You may recall the announcement earlier this year when we reported the unveiling of the plaque denoting Margaret “Madge” Watt as a Canadian Woman of Distinction. What follows is the account of the August 14th, Parks Canada ceremony designating Mrs. Margaret “Madge” Watt as a Person of National Historic Significance.
Mrs. Watt, born in Ontario and a former resident of Metchosin and Victoria, initiated the Women’s Institutes in Great Britain and went on to gather the rural women’s groups from around the world into the Associated Country Women of the World of which Mrs. Watt served as the first president, from 1933 to 1947. She passed away in Montreal in 1948 and is interred there.
Under the Canadian Federal Elections regulations, no publicity of events such as this may be distributed during an election campaign as it could give the impression of favouring one political party over the others. Hence the delay.
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Special guests for the event included British Columbia Provincial President Janet Bangs and Vice President Colleen Hooper, Past World President Lyndsay (Hackett-Pain) Mundy, Sharon Hatten, current Chairman of the ACWW United Nations Committee and Joan Holthe, President Elect of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada. Lyn Gough of the Victoria Chapter of the Women’s History Month group, as well as Maureen and Nina Duffus. The Duffus ladies represented the Watt family – Maureen’s cousin was married to Robin Watt, Madge Watt’s eldest son. Special messages were received from the Associated Country Women of the World, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes of England and Wales, Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada and Dr. Helen Geissinger of New South Wales, Australia, great-niece of Mrs. Watt.
The hall was adorned for the occasion with table décor of greenery and small Canadian flags. The 100th anniversary Women’s Institute display, prepared by the Royal British Columbia Museum was enjoyed by many attendees, as well as a display of quilts, and of course, one on Mrs. Watt. A historic British Columbia Women’s Institute flag was graciously loaned to us for this occasion by the Sunshine Valley Women’s Institute. This flag was a hand-painted rendition of the BC Women’s Institute official emblem. Members from Kamloops went to the effort of bringing one of the Provincial banners for the occasion. Ladies in turn of the century costumes greeted guests at the door and added a touch of Mrs. Watt’s time in history to the occasion.
Chairman for the day was Dr. Hal Kalman, from Parks Canada, who introduced the panel and spoke about the appellation Mrs. Watt has been granted. This was followed by speeches by BCWI President Janet Bangs, BCWI Provincial Historian Ruth Fenner, and Dr. Helen Davies of Parks Canada, all of which celebrated Mrs. Watt’s life and achievements. Dr. Helen Davies cited a quote from Mrs. Watt as “service to humanity is the finest flower of civilization”. We believe this is true today of the efforts of Women’s Institute members everywhere.
Next, the plaque was unveiled, and the cameras all came to the fore. The message on the plaque is inscribed in both English and French, and the English text reads as follows:
MARGARET “MADGE” WATT
In 1909, Mrs. Watt helped found the first Women’s Institute in British Columbia, bringing rural women together to learn agricultural and domestic skills and to promote civic reform. After moving to Britain in 1913, she used the Canadian model to establish Women’s Institutes there, leading women during the First World War in a critical campaign to alleviate food shortages. Following the war, Watt became a driving force behind the foundation of a major international rural women’s organization, the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW), serving as its first president from 1933 until 1947.
Just when the plaque will reach its final public site is, at the time of this writing, unknown. But members everywhere can rest assured that those of us who have worked on this project since it was first suggested by the Women’s Institute, Lyn Gough and the Women’s History Month group will be watching and asking until this too, is achieved.
Our thanks to all who attended, and all those who have in whatever way, contributed to the success of bringing this about. Mrs. Watt may no longer be with us in body, but her spirit will live on through this and other sites where we and other Women’s Institute members have helped to establish public plaques and cairns to commemorate her life and worldwide accomplishments.
Another milestone achieved — may there be many more!
Ruth Fenner, BC Women’s Institute Provincial Historian
About WI Women’s Institute is a local, provincial, national and international organization that promotes women, families and communities. Our goal is to empower women to make a difference.
The idea to form a national group was first considered in 1912. In 1914, however, when the war began the idea was abandoned. At the war’s end, Miss Mary MacIsaac, Superintendent of Alberta Women’s Institute, revived the idea. She realized the importance of organizing the rural women of Canada so they might speak as one voice for needed reforms, and the value of co-ordinating provincial groups for a more consistent organization. In February 1919, representatives of the provinces met in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to form the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada.