Pandemic Challenges for Historic Mount Pleasant Women’s Institute Hall

Photo Karen Graham.
For more than a century, this hall has been a place for the community to congregate for social and even political events. Like most venues, it has been shuttered for a year now, eliminating its traditional revenue sources required to fund its operating costs. Members of the group are struggling to decide if or how to preserve this piece of history.

The members of the Mount Pleasant Women’s Institute (WI) are known for their hospitality.  They host a variety of social events in their hall located on County Rd. 10, including community dinners, pancake breakfasts, markets, music events and of course, their monthly meetings.

The Women’s Institute organization has a rich past, and could be described as the first feminist organization in Canada.  From a single group started in Stoney Creek, Ontario, the Women’s Institute is now an international organization with branches around the world, and was founded in Stoney Creek, Ontario.  An educated, middle class mother of four living in Hamilton, Adelaide Hoodless sought education for women about their domestic responsibility based on science after the death of her youngest son that was attributed to “summer milk fever”, likely caused by the consumption of unpasteurized milk.  Hoodless lobbied for domestic science education for girls in public schools and universities to give them tools to improve domestic hygiene and science-based food preparation skills.

The organization’s mission was to improve the life of rural women, which they did through practical training such as safe canning processes, milk handling and kitchen design.  Soon their mandate stretched to broader issues affecting women including farm succession and estate plans.  WI members also took active roles in supporting the Canadian war efforts during both world wars. While most WI activities were focused on local community issues, the members also used their collective weight to lobby government for changes related to women’s issues.  From its beginnings, the organization has extended its concern beyond their communities with charitable support of domestic and international causes.

The Mount Pleasant WI branch owns their hall.  In the early 1900’s, they acquired it for $1 from the Good Templers, a men’s temperance movement, on the condition that they wouldn’t hold dances there.  They use the building to draw the community together through their events, as it is the only community space where neighbours can congregate in the hamlet.  Some of their most popular events are their Friday evening Coffee Houses which feature local musicians, which have been one of their main source of funds.  These alcohol-free events respect the local group’s temperance benefactors.  The money raised by the WI funds the hall’s operational expenses such as heat and hydro, as well as charitable organizations that support the organization’s rural-focused mission such as Farms at Work, selected each year at their District association meeting.

The hall is a lovely heritage building lovingly maintained. It looks like a museum inside, with wooden floors, a stage and benches along the walls.  Window sills and walls feature small artifacts from days past, and it contains more than a century of local history collected and curated by past and current members of the Mount Pleasant women’s organization.

Like any museum, the building’s historic charm comes with modern-day challengers, not the least of which are significant plumbing deficiencies.

Before the pandemic played havoc with everyone’s plans, the dozen members of the group had begun to organize a significant upgrade to the washrooms to make them accessible.  Volunteers were lined up and a fundraising campaign was in the works.  Then the lock down began, ushering the start of a year without events.  These days, the members are wondering how long they can continue to keep the doors open – figuratively, that is- let alone find the resources to fund a renovation.

Members are torn between spending the energy and effort to preserve and protect this community landmark or re-directing their limited energies and resources towards their core mandate of education and advocating for rural women and communities.  One of their more recent achievements was successfully lobbying for a four way stop at the main intersection in Mount Pleasant, which has had a calming effect on the village.

If you would like to learn more or offer suggestions or support, President Beth Deleff would be happy to hear from you by email at  KG

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