Members of the Metchosin Women’s Institute take in a demonstration of milk pasteurization in 1922

METCHOSIN’S PAST: Madge Watt a Metchosin institution

Among her many accolades were the Agricultural Order of Merit from both France and Belgium

Mrs. Alfred (Madge) Watt lived in Metchosin at the Quarantine Station from 1897 to 1913, a mere 16 years.

The local saying is that one must live here 30 years to call themselves a Metchosinite, but she earned the title through her remarkable career and contributions to women, children and country.

In 1909 a Miss Laura Rose, an organizer for Women’s Institutes, presented a talk on “Bread and Buns” to the Metchosin Farmer’s Institute. So impressed were they with the concept, that after some discussion the Metchosin Women’s Institute was formed as the first such organization in British Columbia.

Margaret Robertson “Madge” Watt was a founding member of the local Women’s Institute and her name is linked with the advertising and entertainment committee. She was a very energetic and purposeful woman. Unusual for her time, she held a master’s degree in history and pedagogic from the University of Toronto, wrote for a New York newspaper and sold many stories, articles and poems, as well as writing pamphlets and articles promoting the Institute.

She gave her time and talents to organize many chapters in British Columbia and accomplished all this while being a devoted mother to two sons, and supportive wife to the chief medical officer at the Quarantine Station.

Watt was widowed in 1913 and moved with her sons to Britain, where they finished their education. When war broke out in 1914, she realized that a rural organization like the Women’s Institute would be able to fill the need of increasing food production. One of the many Institutes started was at Sandringham Castle, with Queen Mary as honourary president.

On her return to B.C. after the War, Watt resumed her efforts and attended the founding meeting of the Federated Women’s Institutes in Winnipeg. She became chairman of the Advisory Board of B.C., served as president of the Vancouver Island Women’s Press Association and was a member of the University of B.C. Senate.

Her vision included an international organization of rural women and in 1933 in Stockholm, the Associated Country Women of the World was founded. She became its first president and over the years travelled to many countries to attend meetings and conferences.

Among her many accolades were the Agricultural Order of Merit from both France and Belgium, and the Member of the Order of the British Empire. The Ontario government declared her birthplace in Collingwood a Historic Site and she was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the Canadian government in 2007.

Several plantings keep Madge’s memory green, including a flowering crabapple tree in Beacon Hill Park, an avenue of lime trees io the grounds of Denman College (the National Federation Of Women’s Institutes’ short-stay residential college), Oxfordshire, and a picnic shelter in the International Peace Gardens near the Canada-U.S. border.

As author Jane Robinson wrote in A Force to be reckoned with – A history of the Women’s Institute, “Madge Watt believed in ‘supportive sisters’ and knew that women could contribute to a better world … She was a builder who believed in the power of women working together regardless of race, religion or nationality … She helped many women broaden their horizons without upsetting their family grouping or breaking up relationships.”

Madge Watt: a worthy Metchosinite!

Wendy Mitchell is president of the Metchosin Museum Society. She can be reached at wendyncmitchell@shaw.ca or by phone at 250-474-4651.

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