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Discovering the Cercles

Five women sit behind a long table at the 2019 exhibition and sale, with some of their textile creations spread out in front of them. A small sign attached to the front of the table reads “Souris au travail” (“Mice at work”).

Five Fermières at the 2019 exhibition and sale

Alice is walking through a large, very full hall. Her eyes roam over tuques, rugs, slippers, dishcloths and Christmas cards in a kaleidoscope of colours. The eyes of the women in the various booths shine as they talk about their creations. Alice reaches for a pair of mittens, but her aunt taps her on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s go and get a little snack.” As she nibbles on her cookies, she listens to her aunt joking with other women. How she’d love to be able to knit, and have such good friends!

Like many women, Alice’s first encounter with the Cercle des Fermières, a women’s association that works to preserve and pass on traditional crafts, is the local exhibition. Every year, all the members who wish to do so get together to sell their creations, and this helps fund the organization’s activities and support a variety of causes that are important to them.

A black and white photo of three women inspecting a blanket. A quilt and some items of clothing are hanging behind them. On their right, blankets have been spread out on a table and a spinning wheel is displayed.

Meeting of past and current presidents at the 1965 exhibition and sale


In Saint-Eustache, exhibitions have been held since the Cercle was founded in 1920. In the early days, these exhibitions took the form of a competition, in which members entered their farm produce and their textile and culinary creations. These competitions were taken very seriously, but that didn’t stop some people from cheating! Claire Prud’homme, a Fermière in the 1940s and 50s, remembers:

I’d won first prize for maple syrup, but it was actually my brother-in-law from Oka’s syrup [laughter]. […] One of my aunts had entered her products in the exhibition, and my uncle Aimé was there too. He said, “Kiddo, that’s not right!” [laughter]

A woman in a pink sweater stands behind a table with various textile creations spread out on it. More pieces hang on a board behind her.

Mural of traditional crafts at the 1994 exhibition and sale

Some people will stop at nothing to win! Starting in 1960, the portion of the exhibitions devoted to textile arts expanded.  The Fermières showcased their cutting-edge fashion designs alongside old-fashioned techniques like fléché. The competitions gradually turned into popular craft sales.

A smiling Fermière stands in her booth at the exhibition and sale, holding patchwork hot pads. Similar pieces are arranged on a table in front of her, and bags are hanging on a board behind her.

Raymonde surrounded by her many creations at the 2019 exhibition and sale