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!
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.
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.
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.