Ellen McLean has been an active WI member for close to seventy years. Over that time, she has served in many roles including President of the Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia, President of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) and President of the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). Testimony to her excellent leadership and service, Ellen has received an honorary doctorate degree from St. Francis Xavier Univerity, been inducted to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, received the Order of Canada as well as being the first recipient of the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Women of the Year. Over the coming months, Ellen will share insights from her many stories and/or provide her perspective on our world today.
For the past seven weeks, we have been experiencing something that we have never imagined could happen. All of Canada has been on “lockdown”. Some of us have been isolated in our homes relying on family members, friends and neighbours to do our essentials shopping. Those same people have also shown thoughtfulness and kindness and left tasty treats at our door.
Some of us have had to work from home, and many have had to combine work with caring for young children and with schools closed, helping older children with their school work. Some have seen the businesses where they work closed and are concerned if they will ever reopen. Some are essential workers, the front line workers who risk their own lives so they are there for us if needed.
We haven’t been able to go to church, or to a concert or sports event. We haven’t been able to visit family, mourn or celebrate together, visit a loved one in hospital or a long term care facility., and despite Facebook, facetime, Skype and Zoom, emails and the good old telephone, it has been very strange. A whole new way of living. It has been weeks of anxiety, fear, stress and sorrow. But we have hope for better days to come.
We may have known the meaning of the word pandemic, but now we are experiencing it.
We have also acquired new words in our vocabulary, - locked down, flattening the curve, self-isolation, social distancing, physical distancing, new normal. As Women’s Institute members we have had to cancel our Branch meetings. Though some of our more “tech-savvy” members have Zoomed their Meetings!
Board and Committee meetings have been held by teleconference, provincial Offices are closed, provincial Conventions and Annual Meetings have been cancelled or postponed. And we have not been able to carry out our usual volunteer activities.
But true to Women’s Institute members, there are sewing machines working overtime as members sew masks to be distributed to hospitals, long term care facilities, nursing homes, women’s shelters and the homeless. Once we arrive at the “new normal” it will be interesting to learn how many masks were sewn by our members across Canada.
There are three words that I keep hearing and reading during these unreal times - Strong, Stronger Together. In July 1919, two or three representatives from their provincial Women’s Institutes across Canada boarded trains and left for Winnipeg, Manitoba for a Meeting. This was just a few months after the end of World War I These women had not only experienced the horrors of four years of war but had also lived through the pandemic known as the Spanish Influenza that had ravaged the world in 1917-18.
They had lost family and friends from conflict and disease. But they were women of vision and determination, who felt that if the Women’s Institutes were going to be a real voice for rural women, their families and communities, they needed to be working together. In doing that, the stronger voice would have more impact when it was heard and listened to. That was what resulted in the organization of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada at that Meeting.
Strong women who were stronger together.
COVID-19 has brought grief to many, and our deep sympathy goes out to them. Here in my own province of Nova Scotia, we are still in shock over the senseless, horrific, mass killing of twenty-two innocent fellow Nova Scotians. And then this week Nova Scotia again is grieving over the loss of life in the helicopter crash off the coast of Greece.
As Canadians, we have really had to be strong as those Women’s Institute members were one hundred and one years ago. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Some provinces are easing restrictions just a little. Our leaders are very conscious of the fact that we have to move slowly so as not to have a surge in the COVID cases. And though we are getting a little restless, but must keep adhering to the regulations and advice we have been given.
Stronger Together is what we are in our families, communities and in the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada.
Stay home, stay healthy and stay strong.