Most of you won’t be able to imagine this… 1946: Barrie’s population 10,153. Water laps the train tracks which hug the buildings in downtown Barrie. No Lakeshore Dr or any parks. Carley’s and Delaney’s marinas rent rowboats for a season for $8. A 14 foot wooden boat, finished with several coats of marine varnish cost $129 new. You could row it or you could fit it with one of Eaton’s new Viking 5 hp outboard motors.
Barrie’s downtown was vibrant, busy, and the true hub of town. The Saso boys unloaded fruit from Toronto at the downtown train station and delivered it by truck to grocery stores miles away in Midland, Orillia, Penetang, Stayner. You could travel by train from Barrie to Allandale, put down a 25-cent piece and have dinner at the Allandale station dining room… full linen and silver service.
Young women were being sent home from their jobs to make room for returning WWII servicemen. They’d been supporting the war effort for six years, working in factories, at teller’s cages in banks, behind the telephone switchboard, at mechanic garages. They’d had a taste of the working world and now were back at home, birthing what was to become the Baby Boom, and ordering new wringer washing machines from the Eaton’s catalogue.
June 6 of that year Vina MacKenzie Jones gathered a few women at her home and the first chapter of Business and Professional Women was born in Barrie. Vina served as its first president.
Vina MacKenzie Jones saw women’s issues beyond her household walls and she encouraged other women in Barrie to join the vision. BPW’s mandate included personal development, friendships and career development and faraway women’s lives.
Sixty-five years later, president Barb Wetmore and members Teresa Habs and Joyce Bell are vocal in their enthusiasm for the force that drives BPWers all over the continent. The Barrie club boasts a mandate that includes improving the lives of women, their social conditions, employment, and economic opportunities.
While the mandate sounds serious, this group has set its sights on enjoyable activism… and seeks to swell its ranks with women who want to make a difference in the lives of others while enhancing their own. “We have fun,” says Barb, outlining important issues still facing women. “Our focus this decade is on human trafficking, retention of women in skilled trades, pay equity, the regulation of tanning beds & operators and mentoring young women,” she says.
The subcommittee structure encourages members to get involved in a specific area of interest while participating with great women in the monthly dinner-speaker meetings. Group members last year joined women in skilled trades and spent a day working on the Habitat building site. They raised money to support an Afghanistan woman teacher’s salary for a year. They provide bursaries to women in non-traditional trades. They buy books for babies at Christmas Cheer. They write and present position papers to members of parliament; they hosted the provincial and national conventions here in Barrie; they’re a busy group.
Teresa Habs has a lifelong banking background and puts BPW in perspective… “as young women we’re often consumed by jobs, kids, after-school activities… life. But once the kids are more independent, women need that connection for themselves, for opportunities, for just being together. BPW is all that and more.”
The Barrie group continues, after 65 years, to thrive by inviting new members, new energy into the group. “In the 80’s women felt it was all done. We still have issues to care about,” says Barb.
Third Tuesday, dinner and speaker meeting. Interested? You can check it out.
You’ll be glad you did!