Community Papers

Celebrating 90 years in Shirley

Stephanie Croft, president of the Shirley Women
Stephanie Croft, president of the Shirley Women's Institute.
— image credit: Britt Santowski

There is wisdom that is born from experience, and sometimes — when life is too busy rushing forward — we forget to pause and reach back into the past to learn old and possibly forgotten lessons.

In Shirley, there are a group of women who are doing just that, pausing and reaching back. As expressed by president Stephanie Croft in an article she wrote for the Rural Observer a few years back, “there is a movement among younger generations which to learn more eco-friendly, health conscious, sustainable ways of living of past generations. That this is what the revived Shirley Women’s Institute strives to do: share knowledge on healthy living practices and support community.”

This year this group, the Shirley Women’s Institute, marks its 90th birthday.

The Shirley Women’s Institute is a branch of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada (fwic.ca). FWIC was conceived by Adelaide Hoodless in 1912, and has since expanded across Canada with 1,000 branches, and 13,000 members.

By 1919, the Institute was established, and within five years, it had travelled west and piqued the interest of the women from Shirley.

According to Croft, the Shirley Women’s Institute was founded by eight women in late October, 1924. They met at the Shirley School House, and would discuss (and advocate for) the concerns of local residents. Safer road conditions, school improvements, and health clinics were often on their list.

One of the most nationally notable influences achieved by the Shirley Women’s Institute was their success in preventing the “combining of Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day in 1929,” said Croft in a speech she delivered to the National Women’s Institute Conference in June, 2012. “Starting with a simple resolution, this movement gained national momentum, inducing the federal government to make November 11 its own public holiday.”

This was quite the achievement, managing to circulate a petition throughout Canada at that time, Croft laughs, especially given that it was accomplished well before social media — a tool that has just recently arrived in Shirley.

By 2010, interest was ebbing.

“Three years ago, they couldn’t find anyone to take over,” recalls Croft. “There were maybe three members left.” Croft received a call from a friend who thought it might be a perfect fit for her, and it resonated. The established age of the Institute appealed to her, and the values reflected her own. She has since stepped up and has grown the membership over the past few years.

Interestingly, much of the issues that they advocated for when they first established continue to be today’s issues of concern. Dumping garbage, road safety and road conditions still prevail, says Croft. “It’s interesting that these issues have always existed in this area.”

Membership is open to all women. A perfect fit would be a woman who shares their values.

“In the past,” said Croft in conversation, “they tended to be of an older generation. But for us, I would say we are in our 30s, mostly 30s and 40s, we’re living rurally, and most of us didn’t grow up living rurally, so we have an interest in the rural lifestyle. Being more self sufficient, growing our own food, and preserving our own food, trying to make things from scratch and living more wholesomely.”

Celebrating 90 is a pretty significant milestone, and there are a few events planned throughout the year.

Some of the events planned this year include a members-only Adelaide Hoodless lunch on February 26 in Shirley. This lunch will be opened up to other south Vancouver Island WI branches, and will include a guest speaker. Later in the year, there will also be a travelling exhibit, which will be put together sometime later this summer, and a tree-planting picnic sometime in September.

As with their mandate to increase the self-sufficiency of their members, the Shirley Women’s Institute is also entirely self sustained. They raise their own funds through events, craft tables at the Shirley Market, and in the past, through the sales of a cookbook.

Membership is $42 per year, and there are currently 12 active members with a few other potential sign-ups pending. Some of the fundraisers throughout the year are used to subsidize memberships.

Any one interested in learning more about the Shirley Women’s Institute can contact Stephanie Croft at stephaniecroft@hotmail.com.

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