Category: Women’s History

WOMEN’S INSTITUTES OF MANITOBA

WOMEN’S INSTITUTES
OF MANITOBA

By George Siamandas

THE RISE OF THE WOMENS INSTITUTES
The idea had come from a woman named Adelaide Hunter Hoodless who had lost a child to the “summer complaint” or unsanitary milk. She helped form the first Women’s Institute in 1897 at Stoney Creek Ontario.

In Manitoba, they were founded in 1910 at Morris and these groups became a way women in rural areas could come together to meet and discuss common problems. A Mrs Finlay Mackenzie who had picked up the idea while visiting Ontario in 1909 started the Manitoba group. A request to premier Roblin resulted in provincial help. Supported by the provincial dept of Agriculture, they provided instruction on homemaking, motherhood and health concerns; things isolated and uneducated farm women did not know enough about.

RESTROOMS
Everyone has an aunt that needs to use the washroom every hour. In the early part of the century, travel for farm women was difficult because of the absence of toilets. Accordingly one of the first steps of the WI was to build toilets including the first at Delorraine in a private home and others within municipal buildings like at Birtle.

HOMEMAKING SKILLS
In 1913 the federal govt passed the Agricultural Instruction Act which greatly supported the ability of lecturers to go out to teach dressmaking, millinery and canning skills. Canning proved to be a very successful practise that had a push during the war years when supplies of wheat were short.

They became known as Home Economics Societies and helped with war relief making and sending off socks, pyjamas, sweaters and magazines and cigarettes. The Societies also became active in women’s rights and the suffragette movement and were a major force in 1916 pushing the govt to amend the Manitoba Dower Act.

Over time these groups spread to Britain and by 1933 were a worldwide organisation called the Associated Country Women of the World. In the mid twenties this activity saw rise to a University Extension service complete with newsletter offering courses in personal hygiene, home nursing, theory of foods, principles of cooking, laundry and sewing. But during the depression, the Women’s Institutes lost govt support and had to survive on their own. New classes were developed on thrift and mental health, and they promoted the idea of rural dental clinics.

WW2
During WW2 the women’s Institutes helped find homes for refuges and became advocates of rural electrification.

RURAL HISTORY AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPEMENT
The WI became active in recording local histories and in starting drama festivals. As early as 1949 they advocated the use of Lower Fort Garry as a museum.

They funded a study on the health needs of rural seniors and in 1958 renovated the old Memorial Hospital in Deloraine for a seniors residence. They also pushed for free glasses, wheel chairs and hearing aids. In 1960 they petitioned the provincial govt to build a home for retarded children.

They have been active in hot lunches in the schools, providing playground equipment, and maintaining child welfare centres. They have helped build community halls, established libraries and beautified towns and arranged relief work when disasters have struck. A plaque dedicated to the efforts of the WI hangs inside the legislative building commemorating the creative energy of rural Manitoba women who have enriched the lives of other Manitobans.

Winnipeg Free Press


Winnipeg Free Press

by George Siamandas

On November 9 1872, the first edition of the Free Press hit Winnipeg streets. It started in a classic beginning where a man who wanted to start a newspaper met a man who had the necessary money. William Fischer Luxton had already been Winnipeg’s first public school teacher and had gained newspaper experience in Ontario. His partner, John A Kenny was a retired young farmer with $4,000 cash burning a hole in his pocket. In the fall of 1872, before Winnipeg had been incorporated as a city, they launched the Manitoba Free Press.

It was a weekly then, eight pages long and it became the prairie newspaper along with its offshoot the Prairie Farmer. It already had a prepublication circulation of 200 and within three months it boasted a circulation of 1,000. The population was 1,467 of which 448 were women. Advertising began in early 1873 featuring items like sewing machines and grand pianos. By July 1874 the Manitoba Free Press had become a four page daily.

THE NEWS OF NOVEMBER 9, 1872
Ulysses S Grant just been re elected President, there was flooding in Italy’s Po Valley, riots in Chicago, new 31′ blade swords had just been instituted in the US Army, and Toronto was ntroducing street name signs. Locally they reported about the settlement of the boundary between Manitoba and the US and that three brick buildings were going up on Main Street one of which was to be a three storey hotel.

ISSUES LUXTON TALKED ABOUT
He talked about muddy streets, the need to incorporate as a city, and urged freedom of religion. He took a stand on many things including judicial items, and got into trouble with a judge when he questioned a verdict. Luxton was brought before court for contempt and had to pay a $200 fine which apparently was paid by 64 prominent businessmen who accompanied him to court. In 1874 Luxton ran for mayor in the first civic election but was defeated by Francis Cornish.

JOHN DAFOE BECAME THE LEGENDARY FREE PRESS EDITOR
John Wesley Dafoe became editor in 1901 and for the next 43 years the Free Press became the voice of the west. It was clearly a Liberal paper owned by Clifford Sifton. But the Free Press under Dafoe was known for its influence nationally and even internationally when Dafoe was invited to the 1919 Paris Peace conference. Dafoe loved his job so much he was quoted as saying he would rather be the editor of the Free Press than be the Prime Minister of Canada. His grandson retired as editor last year and continues to live in Winnipeg.

AN EVEN EARLIER PAPER THAN THE FREE PRESS
The Nor’Wester was founded on November 1, 1859 by William Coldwell and a William Buckingham. They bought their ink, paper and printing plant in St. Paul and it took more than a month to come by OX cart and was published out of a shack near Portage and Main. The typewriter had not yet been invented (was still decades away). Their first edition came out December 28, 1859. To get the news then, they depended on the telegraph and the lines would be susceptible to bad weather. It was an expensive service costing 3 cents a word. The news came through Montreal and then Buffalo and St. Paul before reaching Winnipeg. The Nor Wester was a strong advocate of union with Canada and was suppressed by Louis Riel. It operated till Nov 24, 1869. It was the first in all of the North West. There were other papers like the Manitoban, the Liberal, the Gazette and Le Metis.

The Free Press was the only survivor of more than 20 papers that competed in the newspaper business between 1859 and 1883.

WHY HAS THE FREE PRESS BEEN SUSTAINED WHEN SO MANY OTHERS HAVE FAILED?
Apparently it came close in 1980 the year the Tribune closed. It could have gone either way when the newspapers were being rationalized all across Canada in the 1980s.