The Sydenham Women’s Institute: Reflections on 100 Years of Service

The Sydenham Women’s Institute is over halfway through its 100th-year celebrations and 100 years of service in the community.

Inspired by Mrs. Adelaide Hoodless, an internationally recognized speaker and advocate for family education, Sydenham’s W.I. was organized on June 25, 1919, during an afternoon meeting at the Lacey home, situated in the village of Sydenham between the railroad tracks and the bridge.

With a current membership of 25, the W.I. is still going strong, although annual fees have increased from their original 25 cents to $53.00. We occasionally meet in members’ homes, but most often we meet in the community room of the Sydenham library on the second Monday of every month. What has remained constant over the last 100 years is the W.I.’s dedication to rural living, local institutions, and individuals in the community.

The Women’s Institute has always raised money through bake sales, craft sales, and special events. In the 1920s, money was earned by selling school lunches and sponsoring motion picture shows in the town hall during the winter weather. That money went directly back into the community, providing chairs for the town hall, cigarettes and candy bars to WWI veterans at the Kingston General Hospital, a few cords of wood for needy families, and Christmas cheer baskets for the sick and shut-in.

As the years rolled on, the W.I. sponsored music lessons, public speaking contests, milk and hot lunches in local schools, signboards for the roads approaching the village, layettes for local babies, and picnics and winter carnivals for local children. Just prior to the beginning of World War II, the W.I. sponsored health nurses in local schools and a tetanus clinic at Sydenham Public School, overseen by Dr. Sargeant. During the Second World War, the W.I. created care packages to send to soldiers, knitted socks and sewed bandages.

The needs of the community have changed over the years and it soon became clear that in addition to supporting households, the W.I. could support the infrastructure of the local community. Never shy of setting big goals, the W.I. set up a partnership with the Board of Trade and Loughborough Memorial Recreation Centre in 1946. The goal: to raise funds to pay for what we now know as “The Point”. This partnership continued until 1955 with the Sydenham’s Women’s Institute, through numerous small fundraising events, contributing an average yearly payment of $550.00! Once The Point was constructed, the Red Cross began offering swimming lessons and the W.I. still sponsors their efforts to teach children water safety.

Opportunities to help the community, large and small, continued to present themselves. Not afraid of hard work, in 1954 and 1967, the W.I. cleaned and repainted the Sydenham Cemetery fence. The decade of the 1980s saw frenzied fundraising culminating in a $2000.00 donation for the Town Hall’s new foyer addition and thousands of dollars were raised to furnish a hospice room at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital in the name of Dr. S. Rybak, a beloved local physician. When the Meadowbrook Seniors’ Apartments needed a new elevator, the W.I. contributed $1000.00. The new millennium presented the W.I. with the opportunity to contribute to new playground equipment at Loughborough Public School.

Since its establishment, there are many annual events with which the W.I. has been involved. Since 1962 the W.I., in partnership with other community groups such as the Legion, has sponsored a Christmas dinner given to local seniors aged 75 or older. Since 1975 The Sydenham Women’s Institute Award is given to a Loughborough Township Grade 12 student who obtains high standing and is continuing their education. Annually, the W.I. also supports the Food Bank, the Loughborough Christmas and Emergency Relief fund, July 1st events at The Point, 4H, Remembrance Day at the Sydenham cenotaph, and the Sydenham tree lighting ceremony while continuing to respond to the needs of fire victims, single mothers and victims of domestic violence.

The W.I. can’t do it all, but over the past 100 years, members have done a little bit of everything, showing that with dedication and community spirit, much is possible. Workshops on bread-making and preserving fruits and vegetables, sewing and baking for charity and craft sales, and charitable work continue to be part of the W.I. revealing the skills of its members and a dedication to the W.I’s mandate to support “healthy family and community initiatives”.

The DrugSmart Pharmacy in Sydenham is having an appreciation event for the Sydenham W.I. on February 19th; customers are asked to donate to our ‘shoebox for women in crisis’ campaign and ten percent of their profits that day will be donated to the W.I. On February 10th the W.I. will host “A Magical Evening” with Rob Driscoll at the Mapleridge Apartments. There is a craft and bake sale on May 23rd at the Grace Centre, 4295 Stage Coach Road, Sydenham from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Furthermore, homemade pies, squares and cookies are our specialty and will be available at our table at the Lions Hall during the Verona Car Show August 9th.

Whether you are new to the community or just new to the Women’s Institute, you are welcome to join us for our monthly meetings (second Monday of each month at the Sydenham Library, 6:30 p.m.). For inquiries, please contact Shirley Fox, 613-376-3689.