Ottawa Home Economics Association Celebrates Milestone Anniversary ~ Shares Secrets to Sustainability

By Mary Carver, Professional Home Economist

Members of the Ottawa Home Economics Association will gather at the Ottawa Hunt Club on June 6th for a celebration dinner and their 80th Annual General Meeting. Reflecting Back while Looking Ahead’, is the theme to honor heroes and take a peek into the future. Several speakers will reflect on memories and milestones while Helen Bishop MacDonald, RD will discuss new research in nutrition. The event is sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada and theUniversity ofGuelph.

Eighty years is an amazing achievement for a non-profit organization. Created in 1932 as the Ottawa Dietetic Association, the name changed to the Ottawa Dietetic & Home Economics Association in 1945 and to Ottawa Home Economics Association (OttHEA) in 1947 after dietitians created their own cluster later branded Dietitians of Canada.

In the early years,Ottawahome economists raised funds by playing bridge at Murphy-Gamble Department Store onSparks Street. For most of the 1930’s, they met at the Chelsea Club where they also held nutrition classes.  An umbrella group the ‘Canadian Home Economics Association’ was incorporated in 1954 but was forced to close in 2003. For the past 33 years, OttawaHEAhas been affiliated with the Ontario Home Economics Association which has provided a province-wide professional body and a public awareness focus.

For most of its history, OttHEA held ten meetings a year; today the group strives for 4 -5 gatherings annually. Originally, most of the programs were professional development based while fashion shows, wine/cheese and new product events served as fundraisers.

The same priorities and values exist today that existed within the association 80 years ago.  Home Economics is all about family life and helping families and individuals to achieve and maintain a desirable quality of life. Home Economists still focus on that goal locally, nationally and internationally.

While society frequently defines ‘Home Ec’. as cooking and sewing classes in school – the profession is much more diversified than that.  Home Economics is about making a better life for people. The discipline embraces all aspects of home life including, parenting, child development, time and resource management, housing and aesthetics, food preparation and nutrition, clothing and textiles, consumerism, human relationships, financial literacy, concern for the environment, energy conservation and technology. It’s also about food security and that not only means access to food, but access to good local food.

When news of the day reports issues of childhood obesity, gender inequality, family violence and rising family debt – home economists cringe.  It seems it will take society more time to recognize the value of home economics curriculum. Is it possible that more knowledge in the basics of nutrition, meal preparation, budgeting and parenting could possibly have prevented some of the current national issues for families?

While many Ottawa home economists enjoy retirement and grandchildren, others continue to teach, hold positions of responsibility in government, author cookbooks, host TV cooking shows, fill public relations roles, design local theatre costumes or run their own businesses.

In volunteer capacities over the past 12 years, Ottawa HEAmembers have sewn approximately 1500 warm fleece hats and scarves for needy people.  They have supplied scholarships to Ottawa-area students who attend RyersonUniversityand BresciaUniversityCollege. Several Professional Home Economists have written media releases for consumers available at www.ohea.on.ca – under the tab: Ask a PHEc.  Some members have served on the Board for the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education (www.canfightbac.org) and the Ontario Home Economics Association. Others have advised onCanada’s Food Guide and Ontario Ministry of Education Family Studies Curriculum. Still others have contributed to a province-wide Quinoa cookbook that will be in bookstores this fall from Whitecap Publishers

Home Economics is alive and well. Yes, it has been re-packaged and re-named Family Studies at the secondary school level and Human Ecology in universities. The body of knowledge is as vital today as it was 80 years ago – perhaps even more. Eighty years ago, life skills were taught in the home. Today, Family Studies remains an option course but is gaining popularity.

There is much to celebrate after 80 years. In 1976, OttawaHEA hosted the International Federation for Home Economics XIIIth Congress with 1200 delegates from 52 countries around the world. Event chair, Linda Reasbeck, P.H.Ec., states, ‘The IFHE Congress was one of the highlights of my career as an Educator. Over 50 home economists volunteered time and expertise to make the event a success and to promote tourism inOttawa.’ OttHEA also hosted national and provincial conferences with local members always willing to help.

It seems that as life gets busier, volunteerism suffers.  As a result, in order to remain viable, OttHEA simplified its governance policy several years ago.  The group no longer operates with a formal executive or president.  “When no one stepped up to the plate,” says Membership Chair, Elizabeth Lee, P.H.Ec., “we simply did-away with the formality.  We maintain a Treasurer, a Membership Chair and a small Planning Committee to keep us active, focused and having fun. The magic formula for sustainability of our association is to ensure members always have fun and to ensure the bottom line is always black.’