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2018 review: Knutsford W.I. members are in their 80s and still active in their community

Marie Kenny, left, Women’s Institute’s provincial and national past-president, and Lieutenant Governor Antoinette Perry, right, join Knutsford Women’s Institute members for the group’s 90th anniversary celebrations last year. From second left are, Eileen Smallman, Lorraine Harris,
Marie Kenny, left, Women’s Institute’s provincial and national past-president, and Lieutenant Governor Antoinette Perry, right, join Knutsford Women’s Institute members for the group’s 90th anniversary celebrations last year. From second left are, Eileen Smallman, Lorraine Harris, - Contributed

KNUTSFORD, P.E.I. – She was newly married and a new resident of the community when she joined the Knutsford Women’s Institute over 60 years ago.

“It was the ‘in’ thing to do,” said Fairley Yeo, the group’s new president, recalling meetings held in the glow of an oil lamp and with members gathered “round a crackling fire.”

She recently took over the presidency from Orell Smallman, a 2017 Adelaide Hoodless award-winner, who is entering her 70th year as a Knutsford W.I. member.

The current membership of 13 ranges in age from 60 to 90 with only three members said to be under 80 years of age.

“I enjoy the fellowship and working for the community,” acknowledged Smallman, the past-president of the institute group that celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2018.

Smallman acknowledged one of the key objectives of the Knutsford W.I. and other institute groups across P.E.I., was to support their community school. In fact, the group’s organizational meeting in 1928 was held in the Knutsford School No. 40. Following that organizational gathering the first institute meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Beecher Smallman. Subsequent meetings shuffled to various homes.

Knutsford W.I. 2018 activities 

Knutsford Women’s Institute executive members, from left, Fairley Yeo, president; Barb Sweet, treasurer; Orell Smallman, past-president; Verna Smallman, secretary and Betty Sweet, vice president.
Knutsford Women’s Institute executive members, from left, Fairley Yeo, president; Barb Sweet, treasurer; Orell Smallman, past-president; Verna Smallman, secretary and Betty Sweet, vice president.

Participated in 100-km yard sale

Participated in Festival of Small Halls

Provided lunches for Go! PEI bike tour

Hosted three Wedding showers, Community Christmas Party

Celebrated group’s 90th anniversary

Looking ahead to 2019

Working on history of community

Adding fifth historical panel to heritage display

Hosting community events

Hope to participate in Festival of Small Halls

In Knutsford, that school support has continued even after school consolidation in 1974 resulted in the closure of the Knutsford school. It was then that the institute group acquired the old school, members paying two dollars each to help cover the legal costs of the transaction. They’ve converted the building into a community centre and meeting location, and they have tenderly cared for it ever since, applying New Horizon grants towards such improvements as new windows and doors and wheelchair accessibility. 

Community gatherings, including the recent Community Christmas party, are held there. They’ve also hosted Festival of Small Halls events the last two summers.
The institute has received several Rural Beautification awards for the community centre, the Knutsford cemetery and on behalf of the community itself over the years. 

The awards and the care that individual residents take in their properties have been a great source of community pride acknowledged vice-president, Betty Sweet.

Comradery and working with fellow members of the community to better their community, executive members say, are key reasons for staying involved for so many years. Verna Smallman, the institute’s secretary, said she “just knew” when she joined that she would remain involved.

Yard sales and other fundraisers, said Barb Sweet, the organization’s treasurer, enables the Institute to support Community Hospital, school breakfast programs and other programs and services.

While there are still close to 90 institute groups in P.E.I., there has been a steep decline in western P.E.I. where Knutsford and West Devon are the only groups remaining in Area Two. There are no longer any groups in Area One.

There is an obvious lack of younger women joining their group, and, while members understand the challenges, they remain hopeful younger women will join and keep the organization active.

“Younger women are working; we didn’t,” said Verna Smallman. She said that a lot of the senior members of the organization did not hold down jobs outside of the home or off the farm. 

Yeo said their group has ongoing support of many non-members, including 20 community members and former members of the community, who regularly assist with preparation for and hosting of activities.

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