Women’s group celebrates 95 years

The Lakeside Social Workers group in Alberta continues to thrive; it is one of the few rural women’s groups still standing

LACOMBE, Alta. — Surrounded by old photographs and memorabilia, women at the Lakeside Hall chat over coffee and orange Creamsicle cake, celebrating 95 years of their community group, the Lakeside Social Workers.

The group has been deeply connected with communities in the Lacombe area. They remember their predecessors helping families affected by the First World War, and later recall fond memories of putting on fashion shows and banquets to raise funds for charities.

“It’s awesome seeing everyone here again. We had a lot of fun,” said Linda Guilbault, who had been a member for about 30 years. “We were definitely a younger bunch back then.”

The group has changed drastically since beginning in 1923. Many things that once existed, like banquets, pancake breakfasts and fashion shows, are no longer.

It’s more like a social club now. The women gather every second Wednesday of the month for $2 tea and put on an annual cupcake event at a nearby bird farm, donating all proceeds. The number of members have dwindled, from about 32 at its peak to 17.

As well, the Lakeside Hall, the main gathering space, isn’t holding up like it used to. The facility has no running water, cracks are showing and the floor isn’t even. Members usually now meet at restaurants or at someone’s home for meetings.

“Everything has changed a lot,” said former member Bette Axani. “But it’s neat to see how it’s changed since then. It’s a beautiful thing they’re still together.”

Despite the changes, there is still an energy and a commitment from members, said Maureen Pocock, a member who has served as the group’s president.

She said it’s rare to see a group like them still around, pointing to many others in the county that have disbanded.

“We’ve always left politics, religion and everything else at the door,” she said. “We come from various backgrounds and nationalities, and when we get together, it’s like we’re all the same. I think that’s why we’ve stayed together for so long.”

But the group’s declining numbers, as well as the disbanding of others, is also a testament to how rural life has changed. Fewer people are living in small towns, more women are working outside the home and there may not be as much interest, said Brenda Loden, a member of the group.

As well, she noted many members are senior citizens and can no longer travel as much as they used to for health or other reasons.

“Younger people are too busy working,” she said. “For women like me, who were in the home, this was their outing.”

Pocock added: “When people come home from work, they don’t want to do things in the community. They close their doors and be themselves, which is a sad situation, I think.”

Still, the group has made long-lasting connections that have played a role in connecting the community.

“Just getting together with the ladies has always been great,” Loden said. “We don’t get to see each other all the time, but when we do, it’s fun.”

Pocock said when she put on the group’s 90th celebration, she wasn’t sure they would make it to 100, let alone 95. But there’s a sense of optimism now, and she’s confident they’ll be able to reach a century.

“We never know what to expect, but it amazes me how well we can all come together,” she said.

Loden added: “I didn’t think we would make it to 95, but we did. And I think we might actually make it to 100.”

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