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.
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]
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.