Jerinne Porteous knows she won’t be around in 2047 when a 50-year time capsule is unearthed at the Erland Lee Museum.
But Porteous, who turns 87 next month, has a message for her children.
“You guys better be there,” she said during an open house and children’s carnival at the historic site last weekend.
Porteous was one of a handful of women on hand last Saturday at the upper Stoney Creek historic site, owned by the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario.
The Fenwick resident was the driving force behind the time capsule and monument, which were placed between 1997 and 1999 to recognize the FWIO’s 100th anniversary.
Porteous has been a lifelong WI member. Her mother started a local branch more than six decades ago and Porteous has been involved ever since.
“Institute was her life and it’s been my life,” she said.
Ontario Women’s Institutes originated at the Lee Museum, a gothic revival heritage house on Ridge Road, once the home of Erland and Janet Lee. Women’s Institutes are responsible for a wide range of advancements most Ontarians now take for granted, from sliced bread to milk pasteurization and the centre lines that delineate road lanes. Adelaide Hunter Hoodless founded Ontario’s first WI at the Erland Lee in 1897, eight years after her son, John Harold, died from drinking unpasteurized milk.
Today, the FWIO has organized an advocacy campaign against pornography.
Barb Stones, a WI member from Beamsville, estimates provincial WI membership has fallen from a peak of 50,000 to about 5,000 today. There are still 54 WI districts throughout Ontario, focused mainly in rural communities.
As WI membership has declined, there are fears that history may be forgotten.
Stones said her institute is organizing arts, crafts and gardening workshops, to appeal to a wider range of interests.
“We’re trying to get back to basics with our class activities, she said.
Stones said WI members recently helped convince politicians to install street lighting on a poorly lit Beamsville roadway.
“We’re losing people, but we’re trying to attract younger people,” she said.
Shirley Froman is also hoping to boost membership at her Binbrook WI. The group currently has 19 members and is one of two WI groups in Glanbrook, along with the Woodburn WI.
“We’re on our way up now,” Froman said.
Froman’s group has seen its membership decline, as members pass away or move into long term care. But the group is attracting newcomers as well, including a 19-year-old tech savvy member who’s helping the group launch its website and Facebook page.
Froman hopes to organize class trips to the Lee for local school groups, including upper Stoney Creek’s Janet Lee elementary. Froman recently visited the school as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. She donned Victorian attire to portray the school’s namesake.
Froman said WI membership is an ideal pasttime for newly-retired women, or those looking to give back to their community. In keeping with the FWIO motto, For Home and Country, members volunteer and raise funds for a variety of charities.
The FWIO offers several different membership types. Women can get involved as a member of a WI branch in their community, or as a associate members.
If no local branch exists, women are invited to set up their own WI group. WI membership includes the FWIO’s Home and Country ROSE Garden newsletter, membership in the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada (FWIC) and the right to hold office at the district and area levels.
For complete membership information, visit www.fwio.on.ca.
Inside the Lee
The first floor features the original kitchen, complete with the 1808 pine floor, fireplace and sideboard with hand-blown glass.
A Victorian parlour faces the escarpment, with horsehair couches, samplers hanging on the walls and historic artifacts like glassware, an antique piano and a stereoscope.
The upper floor bedrooms are complete with children’s beds, baby accessories and a display of antique dolls.
More than 80 per cent of the home’s furnishings are original Lee family artifacts.
Along with the green and white gothic revival home, the site at 522 Ridge Rd. includes a red carriage house with two floors of exhibits on the history of Stoney Creek and the FWIO.
The museum was closed in 2010 after a study commissioned by the FWIO revealed a $1-million repair backlog. The museum reopened in April, 2013. While the site is once again welcoming guests, some renovations are still to come, including replacement of knob and tube wiring in part of the home.
Guided tours of the museum are available on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from Noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment by calling 905-662-2691.