Small But Mighty

wi women

The Municipality of Pictou County recently proclaimed Feb. 17 -23 as Women’s Institute Week. On hand for the proclamation signing were, from the left:  Lynn MacLean, Betty Ann Battist, Provincial WI President Eleanor Lley,  Warden Robert Parker, Lyons Brook WI Branch President Ruth Mackay, Shelia Reynolds and Betty Doucet.

“We are indeed a small group of women empowered to make a significant difference,”- Ruth Mackay, president of the  Lyon’s Brook WI Branch.

PICTOU, NS – County Warden Robert Parker signed a proclamation Monday that officially declared Feb. 17 to 23, 2019 as Women’s Institute Week in the Municipality.

For 106 years, the Women’s Institute continue to provide Nova Scotian women with opportunities through community service and involvement, education, personal and leadership development.   

The first Women’s Institute in Nova Scotia was formed in 1913 in Salt Springs, Pictou County.

Ruth Mackay, president of the Lyon’s Brook Branch of the Women’s Institute which is celebrating its 90th year,  told Council that it’s motto of “For Home and Country,” reflects WINS aims: to help rural and urban women acquire knowledge and skills needed to meet the demands of  life in the 21st Century and to foster concern and cooperation among women for the betterment of home and country, and the world-wide community.

She said WI branches meet monthly and take care of business, but also focus each meeting on learning.  Topics are as diverse as the membership and can be anything from the writing process of published authors, through decluttering homes, making a traditional Mi’kmaq basket, learning about tartan design or growing an herb garden, to finding out about the Civil Search and Rescue Association.

Mackay said beyond mutual support and education, Wi is also a project focused organization.

“In the early days, Women’s Institutes branches were active in supporting the war effort by raising money for an ambulance and knitting hundreds of pairs of socks, providing cod liver oil capsules to students, lobbying for a school mike program and painting yellow lines on highways, and more recently lobbying the Provincial Government regarding action on Lyme Disease,” she said. “Pictou District branches support community halls, school breakfast programs and bursaries, Roots for Youth, Viola’s Place, Kids First, Tearmann House, hospitals and those who are sick and shut in, just to name a few.”

Lyon’s Brook, the oldest of nine active branches in Pictou District, will celebrate its 90th birthday on March 9th.

The Lyon’s Brook WI has worked in collaboration with other community leaders, honoured its village by spearheading the commemoration of the Ship Betsey’s legacy in both 1992 and 2017. Curbside banners were purchased with assistance from the Municipality of Pictou County in 2017 for the event and continue to highlight village history for those travelling through in the summer months.

The community historical kiosk outlining settlement, industry and social fabric of the village is a project realized once again through WI leadership in collaboration with several other residents.  Attentive to current events, Lyon’s Brook WI responded to the Ivany Report, titled “Now or Never”, regarding the necessity of nurturing our own economy by initiating “Buy Local in Lyons Brook”, a very well attended market showcasing the wide diversity of enterprise carried on within the village.

Mackay said the very close-to-home projects is complemented by the participation of branches in district, provincial, national and international projects. From Pictou District twiddle muffs to help dementia patients to finger puppets to ease children’s hospital lab experience, through the provincial Buckle Up Baby program that facilitated infant car seat available and the national “Into the North” initiative providing very tangible support to isolated Arctic communities, to projects of the Associated Country Women of the World in developing countries to build wells, and enhance employment.

“We are indeed a small group of women empowered to make a significant difference,” said Mackay.

She said a long-standing partnership within Pictou District is the role WI plays in the Pictou-North Colchester Exhibition.  It is WI members that receive entries, organize judges, and arrange displays of handcraft, art and food entries and also serve as Exhibition week hosts.

“An obviously industrious collective, we also have a great deal of fun with especially fond memories of side splitting skits rendered sometimes purely for entertainment, and at others to sugar-coat a more serious message,” she said. “Cultural outings to theatrical and musical events have made for some truly memorable road trips,” Mackay said.

While the historical significance of Women’s Institute, predating women’s suffrage,  is formalizing the role of women as masters of social change is undebatable, its current relevance is also without questions, she told Council. Women aspired to be attentive and responsive to social issues at home and abroad make for a better world for all.

She said acts of solidarity, such as Women Walk the World held each April, generating funds for “Pennies for Friendship” , emphasize that the smallest contribution toward the most fundamental actions, collectively moves the world towards mutual understand and support.

“In the time-honoured words of cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that has.”  Lyon’s Brook Women’s Institute, representing Pictou District WI, is justifiably proud to be among those world-changing small groups upheld by Dr. Meade and most grateful to be honoured for our efforts by the Pictou County Municipal Council,” she said.