For its first seven decades, the limestone house in Cadzow Park, built in 1854, was privately owned. After John G. Lind purchased the property and turned it over to the town in 1926, the house was used as rental space. Then in 1959 new occupants moved in who would shape the historic building’s future. The Queen Alexandra Branch of the Women’s Institute arrived and established the St. Marys Museum.
The Women’s Institute movement in Ontario began in 1897 to improve the lives of rural women and, by extension, to improve rural communities. As one early, long-term project, Institute branches across Ontario began collecting and writing local histories. According to the excellent website of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario (http://fwio.on.ca/) the Committee for Historical Research and Current Events was formed in 1925 to encourage the study of local history to gain “greater insight into the lives and thoughts of our ancestors.” These local history records were eventually formalized as the famous Tweedsmuir Books.
The Institute branch in St. Marys did collect written information but the members decided to do more: They assembled artifacts from the early years of settlement. With this collection, they planned to start a museum. In 1954, the Institute, with support from the Recreation Council, asked the Public Library to find space for a museum, perhaps on the second floor or in the basement. Before this could happen, the town took over the former St. Marys Collegiate Institute for use as a senior elementary school. The new museum was allowed temporary space at one end of the building – a good solution until North Ward School expanded and needed these classrooms.
The Institute’s museum committee was led by Mrs. L. A. (Ida) Ball and Mrs. Edna Fulcher, the driving forces behind this project. They encouraged donors, raised funds, recruited volunteers, set up a records-keeping system and eventually attained their desired objective – a permanent home within the historic house in Cadzow Park. Once established there, the collection expanded. The last tenants left in 1981 and the entire building became a community museum.
In 1979, the Institute turned operations over to the municipality but, for two decades, members had a wonderful time running the Museum. Many artifacts were either within their own experience or only a generation removed and every artifact had a story. This week’s photograph, ca. 1960, shows some members dressed for one of the many special occasions celebrated at the Museum. In the back row from left to right: Eleanor Albert, Flossie Sgariglia, Ida Ball, Joan Near and Edna Fulcher. Seated in front: Mrs. Lee Grose and Mrs. J. Lougheed.
The Museum’s next seminar, Thursday evening, Jan. 23, presents a full history of the stone house. For information, call 519-284-3556.