New Dundee Women’s Institute

Dec 12, 2012

Pictured above: Members Marilyn Sararus and Kate Cressman, hostesses of the WI Tea Party, stand in front of the beautifully decorated table.

The New Dundee Branch of the Women’s Institute welcomes Members from all the surrounding towns. We have an open door concept and cover all ages – one of our youngest Members has just had a baby. We try to make our meetings very diverse and interesting for all ages.

One of our greatest goals was celebrating our 100th Anniversary in 2007. Each meeting that year was reflected in our achievement of 100 years and some of the activities we did included: preparing a float for the New Dundee community Victoria Day celebrations, publishing the 4th edition of the Homemakers Delight recipe cookbook (where over 500 recipes are featured from the current Members), and purchasing canvas souvenir bags with the WI logo that can be used for carrying many different things. One of our biggest projects was the Tweedsmuir History Books. Here is a brief history of why these books are so important:

In the mid 1930’s, Lady Tweedsmuir, wife of Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, took a great interest in the Women’s Institutes in the country. She stressed the need for preserving the history of the Canadian people and suggested that Ontario Women’s Institute Branches keep local history books. In 1940, she was delighted to approve these histories, named after her husband, and so originated “The Tweedsmuir Village History Books.”

Tweedsmuir History Books capture, record and preserve local community history in a very unique way. They vary in form from a simple scrapbook to an elaborate leather bound volume secured with a key. They are comprised of a variety of information which includes the history of the local Women’s Institute, earliest settlers in the area, agricultural practices and history of family farms in the area, history of businesses and industries that form the basis of the community, history of local churches, schools, community centres etc. They record local personalities and happenings, war veterans and much, much more.

The New Dundee Institute took this mandate from Lady Tweedsmuir very seriously. In 1940, they began compiling their own local history books. Presently, our collection contains over 21 albums and records over 175 years of history. The first ones were handwritten and give many details of pioneers in our area. They contain many photographs and newspaper articles as well. The scrapbooks chronicle life in New Dundee, Roseville, Rosebank and Mannheim. A number of ladies contributed valuable information to these histories over many years. If it had not been for their passion, vision and commitment, this valuable resource would not have been preserved.

Until this time, the scrapbooks have been stored in cupboards and closets and have been available to Members for teas and functions. Some of the newspaper articles and handwritten pages are deteriorating and becoming very fragile.

As the current Tweedsmuir committee has been evaluating and realizing the immensity of this treasure, we felt that it was important for this information to be made available to the public. Many people, including genealogists, historians, archivists, educators, students and persons interested in their family history would benefit from being able to scan these books. So, these Tweedsmuir History Books were digitized and put on a webpage which is linked to the local Wilmot Township History archives. These books can be used in the school curriculum where young children can learn about the many achievements of Women’s Institutes.

The Hayesville and New Hamburg Women’s Institute no longer meet as a separated Institute and have amalgamated with our Branch – all of their history is also contained in this webpage. This was very exciting as all of the Members came together to help fund this huge task, with the help of the Township of Wilmot and Our Ontario – a division of Knowledge Ontario, a government organization which provides free assistance to Heritage Organizations seeking to get historical content online, and now it will be preserved for years to come.

Other achievements this Branch has undertaken are many fundraisers. Here are only a few of the many areas our New Dundee Branch is involved in: a hat show where the community was invited and part of the monies raised went towards a new digitalized mammography machine for the St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener; St. Patrick Day Irish Supper where monies raised went to support the new community playground that was built in the park; annually, pies are baked from the membership and sold at the Victoria Day event in the park and monies raised at this event go towards our annual commitments of the Ambassador of the Fair, held at the New Hamburg Fair, 4-H clubs and many other community events we enjoy and are proud to support. All of these activities keep our ladies very busy and the fellowship and camaraderie is definitely shared by all.

On February 19th, the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario put out a challenge for WI Members to sit down and have a cup of tea at 3:00pm. New Dundee Women’s Institute decided to embrace this challenge and 35-40 Members gathered at the home of Kate Cressman for afternoon Tea. Silver tea services were at each end of the long dining room table, with senior Members serving high tea. Pink roses in a crystal vase centred a table filled with dainty sandwiches and squares displayed on round pedestal cake plates. Many Members arrived with long dresses complete with hat and gloves. Tea was served with those present. Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario celebrated 114 years of meeting together in many towns and villages across Ontario. There are also Women’s Institutes across Canada and the World. New Dundee WI has a link with a group in England and Australia and enjoys getting updates throughout the year.

Our monthly meetings have a community forum, always open for Members to invite friends. There are many excellent speakers that come to share their work and interests which gives the variety needed each month. Some of our Members have gladly shared their experiences of trips that have enriched their lives and they have passed this passion onto each of us. These kinds of meetings keep us informed and the support, interaction and fellowship after each meeting continues to draw us back each month.

By Carol Sararus,

Life Member