Membership Monday – Meet Reta MacDonald

If you live on the east coast, you have probably come across Saltscapes.  It is a magazine produced in Halifax.  While the content usually concerns the Atlantic Provinces, it is widely read. Barb Taylor alerted us to the July/August issue that features a profile of WI Life Member Reta MacDonald. In her email, Barb wrote, “WI doesn’t get a lot of publicity, so I thought this was noteworthy.”

I heartily agree.

Since the story is not yet available on the Saltscapes webpage, here are some tidbits to tempt you to seek out your own copy. Once you’ve read Reta’s story, I hope you will be tempted to submit your own!

Reta MacDonald
“The organizations I belong to, we always try to do some good for someone” by Reta MacDonald, as told to Philip Moscovitch for Saltscapes

You could call Reta MacDonald of Ebenezer, PEI a “joiner.” At 82, she is out-going and remains committed to the many community organizations she belongs to. A former teacher – who thought nothing of teaching 10 different grades herself – and a mother of three, MacDonald values the old-fashioned bonds of family and community.

She is particularly proud of her lifelong association with the women’s Institute in PEI. She first joined as a teacher, and eventually served as provincial president. While she jokes that “people have a picture of the Women’s Institute as that tea-drinking group of old ladies who meet, bake and gossip,” she values the way the group has connected her not only to her local community, but also to national and international charitable and educational efforts.

Reta was born in Milton, attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, and she taught in East Wiltshire, North Winsloe, and East Royalty.

In the early days, teachers were expected to join the WI. Local branches maintained the schools. The WI bought toilet tissue, they bought chalk, they bought blackboard erasers – they supplied the school with those essentials. Reta recalls when the WI came to the school and washed the floors and walls in preparation for the new school year.  Reta joined the WI in each town she lived in.  Her mother was also a member.

Reta and her husband Douglas entered their home in the Rural Beautification Society’s annual contest and won the prize — for three consecutive years!

She explained how inclusive WI is – there is no barrier to being a member. For instance, a church club membership is defined by the religious denomination, but we [the WI] welcome everyone. Someone might belong to a church family, but WI is a community family.

Reta worries about the future of the WI with the aging membership and weaker community bonds. Her WI holds an annual “meet your neighbour” night in order to make new friends and a stronger community.


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About WI
Women’s Institute is a local, provincial, national and international organization that promotes women, families and communities. Our goal is to empower women to make a difference.

About FWIC

The idea to form a national group was first considered in 1912. In 1914, however, when the war began the idea was abandoned. At the war’s end, Miss Mary MacIsaac, Superintendent of Alberta Women’s Institute, revived the idea. She realized the importance of organizing the rural women of Canada so they might speak as one voice for needed reforms, and the value of co-ordinating provincial groups for a more consistent organization. In February 1919, representatives of the provinces met in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to form the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada.

Membership Monday – Today from BC

Today for Membership Monday, I shall provide some highlights from British Columbia WI’s newsletter Vol 153. It is the February/March 2015 issue and for the full report click on the link here:


If you are like me, you will find the next bit of news very uplifting. Here is a screen capture of the newsletter:

Did you see that number? 47?





OK, on to the reports from the assorted branches:

Nicola Valley WI

This paragraph caught my attention:

With the dumping of Biosolids in our area from the Lower Mainland our members plan to protest as individuals as well as preparing a resolution to send to the Provincial WI.

Biosolids? Help? Google?

Biosolids are the treated, stabilized solids resulting from wastewater treatment and are regulated under the BC Environmental Management Act and Health Act.

Stay tuned for more from Nicola Valley WI for updates on this issue.

From the Douglas District, Pemberton WI look forward to WI Week in February when they hold a potluck and annual “fun auction”. Pictured below are the members and some 64 dozen Christmas Cookies.

Fran Cuthbert, Carmen Levefre-Moore, Barb Brooks, Ola & Donna Perkins, Rolande Midgley, Pat Bencharski, Linda Welsh, Rosalinde Young, Shirley Ellingson, Marnie Simons & hostess Judith Walton.
Fran Cuthbert, Carmen Levefre-Moore, Barb Brooks, Ola
& Donna Perkins, Rolande Midgley, Pat Bencharski,
Linda Welsh, Rosalinde Young, Shirley Ellingson,
Marnie Simons & hostess Judith Walton.

Atchelitz WI celebrated their 100th Anniversary on September 6th.  Because of the continued support of the community at fundraising events, they were once again able to donate to many local charities such as The Ride to Conquer Cancer, Salvation Army Food Bank, Chilliwack Hospice Society, BC Agriculture in the Classroom, Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities, Ann Davis Transition House & Sardis Doorway, just to name a few.

Over in Kamloops District, Overlander WI continued their support of local charities. For example, they gave p.j.’s and toiletries to the YWCA Women’s Shelter. Coldstream WI from the North Okanagan Sushwap District declare themselves to be a “crafty bunch.”  I’d say they are a compassionate bunch too. They gathered “gifts of hope” for the clients of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Among several community support activities, Gabriola WI from the north end of Vancouver Island made donations to their local 4H club. At the south end of the island, Colwood WI had a busy year. They were fortunate to be involved in several community events last Fall. For example, the women provided Christmas gifts for the residents of Cockerel House. This is a home for injured Veterans and Colwood WI is proud to able to support the vets in their recovery.

Donna Andrew reports that a wonderful time was had by all at the Olympic View Golf Course where they celebrated Christmas. Unfortunately there are no photos. Apparently, says Donna, “what goes on at the golf course stays at the golf course.”

Claude of Cockerel House receives the Christmas gifts from Carol.
Claude of Cockerel House receives the Christmas gifts from Carol.

Langford WI’s report was a series of images. I’ve arranged them in a gallery here. Hover or click for captions.

Salt Spring Island WI pose the question, “Did you know that it was Spanish women who started the chocolate craze?” To that I answer, “No, I did not, but let me go on record to state, GRACIAS!!” Their report also includes this encouraging financial news: “We were able to more than cover our goal of $6,000.00 for donations, our two scholarships and still have money to start the year 2015.”

Membership Monday: Three Generations at Calhoun WI

From time to time as part of Membership Monday, we will post an article to profile a Women’s Institute Branch. As you might expect, each branch will have many similar characteristics. But each will have its own particular history, successes and challenges. Today we kick off the series with a profile of the Calhoun WI from New Brunswick.

Roll call!

Kim Légère, the youngest member, has been part of the Calhoun WI since 1996. Her grandmother, Hazel Lewis hosted the first meeting of the branch when it formed in September 1952.

Eileen Toole, a founding member is still active with the group. She has held many positions at the branch and district level.

In between these two women sit three… count ‘em, one, two, three others to complete the small but mighty WI. These five active members meet the third Wednesday of each month excluding the summer months of July and August.

Kim contacted FWIC to discuss membership.  “I would love to see the Calhoun WI group grow in vast numbers,” says Kim. As a small child, she recalls her mother hosting the WI meeting where there were thirty or forty members in attendance. “Not that many years ago when women were homemakers they enjoyed the evening out, but with today’s hectic schedules women find it hard to commit to another scheduled outing.” Unfortunately, over the years, Calhoun’s membership has declined.

 “I would love to see the Calhoun WI group grow in vast numbers,”

Both Kim and Carolyn O’Hanley, the president of Calhoun WI described the regular events as well as the special projects undertaken by the members.

The Calhoun branch is responsible for the street lights that their stand-alone community has enjoyed for ten years.  This was accomplished through canvassing and petitioning the community residents. Provincial speakers were invited to meetings which were held in the only place available, the local community church.  Finally, the lights were installed.

Calhoun WI was part of The Adopt a Highway Program until last year when the Province of New Brunswick decreased funding to the Department of Environment.  The group has hopes that the newly elected government will grant funding for this project. The WI is watchful regarding the safety of roads in the area, too. They report to the government officials regarding the over-growth of bush and grass along Calhoun Road.  Last year the government contracted out a major maintenance project to attend to this issue, something that might not have occurred if it were not for the diligent urging by the Calhoun WI.

Also in the community, the WI supports the breakfast program at one of the schools close to Calhoun, and each year they provide scholarships to high-school graduates. The members visit and send cards to those who are sick or shut-in, and they remember the bereaved in the community. The group also supports the local church with donations of supplies such as bath tissue, soap, and cleaners.

Each summer the group takes part in an outing and members invite a spouse or a friend for a social evening out with dinner. For example, one year they travelled to Dorchester and toured the Keillor House and had lunch at the Bell Inn. The women also meet for lunch as a group during the summer.  One such event included a visit to the Boardwalk at Magnetic Hill. And of course, since it was summer, there was ice cream! Each Christmas members enjoy a festive restaurant dinner with their spouses. They also exchange gifts.


Bell InbFundraising events include

  • Raffle tickets on a handmade quilt and a basket of goodies.
  • Vessey’s bulb fundraiser
  • Brown bag auction or Harvest Goodies are sold at the meeting
  • Cold plate turkey suppers
  • Valentine teas and monthly teas
  • Quilting bees
Veseys Seeds Fundraiser Program - click on the image for details
Veseys Seeds Fundraiser Program – click on the image for details

Kim’s thirteen year-old daughter, has three cousins who live close by and all of them love the women of the WI and look forward to joining when they are older.

“I know that my grandmother Hazel would be proud to think that her daughter Wanda, her granddaughter Kim are members of the WI and that her great-granddaughter Sarah plans to join.”

As you can see, a small but mighty group indeed. The main challenge is the number of members. Kim would dearly love to see the group grow to vast numbers.

So would we.

If you have any words of encouragement or suggestions for Calhoun, they’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to share this story with your memberships, too.