The results of the work accomplished by these W.I. groups through the years shows in every community where they are established — community halls or W.I. halls, well-kept cemeteries, parks, and historical preservation. There are far too many good deeds to mention briefly. In early settlements the W.I. women urged the building of schools and their upkeep. They promoted rural and urban welfare, study marketing of farm products and Canadian industries, give leadership to 4-H clubs and young people, promote soil conservation, work to develop a better understanding of democratic citizenship and to stimulate the revival of handicrafts and better reading facilities. They promote a study of health and take action in the establishment of health facilities. They work endless hours to raise the standard of homemaking, and to work with United Nations.
In recognition of the value of Women’s Institutes and their continuing work in rural areas, the B.C. Department of Agriculture sponsors the Women’s Institutes and renders financial assistance to them.