Quilting at the Canadian National Exhibition – Part 2

by | Oct 14, 2022 | Article, History, Research

The Toronto Daily Star from Saturday, August 31, 1940, includes an article that headlines: “Rain Fails to Halt C.N.E. Quilting Bee”.

Toronto Daily Star, August 31, 1940

I found this paragraph in a 2011 publication called ‘Stanley Barracks: Toronto’s Military Legacy’:

“The C.N.E. Association jumped wholeheartedly at the opportunity to help the war effort. It was decided that the 1940 fair would serve as a ‘school for civilians,’ informing and reassuring visitors about Canada’s war efforts, and enlisting their support. The theme of the 1940 Exhibition was ’Canada Prepared — For War – For Peace.’ The fair abounded with military-themed exhibits, including a display of war vehicles in the Automotive Building; Red Cross activities in the Red Cross Building; a Bren gun exhibit in the National Industries Building; and ‘Women’s War Work’ in the Women’s Building. The quilting bee, a regular feature at the fair, would have different twist this year; the quilters would be making air raid shelter quilts to send to Britain.”

This message was repeated in the Activity Guide that outlined the instructions for the quilting competition in 1941:  “All quilts entered in this competition should be made for use in air-raid shelters and are to be left with the Canadian National Exhibition at the conclusion of the Quilting Bee for shipment to Britain.” (Canadian National Exhibition Guide, 1941). 

Activity Guide, Canadian National Exhibition, 1941

The Flesherton Advance reported on May 7, 1941

“Women to Work at 1941 C.N.E. For War Victims – Six Large Workrooms Being Set Up in Women’s Building Will Prepare Bales of Supplies For Sufferers in Fourteen Bombed Cities of Britain – This year, the women of Canada are playing an increasingly important part in national life. Not only in their essential work in the home but also in the war effort, in industry and in social services, the Canadian women are taking more and more responsibility. The heads of the C.N.E. feel that there is not better place to show tangible evidence of this work than at the 1941 Exhibition. Six large workrooms are being set up in the Women’s Building – will hum for fourteen days with work for the men of the Army, Navy and Air Force. And on each one of the fourteen days boxes will be prepared and packed to be sent to succour air-raid victims in the fourteen worst-bombed cities of Britain. Demonstration work from the War Emergency Classes will be staged daily. A special competition in quilts for air-raid shelter use will be one feature of war work.”  

It appears the outdoor quilting bee was held again in 1941, but the numbers of women’s groups participating was smaller.  There were just sixteen teams of eight women competing.  Perhaps they did not have the budget or means to travel to Toronto (few women drove a car) or did not think it a worthy investment of time and money with the ongoing stresses of war continuing to affect every aspect of their lives.   

The Globe and Mail, August 31, 1941

After finding this article in The Globe and Mail, I decided to see if I could discover more about the winning quilt. The Region of Peel Archives has not only the photo of the quilt that headlines this post, but also has a photo of the women who made it AND, most exceptionally, their names written on the back. Wording reads: “Victory Quilters of C. N. E. [Scouts] 1941 Quilting Bee Competition Representing their Women’s Guild, these victory Quilters are – Mrs. D. Fines (Treas.) Miss M. Harper (Sec.) Mrs. (Rev.) J. C. Ross (Hon. Pres.) Miss E. Kaake (Quilt Convener) Mrs. Thos. Keyes (President) Mrs. G. Rutherford (Librarian) All these ladies’ address Bolton, Ont. Ca.”

Image courtesy of Region of Peel Archives (Ontario)

In 1942, the quilting bee and the fair were suspended because the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition served as a recruitment centre and military training camp for the remainder of the war. The annual exhibition reopened in 1947 with a different sort of quilting contest — but that’s a post for another day!