Inducted: October 29, 2003
For most of her life, Mary has lived in the city, but she has maintained a lively interest in agriculture and the women who influence it in the 64 years she has been a Women’s Institute member. Her association with W.I. goes back still further than that. Eighty-two years ago, she was carried to her first W.I. meeting as a baby in a basket. Both her mother and grandmother, were Institute members.
Mary was born in Woodhouse Township, Norfolk County, the daughter of Maitland and Erie (Derrickson) Tisdale. Kindergarten at South Public School, Simcoe was followed by eight grades at Lynn Valley Public School, Simcoe District High School and Robinson Business College in Simcoe.
She was just 18 when she joined the Simcoe Branch of the Women’s Institute in May, 1939, the beginning of a lifelong commitment to the interests of farm women. In 1944, she became a member of the Lynn Valley Branch of the W.I. and a year later, she was President of the Norfolk Junior Farm Girls’ Association.
She was a Convenor of Agriculture and Canadian Industries in 1945; Convenor of Social Welfare in 1946, the same year she was Assistant Leader of the 4-H Homemaking Supper Club Training School. Mary was Branch Convenor of Junior Institutes in 1952-53; Home Economics and Health Convenor in 1953-54; and W.I. representative to the Society for Retarded Children in 1956. She was Vice-President of Lynn Valley Women’s Institute in 1956-57, and President in 1957-58.
Mary’s marriage to George Barr in 1945 led, eventually, to her move to Chatham and Kent County, where she took on new Women’s Institute responsibilities with enthusiasm. Prior to that, the Barrs farmed south of Simcoe for a year and a half; then moved to Eaton Hall Farm, a showplace farm at King city owned by Lady Eaton, where George was a herdsman.
His job with the Royal Bank of Canada in Simcoe in 1949, was followed by a transfer to the Chatham Branch of the bank eight years later (1957), the beginning of Mary’s long and loving relationship with this city and county.
One of the first things she did after moving to Chatham was join the Thames River Branch of the W.I., where she served as Secretary in 1958-59, 1965-67, and 1983-91, and as President from 1959-64, and District Director in 1963-64. She was honoured with a Life Membership in June, 1973.
She was District President 1965-67 and District Delegate to the Area Convention in 1965-66, a period when Mary was a member of the Scholarship Committee that set up the second Kent Scholarship Fund.
Always anxious to increase public awareness of the Women’s Institute, Mary urged all members to wear their Institute Badges, a Centennial project that coincided with the celebration of the West Kent District W.I. 65th Anniversary on April 14th, 1967.
In 1972, Mary was elected President of the Southwestern Ontario Convention Area – Kent, Essex and Lambton. Her husband, George, made a model of the Erland Lee Home near Stoney Creek where the inspiration for Women’s Institutes was born. This raised money for the Foundation Fund, which maintains that historic home.
Mary attended the National Convention in Banff, Alberta in 1973; and in Saskatoon in 1976, the year she was elected Regional Vice-President of the Provincial. When Thames River Women’s Institute disbanded in 1993, Mary joined the Kent Centre W.I.
Mary has found time for a lot of community activities. She was President of the Queen Mary Home and School Association in 1963, member of the Ontario Advisory council for senior Citizens from 1972-82; and of the Chatham and District Health Council for Seniors from 1982-85.
She was the first Secretary of the Kent County Agricultural Hall of Fame, and a Board member from 1988-92. She is a member of St. James Presbyterian Church, and a member and past Treasurer of the Ladies’ Auxiliary there.
Over the years, thousands of area residents have welcomed her smile and her co-operation through her work for Woolworths, Walkers, Linen and Wools, Steadmans, K-Mart and Eaton’s. Along with stay-at-home pastimes like quilting, sewing and cooking, she has travelled across Canada and the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), in Great Britain and Ireland, the Caribbean, Venezuela, the Panama Canal and Mexico.
The Barrs have one daughter, Mary Elizabeth.
Her hard work and dedication have been appreciated. One friend said, “She is one of the most caring people I have every met.” Another, “She knows how to encourage people!”
Still another: “She is conscientious and puts her heart and soul into everything she does.”