Birr WI 100th Anniversary

One hundred years of female camaraderie and work to benefit Home and Country were acknowledged during a celebration marking the 100th Anniversary of Birr Women’s Institute (London Area).

The celebration took place at the Ilderton Community Centre on April 14, 2011, with a full program of events beginning at noon. The current president of Birr Women’s Institute (BWI), Helen White, introduced special guests including Women’s Institute dignitaries and government representatives. In keeping with the history of the Institute, God Save the Queen was sung in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, herself a Member of a British Branch of the Institute. The Institute Ode was also sung; the Mary Stewart Collect (a prayer for the day for club women) was recited and the Institute Grace was sung prior to the serving of lunch. Pianist Wayne Hindmarsh provided background music to a Power Point presentation of historical images of the Birr area displayed on a screen prepared by Bryanston-Birr Optomist member, Charlie Arnott.

Following the meal, BWI members Leona Hughes and Nancy Orosz lit memorial candles and spoke words of recognition for Members of the Institute who were present only in spirit. White then read from the minutes of the very first BWI meeting, which was held on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1911.

The dignitaries then gave greetings and congratulations to the group. President of Middlesex Northwest District noted that BWI is the second group in this District area to celebrate a 100th Anniversary this year and spoke positively about the ability of the Women’s Institutes to continue thriving, saying, “together we stand and make a difference.” Alternate Voting Delegate, Glenna Ladell also congratulated BWI and stated that the Branches of the Women’s Institute continue to benefit women and families through education and advocacy. London Area President Berniece Harris and Middlesex East District President June Rogers also gave greetings and congratulations prior to the presentation by Rie Van Steeg of the 100-year anniversary pins to current BWI Members.

Hughes then introduced the Goldies band, which provided entertainment throughout the afternoon. Everyone in attendance enjoyed singing along to the “oldies” tunes and members of the head table even performed the Hokey Pokey at the group’s request. As the Goldies sang “The More We Get Together, the Happier We’ll Be,” the women all joined hands to sing and sway along to the lyrics.

MPP Maria Van Bommel presented a certificate to White and congratulated the BWI Members. She stated that what is not documented in the list of the Institute’s accomplishments is the kindness demonstrated by the Members. Van Bommel demonstrated this by sharing a personal story regarding her mother, who was greeted by a Member of the Institute as a new immigrant to the country. Reportedly, Van Bommel’s mother, who did not speak English at the time, later said of the experience, “I didn’t understand a word she said, but I understood her as a woman.”

Mayor of Middlesex Centre, Al Edmondson also offered congratulations and described the Members of the Institute as women who make things happen, instead of watching things happen. “You make things happen to make the world a better place,” he said.

Prior to a brief break in the program, Glenna Ladell presented 25-year pins to five current Members of the Birr Women’s Institute. Following the break, BWI Members Ruth Parkinson and Lois Ryall provided histories of Birr Women’s Institute and Emily Jane Guest, the pioneer of the Branch who was raised on a farm located on Highway 4, south of Elginfield Road. A pin that was specifically designed for Guest by Institute Members in Britain following the First World War, which depicts the Institute logo set in pearls and anchored on either side by a rose to represent England and a maple leaf to represent Canada, has been passed on to each president of the Birr Women’s Institute since Guest’s death in 1936. White proudly wore the pin during the Anniversary celebrations.

Hughes and fellow BWI Member Jean McComb donned costumes to recite Institute poems prior to the singing of O Canada to close the afternoon’s festivities. Historical items were on display around the hall during the event, and an ice sculpture created by Ice Culture of Hensall featuring the Women’s Institute’s logo above a 100th Anniversary banner was also on display compliments of Lois Ryall.