It all started back in 1909 …

The following is an excerpt taken from Many and Remarkable: The Story of the Alberta Women’s Institutes by Catherine C. Cole and Judy Larmour

Beginnings, 1909-1920 (page 1)

The first Women’s Institute west of the Great Lakes was founded in Lea Park, Alberta, on February 3, 1909. The Lea Park Institute was modelled on the Ontario Women’s Institutes that began in 1897. From the outset, founder Margaret Graham, who had been a member in Ontario prior to migrating to Alberta, wanted to establish the Women’s Institutes as a department within the provincial government, as it was in Ontario. Lea Park was the lone WI branch in Alberta (until Verdant Valley WI was founded in 1912), with a commitment to providing educational information, particularly in home economics, and economic assistance to women of the area. This branch encouraged the development of other branches, and, according to the Calgary Daily Herald, June 6, 1936, lobbied the government to support Women’s Institutes:

“So determined were they to make widespread their desires, they appealed to the provincial government for assistance…It is true that there was a restlessness among the women of the province as there was among these few in Verdant Valley, so it is not surprising that in the fall of 1912, under government employed organizers, women’s institutes sprang up in many districts in Alberta.”

In 1912, Roberta MacAdams, a home economist from Ontario, was asked by the Department of Agriculture to survey the needs of women. Her report led to the development of Women’s Institutes as a government-sponsored program. MacAdams was appointed superintendent and travelled around Alberta organizing branches under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. Georgina Stiven, another home economist from Ontario, replaced MacAdams in the fall of 1912. She secured operating grants of five dollars for each Institute with at least twenty members and provided copies of the WI Handbook.

The educational aspect of the WI was important in attracting members to the organization. Begining in 1909, demonstration trains sponsored by the provincial government travelled throughout Alberta stopping at various towns for several days at a time. Lectures, talks, demonstrations, and exhibits were scheduled to educate farmers and their wives about their farms and housework. From 1912, one care was set aside to show the work of the Women’s Institutes. Georgina Stiven , and later Mary MacIsaac, brought women together on the demonstration train and provided information about the benefits of establishing WI branches, as well as offering demonstrations and lectures about various aspects of home economics. Elizabeth Bailey Price, who lived in Peace River from 1915-1918 and was the AWI’s publicity convener from 1918-1933, reminisced in the Calgary Daily Herald, March 23, 2935, about the demonstration train that went to Peace River in 1917

“One of the railway coaches was fitted up as a combined kitchen and school room, with an oil stove, table, cooking utensils, school seats and a black board. It was here we women of the village, just enough to fill the car, learned how to can meat, wild berries and vegetables by the cold pack method. Afterwards we organized the Peace River Women’s Institute. “

The train, called the “Mixed Farming Special,” resulted in the organization of a number of branches, 43 in 1917 alone.

Photo taken from Many and Remarkable with the following caption
Many Women’s Institute branches were organized on the “Mixed Farming Special”, a demonstration train outfitted with a women’s car and nursery. This train was used by CN on the prairies c. 1920
Canadian National Archives, Montreal, 73174

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