Layers [Lairs] in Time

IODE: Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire

The IODE, a uniquely Canadian institution, dates to the beginning of the previous century. In 1900 it was the brainchild of Montreal’s Margaret Polson Murray to form a federation of women to promote patriotism, loyalty and service to others. Fredericton, New Brunswick, was the location of the first chapter in January of that year (then the Federation of the Daughters of the Empire); other chapters across Canada followed quickly. In 1901 it was incorporated as Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire and Children of the Junior Branch. By a special act of Parliament in 1917, it was incorporated as a Canadian women’s organization. Today it brings together a like-minded group of women who work to improve the quality of life for those in need, focusing on children, education and community services. It has some 3,000 members across Canada and more than 200 chapters; Governor General Julie Payette is currently Vice-Regal Patron.

Between Orangeville and Guelph, there are several chapters alone, and Orangeville’s Lord Dufferin chapter started in 1907. Why? This chapter was specifically formed to found the hospital we all now know as Headwaters Health Care Centre! By the early 1900’s the need for a hospital was obvious, but not too many including Council, wanted to take the daunting job of establishing one. The Chapter (and Hospital) were named after Lord Dufferin who visited Orangeville when the county bearing his name was established.

There were two impetuses putting the pressure on. The first was in 1905, when a young man got into a duel during a lacrosse game in what is now Orangeville’s Rotary Park, over a love triangle. Believe it or not, recorded duels continued until 1971 in Uruguay, and France in 1967, although rarely after WWI. It was even an Olympic sport in some countries at the turn of the 20th century. My own father was “second” in a duel in pre-WWII Poland! Because the closest hospitals were only accessible by horse and buggy in Fergus and Guelph, the poor man died two weeks later from his injuries.

The second was the infamous Horseshoe Hill train crash. The fateful day was Sept. 3, 1907, when the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway was running a special train to the then Toronto Industrial Exhibition (it became the CNE in 1912). In those days, like today, railways were looking for marketing angles, and five different rail lines offered special rates and added services to the Exhibition.

The company was chartered in 1868 to build a line from Toronto to Grey and Bruce counties. A major obstacle was the angle of the Niagara Escarpment in Caledon, solved by an 11 and 12 degree curve with a 462 foot radius known as The Horseshoe Curve just north of Cardwell, and ran along the west side of today’s Heart Lake Rd. In 1881, The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) bought the company and the Ontario & Quebec Railway (CPR) took over in 1883.

Causes of the crash are several. The driver, George Hodge, was only 23 and it was just his second time “behind the wheel”. Fatigue could have been a factor, as well as staff drinking the night before. Speeding to make up for lost time was another. The driver and conductor were eventually acquitted, and instead, CPR was found guilty of not providing competent crew members and paid survivors for years. The rail line was abandoned in 1932 and the rails used for WWII, but vestiges remain despite subsequent filling for roads.

With the first five coaches standing room only, two more were added in Orangeville that morning giving a total of around 600 passengers. The crash resulted in seven dead and 114 injured. People were without medical care for hours and the news was unbelievably brought into town by “a farmer’s boy, on the bare back of a galloping horse”.

In response to these two events, as well as others, Christine McKeown, wife of C.R. McKeown MLA, took up the hospital challenge after moving from Guelph. A first newspaper ad brought out a number of women for discussion. A second ad and meeting established the new IODE chapter to do so, with 53 joining. The hospital drive was underway! A local committee of men formed to find a suitable property: it was the John Kearns home where the Lord Dufferin Centre stands today. By June 1907 $4,000 had been raised, later an amazing $7,000, and the hospital was opened in October 1912, also with housekeeping donations. In 1915, a nurses’ training school was begun, and the IODE is rightly proud none of its graduates ever failed provincial exams. Expansion needs required another canvass in the 1920’s and $32,000 was raised. In 1935 the IODE raised $5,000 more for a new elevator and nursery. The Chapter in fact, ran the hospital until 1954, when governance of the hospital was transferred to a board of local community members. Mrs. McKeown returned in 1954 to lay the cornerstone for a new wing, having donated the first brick and $10 way back in the early 1900’s!

The role of the Lord Dufferin Chapter of the IODE has not stopped there. During and after WWII, they bought ambulances, airplanes, and provided socks and food packages (my father recalled such parcels from Canada as a POW Polish officer in Germany, which helped keep them alive), and provided English classes to refugees afterwards.

Today you would not want to meet a more enthusiastic group of women! Continuing to support Headwaters Health Care Centre every year. Donations of $10,000.00 plus annually go collectively, not only to HHCC, but to other community efforts with their mandate of women and youth. They also support the OPS with the Child I.D. Clinic program, numerous high school scholarships, Transition House, the local food bank, the library and museum, Salvation Army and an annual Citizenship award to an outstanding community member.

However, to run these kinds of programs and raise the required funds needs lots of volunteer “womanpower”. This is the 25th anniversary of their very successful geranium sale. A fashion show and dinner has been a sell-out. Harking back to the original days of the ‘Mile of Copper’, a ‘Mile of Silver’ was a successful fund raiser.

The IODE is as relevant today as it was in yesteryear.

Members comprise all ages and talents! If you are a new or long-time resident of area, and interested in joining the fun, meeting people and ‘doing good’ at the same time, you can contact the following members:

  • Petra Thomas, President – ktrophy@wightman.ca
  • Jessica Cerveny, Vice President – jessica_cerveny@yahoo.com
  • Erin Kindred, Membership – ekindred@sympatico.ca

Written By: Diana Janosik-Wronski

Author: LivingSpaces

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