“Volunteerism Is Contagious:” A Century of Service for Canada

When an individual or organization reaches their hundredth birthday there is cause for celebration. This holds true for the IODE founded a century ago on Feb. 13, 1900. A distinctly Canadian organization, the Order was the brainchild of Margaret Polson Murray (1844–1927) of Montreal. Early in January 1900, she sent a telegram to the mayors of Canadian cities, suggesting that they call a meeting of local women to discuss forming a national federation to express devotion to the Empire.

The first positive response came from Fredericton NB which agreed to form such an auxiliary. At a further meeting in Montreal, on Feb. 13, 1900, the formal establishment of the Order took place. As a result, this date is observed annually by the IODE as Founder’s Day. Appropriately, the city of Fredericton, birthplace of the first chapter, will play host to the IODE centennial annual meeting June 1–4, 2000.

In order to place the IODE in perspective, let’s go back back to Canada at the dawn of the twentieth century. Confederation had taken place a mere thirty-three years earlier. Queen Victoria was still on the throne, having celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Canada’s Governor General was the Earl of Minto; while the federal government led by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, first elected in 1896, was to be re-elected Nov. 7, 1900.

The country was very much part of the British Empire. By 1900, Canada had won control over most internal matters; however, relations with other countries were largely under British jurisdiction. Britannia ruled the waves in people’s minds, if not in fact. Headlines were dominated by the South African or Boer War (1899–1902). The immediate impact of the war was a sharp division of public opinion.

On one side were those who felt that Canada, as part of the Empire, must automatically support the British cause. Arrayed against them, were others who questioned the justness of the war and opposed Canadian participation. Caught in the middle, the government fashioned a typical Canadian compromise. Prime Minister Laurier held the view that Canada was not bound to participate in the war unless the Empire was threatened. But, since many Canadians wished to enlist, the government decided to equip these volunteers and transport them to South Africa.

The approximately eight thousand Canadian soldiers who volunteered were to distinguish themselves in battle; with three of their number being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Although under British command, their overseas service did much to arouse national self-consciousness and pride. It was in this Imperialist setting that the IODE was organized. A motto Patriotism, Loyalty and Service was adopted to accompany a distinctive badge. With slight alterations, this badge is still in use.

In keeping with it’s motto the IODE swung into action. Letters from the South African front indicated a need for comfort kits and extra clothing. With the supply of these items, there began a century long tradition of support for Canada’s armed services. Over time an all inclusive IODE goal emerged — to improve the quality of life for children, youth and those in need through educational, social service and citizenship programs. During the past century the Order has raised millions of dollars to fulfill this goal. Unfortunately, space will permit the highlighting of only a few examples of IODE projects.

Nationally, the IODE War Memorial Post Graduate Scholarships deserve special recognition. Begun as a living memorial to the fallen of the First World War, these scholarships continue to be awarded annually. A total of nine were granted in the past year. Second only to the better known Rhodes Scholarships in value and prestige, scores of outstanding Canadian graduate students have benefitted from this program.

Over the years, the IODE has supported many projects designed to improve the quality of life for all Canadians. These have ranged all the way from the planting of commemorative gardens, to teen parenting programs; from RCMP Police Community Relations Awards to bursaries for students in need. Looking to the future, the National Chapter made a decision in 1999 to raise and invest $200,000. to fund special grants to individuals or groups striving to alleviate child abuse and neglect.

Of equal importance have been activities undertaken within New Brunswick. In the 1970s the Provincial Chapter identified children with learning disabilities as a priority. A comprehensive brief was prepared for presentation to Premier Richard Hatfield and cabinet. The rest, as they say, is history. A pilot clinic for learning disadvantaged children was established and before long, New Brunswick was leading the way in the integration of disadvantaged students in regular classrooms. In 1989, to mark the 90th anniversary of the IODE, the Provincial Chapter launched a $90,000. appeal for the Heart Unit at the Saint John Regional Hospital. As part of the drive, the CBC television show Front Page Challenge was sponsored in Sackville by the Fort Beausejour Chapter. The result was $4,000 raised for this cause.

Yet another creative provincial initative, the Born To Read program, was embraced by all local IODE Chapters. It’s basic premise is that children respond when read to at an early age. Gift packs of books are presented to new mothers, thereby encouraging them to read to their children. Born To Read is now administered by Literacy New Brunswick and enjoys the full support of Lieutenant Governor Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell. The latter has been, for many years, a member of the Lord Sackville Chapter.

The Tantramar region has benefitted from the presence of three IODE chapters: Lord Sackville, Fort Beausejour and Shepody. The oldest, the Lord Sackville Chapter, dates from Aug. 28 1914. Founded following the outbreak of World War One, and under the leadership of its first regent, Mrs. J. M. Palmer the Chapter’s focus was what might be done in this time of crisis. For the next four years, members were involved in meeting troop trains as they passed through Sackville, knitting socks and providing special kits for those on active duty.

At the end of the War it was found that some medical supplies gathered by the Chapter were no longer needed overseas. No time was wasted in putting these to good use. The town council was approached and agreement reached that the Lord Sackville Chapter would sponsor a VON nurse. For the next 17 years this was to be a major initiative of the Chapter. Well Baby Clinics were established and in 1928 a car was purchased for the benefit of the nurse. By 1935 the service was well established and sponsorship was passed over to a VON Board.

Another example selected from a long list of Lord Sackville Chapter achievements, takes us back to the creation of the town’s first public library. In 1935, to mark Young Canada Book Week, the Chapter opened a children’s library in the basement of Mount Allison’s Memorial Library. Later, it was to merge with the local branch of the Albert-Westmorland-Kent Regional Library, first located in the Town Hall. On March 12, 1984, at the official opening of the present Sackville Public Library, the cornerstone was unveiled by Eileen Cuthbertson. She, along with Marjorie West had given longtime leadership to the library project.

1939 was a repeat performance of 1914 for the Lord Sackville Chapter. Within days of the declaration of war on September 10, 1939, members were knitting socks for soldiers stationed in Sackville. These servicemen were posted here to guard the railway bridge crossing the Tantramar River; thus protecting a vital wartime link between Central Canada and Halifax. As the war progressed the Chapter supported many other activities, including: cooperating with the Salvation Army in providing meals for service personnel, donating books for Camp Debert library and assisting the work of the local Ration Board.

Following the Second World War the Chapter’s focus shifted to the support of national and provincial projects and funding for numerous community activities. Local schools were adopted and items such as books, bookcases, maps and supplies provided. Radios were purchased so that rural schools might participate in CBC School Broadcasts. Funds were also allocated for the VON, local hospitals and the IWK Hospital for Children.

Over the years, both Sackville Chapters have supported a number of special endeavors. Consider the following; the New Brunswick Seminar on Safety, Mount Allison United Nations Seminar, special assistance to schools in Labrador and the Portage Drug Rehabilitation Centre For Youth located at Cassidy Lake, southeast of Norton NB. One of the Lord Sackville Chapter’s fund raising activities, their annual used book sale, has become an important event within the community. Many local residents have been known to donate a carton of books for this worthy cause, only to take home the same carton filled with new/old book bargains!

The second Sackville IODE Chapter, Fort Beausejour, received its charter on March 6, 1935. Under the leadership of the first Regent, Marjorie Wry, the Chapter provided a hint of future ventures by promoting the Girl Guide Movement. In November 1936, local Guiding received a boost with the Chapter’s organization of the 36th IODE Guide Company. One Chapter member recalled: Those who served as Guide leaders, for the 10 years of our sponsorship, nursed more sore muscles than they realized they had in their bodies.

In common with other Chapters, the Second World War was a turning point for Fort Beausejour. Raising funds for the war effort and assisting service personnel came to the fore. The two Sackville Chapters were involved in providing comfort kits for crew members on the corvette HMCS Sackville. Nor was assistance limited to this form of aid. Incredibly, Chapters from across Canada raised funds sufficient to cover the cost of two aircraft — a Spitfire fighter and a Bolingbroke bomber!

The Fort Beausejour Chapter singled out for attention the forgotten seamen of the Merchant Navy. Tucked away in Chapter records is a file of letters from merchant seamen, expressing thanks for wartime support. From the Merchant Navy Club in Saint John, a British crew member of the SS Merchant Trader wrote: It is wonderful to know that we have friends in Canada who are doing so much for the merchant seamen and the British people as a whole. This is only my first trip to sea, so you can imagine your gift was most welcome. The Fort Beausejour Chapter also treasures a certificate from the British Women’s Volunteer Service expressing thanks on behalf of the war distressed people of Britain and Northern Ireland for generous help given during the long years of battle.

Over the last half century the Fort Beausejour Chapter has kept pace with the needs of Canadian society by assisting a wide variety of projects. Locally they have been active supporters of Crossroads For Women, a transition house in Moncton, sponsoring the annual Daffodil Sale for the Cancer Society and assisting the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra. They have corrdinated such events as the Queen’s Pageant, during the Marshlands Frolics and provided a nursery service for the Music Festival. Each May the Chapter organizes an assembly at Marshview Middle School to mark Commonwealth and Citizenship Day. Since this is the Chapter’s adopted school, the Marshview library and School Breakfast Program have benefitted from Fort Beausejour’s interest and support. Annual Marathon Bridge tournaments, Bring and Buy sales and occasional raffles are the Chapter’s major fund raising activities.

The Shepody Chapter, organized in Dorchester on December 14, 1939, was not the first IODE venture in the Shiretown. Twenty five years earlier, in May 1914, the Lord Dorchester Chapter was granted a charter only to surrender it in 1927. Understandably, information concerning this Chapter has been difficult to locate. The same holds true for the Fort Monckton Chapter organized in Port Elgin on March 15, 1915. It is to be hoped that some Flashback readers may be able to shed light on these two early Chapters. Please check your attics — old trunks often contain valuable records! I am indebted to Helen Walton for clearing up confusion about the name of the Port Elgin Chapter. She has in her possession two books dating back to her elementary school days. These were awarded by the Port Elgin Fort Monckton Chapter for achieving the highest average in her class.

Because the organization of Shepody Chapter took place shortly after the outbreak of the Second War War its first projects were directed toward improving the lot of service personnel both at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Regent Jean Hickman, knitted articles, surgical bandages and dressings along with special gift packs were sent overseas. Members of the Chapter worked closely with the Red Cross and were responsible for the organization of a Home Nursing Course.

When Shepody’s present Regent, Beryl Kingston, was asked to name the priority project of the Chapter, she did not hesitate; immediately citing their adoption of the Dorchester School. The tradition of supporting local schools goes back to the early days of the Chapter. Before consolidation, nearby rural schools at Middleton, Dorchester Cape, Rockport and Fairfield were assisted. From 1954 to 1960 Shepody Chapter sponsored a lending library for elementary grades. When the library was discontinued, all books were presented to the Dorchester School.

In recent years, prizes of money and crests are awarded annually to students in Grades Seven and Eight for being all round students. Prizes are also given for excellence in Physical Education, while books and magazines are donated to the school library. Assistance is provided for the Hot Lunch program, Teacher’s Banquet and other school events. In line with the two Sackville Chapters, Shepody has also contributed to IODE projects at the provincial and national levels.

Because students from both Dorchester and Sackville attend Tantramar Regional High School, all three local IODE Chapters actively support secondary education through the provision of several annual prizes and bursaries. At the community level, Shepody Chapter sponsors a summer reading program at the Dorchester Memorial Library, arranges special library window displays throughout the year and is a participant in the annual Shiretown Days. Over the years funds have been raised through activities such as: Card Parties, Easter Bonnet Teas, Bake Sales, Raffles and Yard Sales.

Two questions require attention before concluding this survey of the IODE on the Tantramar and beyond. Why do IODE members continue, year after year, to be involved in so many aspects of public service? Why has the IODE prospered for a century, when other similar organizations have fallen by the wayside?

The first question was put to two of the present Regents and I was not surprised to find agreement in their answers. Regent Dorothy Mitchell of the Lord Sackville Chapter responded: Members find great satisfaction in service. Volunteerism is contagious… it’s also lots of fun. Regent Hazel Ward of the Fort Beausejour Chapter, a twenty five year veteran of the Order, echoed similar sentiments. She said: Members take pleasure and pride in making a difference… in serving their communities, province and country… we never call it work!

An answer to the second question is more elusive and probably best tackled by someone on the outside. Basic to everything attempted by the IODE is careful research and planning. No project, whether large or small, is ever approved without great care and deliberation. Equally important, when a venture is ready to fly on its own the Order quickly moves on to the next priority.

From the historical standpoint, the IODE today is a very different organization from that of 1900. The basic principle of service is still there, but one important characteristic stands out. Founded in the heyday of Imperialism, the Order remains relevant in contemporary Canada. Briefly stated, the IODE has never been afraid to change and adapt to new circumstances. Further, it has always been in step with Canada’s evolution from Imperial colony to independent nation. Long may it evolve and serve!

Many people helped me write this Flashback. In addition to the three Regents Dorothy Mitchell, Hazel Ward, and Beryl Kingston, appreciation is extended to Pat Greenslade and Marcella Cole. The staff of the Mount Allison Archives were, as always, helpful.