The Thunder Bay Jane Austen Society
By Deanne Gagnon
In 1997, a trip to Europe ignited the Thunder Bay Jane Austen Society founder Irene Warmenhoven’s love for Jane Austen. “It happened on the honeymoon of my second marriage, which was a limited mini-tour of Europe,” she says. “On the tour we had two whole weeks in England so we picked Bath, Oxford, and a small town that was supposed to have beautiful art, Cheltenham. Well, I got caught up in history, art, and Jane Austen on my honeymoon.”
“We went to Cheltenham for the day, found an old English bookstore, walked along the street to a park that was rolling green and went up to what looked like a little Greek temple. It was where Jane Austen went, and in that temple, on the second storey, there was the kind of actual, original beautiful clothes that she wore,” she says. “Not behind a piece of glass. I walked right up close and looked at this garment and said ‘Someday I will make this outfit.’ It was the fact that Jane Austen had been there; she’d walked on that grass where I walked and I was just thrilled to see the beauty of how the women dressed.”
The Thunder Bay Jane Austen Society was not actually founded until 16 years later, in the spring of 2013, when by chance Mrs. Irene, as she is known to the group, was in the former Unveiled Bridal Boutique looking for beaded fabric to make a Regency piece for a ball she was attending. One of the seamstresses heard her mention the Regency era. “Suddenly I hear a scream in the back room, and she comes out and says ‘Did I hear you say Regency and Jane Austen? I love Jane Austen!’ Mrs. Elaine and I became a Jane Austen group of two for about a year and a half before the next member joined.”
Over the years, the society has fluctuated between 10 and 40 members, ranging from children right through to septuagenarians. They hold many gatherings throughout the year, such as sewing and dressmaking workshops, fancy picnics, promenades, games of pall mall (which is similar to croquet), dance lessons, cooking workshops, and actual Regency baking. This month a dressmaking workshop will be held; also this year, there will be a fancy picnic held in Kakabeka Falls, and a Christmas soiree in November.
“We have a lot of Jane Austen members who have never read a book, but who have seen all the movies,” Warmenhoven says. “And then we have people that can quote actual verse from some of her books. We have all levels and would love to see our membership grow.”
If you have a love for Jane Austen or the Regency era, or perhaps Bridgerton has piqued your curiosity about life during that time, the Thunder Bay Jane Austen Society is the place for you.
Find the Thunder Bay Jane Austen Society on Facebook for more information and dates of upcoming events.