Project Linus to host presentation on war effort

SAINT ANDREWS- A local quilting group will host a presentation next month on an effort that took place during World War II.

On April 15 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Wesley United Church in Saint Andrews, Project Linus Saint Andrews will host a presentation by Joanna Dermenjian, a Research Associate at the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre of Toronto Metropolitan University, about the effort to send over 500,000 quilts and comforters to civilians in England during the Second World War.

The presentation will include slides and photographs of some of the quilts produced in this time, Dermenjian said.

“These groups that women gathered in seemed to be a support for the women, as well as a support for those people they’re making for,” she said. “Gathering together makes you stronger, makes you feel like you’re part of something, makes you feel like you’re getting something done. You feel like you’re not alone and you’re working with other people who are maybe experiencing the same things in life or different things in life than you but you feel like you have that support. I think that’s of great value, especially in times like we’ve experienced in the last few years with the pandemic.”

Dermenjian said she started her re- search project by examining the women’s war effort.

“I discovered that it’s a subject that hasn’t been researched very much, that there’s very little record of it in our Canadian history books, about all the work that women did on the home front, voluntarily during the Second World War,” she said.

The Canadian Red Cross said 52 million comforts and supplies were sent from Canada to Europe during the war.

“And most of those items were things that were made by hand, by women and children in Canada,” she said.

Comforts include hospital supplies like surgeon’s gowns and masks, slippers for patients, amputee covers, as well as sheets and pillowcases, said Dermenjian.

“They were also knitting for the military and that included socks, vests, balaclavas, and scarves,” she said. “They were sewing clothing for civilians in Britain who lost everything in the bombing raids.”

With a massive need for warmth and a shortage of wool, Dermenjian said women in Canada, including many from New Brunswick, started making quilts.

As a descendant of the McCurdy family, which were among the original settlers of Saint Andrews, Dermenjian said the local connection to this effort is particularly important to her.

“When the quilting was being done during the Second World War, there were children involved as well,” she said. “I think that working with textiles and working with cloth and learning about making things for other people is a skill, and a tradition, and a value that’s being lost today and I really wish we could find a way to engage different generations together to work together and be part of this.”

Noting that Dermanjian is learning to crochet with the group and is currently on her third blanket, Susan Kelly, the co- ordinator of the Saint Andrews Project Linus, said the presentation is a good op- portunity to celebrate the handiwork of women.

“We just got to chatting and she shared her research and we thought, ‘oh, gosh we have to share this with the other women,’” Kelly recalled. “There are a lot of women who quilt, and sew, and make blankets, especially St. Stephen and all of Charlotte County.”

Without any social media, Kelly said the group was curious how these groups got the word out during the war, then they learned that the Women’s Institute was an entity which helped bring them together.

“I think we’re just trying to figure out and realize what we have in common with the women who made those blankets and comforters,” she said. “It’s really a sisterhood in some ways and we have a lot in common with the women who came before us.”

Kelly noted that the Linus Project brings women together and provides them with focus, camaraderie, and a sense of purpose.

To get the group up and running in the first year, Kelly started a web site with about 75 members.

“I post something new most days, almost every day and keep people up to date on what I’m doing, and so far, in the first year, from February 2023 to this February, we made over 215 blankets,” she said. “They get distributed to kids in need or threat so it really doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It might be a health issue, maybe they’re having a family conflict, problems at school.”

Blankets have been distributed through the Saint Andrews Youth Centre, community youth workers in Charlotte County, Neighbourhood Works, Vincent Massey Elementary School, the RCMP, the Saint Andrews Food Bank, and individual fami- lies, noted Kelly.

Kelly said the group has been well received by the community.

“Saint Andrews is so generous in spirit and very arts-focused and really wanting to contribute to different project,” she said. “It’s a fabulous group of women, it’s just amazing.”

Jake Boudrot

A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and a resident of Arichat, Jake Boudrot is an award-winning journalist with decades of experience as a freelancer, reporter and editor representing media outlets across the Maritimes.