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Author speaks at Women’s Probus Club meeting

Local NewsAuthor speaks at Women's Probus Club meeting

Bonnie Sitter, co-author of a 2019 self-published book “Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes,”  talked about The Farmerette Brigade, organized by the Ontario Farm Service Force in 1941, at the Grand River Women’s Probus Club meeting on Monday, May 27, 2024.

The story of teenage girls who helped the war effort by working on Ontario market garden farms starting in 1941 was the topic of a presentation at the meeting.

The teens were recruited to  work on market garden farms in Southern Ontario while the boys headed to war. Aged 16 to 18, the girls travelled from Northern Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, with 40,000 girls working in the program between 1941 and 1952.  90-year-old Probus Club member Jeanette McColl also participated.

Fifty government and privately run camps were set up to house the girls, all with a house mother. They slept in tents, bunkhouses, converted horse barns and gristmills. Pay was 25 cents an hour (going rate for men, too), but the girls had to pay $4.50 a week room and board.

There was still time for fun, with swimming in the Welland Canal, a Miss Farmerette contest, and invitations to dances at military training bases. And there was time for education, with many learning to drive when they got to the farm, and in St. Catharines working alongside Japanese internee girls.

Sitter got interested when she was sorting through a box of loose old family photos and found one of a girl sitting on a tractor with “Farmerettes” written on the back, dated 1946. Turns out it was taken on her husband’s family farm. Sitter’s fellow author is Shirleyan English, a Farmerette who had worked at the Sitter farm, and had contact information for other Farmerettes,  starting her research in 1995. So, the two joined together to follow up leads and work on the book.

This book has led to a play about the Farmerette program, opening in July 2024  at the Fourth Line Theatre in Millbrook, and then in August at the Blyth Festival Theatre. Severn Thompson, Associate Artistic Director for the Blyth Festival Theatre, accompanied Sitter to the meeting.

Sitter is now fundraising and helping to produce a documentary. Recordings have been made of conversations with the surviving Farmerettes, many in their late 90’s. More information about donating to the documentary can be obtained by contacting Bonnie Sitter at bonnie.sitter@gmail.com

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