NONIA: Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association

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Raising Money From The Sale Of Hand-Knit Garments To Pay The Salaries Of Public Health Nurses

 

NONIA is a manufacturing and a retail operation located in downtown St. John's. The unusual name is an acronym for the "Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association."  It was established in 1924 to assist Newfoundland outport communities to access health services by raising money from the sale of hand-knit garments to pay the salaries of public health nurses.

 

 Outport communities are small isolated coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are some of the oldest European settlements in Canada, many of them having been established by fishermen and whalers in the 16th-19th centuries. They usually consist of small wooden houses, outbuildings clustered around the water's edge.

 

 

 

Canadian National ferry Hopedale in the outport community on La Poile Bay Newfoundland
Outport scene from Fogo Island

Outport Nursing Scheme

The origins of NONIA, however, can be found several years earlier in 1920 with the formation of a committee to address the lack of medical services in outport Newfoundland the creation of the Outport Nursing Scheme. During the following year the Committee hired six trained English midwives who opened six nursing centres in rural outports.

 

By 1922 the Committee had run into difficulties; four of the nurses had left Newfoundland and Lady Harris (one of the founders) had returned to England. Fortunately, the wife of the new Governor, Elsie Allardyce, took a keen interest in the fledgling organization and was instrumental in reviving the Committee. The Committee was enlarged and a new name was found: Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association. Using the first letter in each word, NONIA was decided on as a cable address and the registered trade mark for the industrial work.

 

 

 

NONIA Committee

By July 1925 NONIA had 615 workers in 35 centres across Newfoundland. Any community, large or small, could form a NONIA Committee. Five members were required and they were responsible for receiving the wool and instructions from the Depot in St. John's; distributing these to knitters; returning the finished goods to the Depot; and then distributing the payment cheques to the workers. NONIA hoped to pay seventy-five per cent of nurses' salary with the government subsidizing the remainder.

 

The tradition of the outport nursing scheme found its basis in Scotland, particularly the Fayre Isles and the Shetland Islands. The women of these isolated communities knitted clothing and sold it and then used the profits to pay the salaries of nurses.

 

 

Non-Profit Cottage Industries

 

Today NONIA is a non-profit cottage industry, run by a volunteer board and small staff. Their products are still being hand-made by Newfoundland and Labrador women in busy homes and lively kitchens around the province.  Some of these women have been knitting and weaving for NONIA for over 50 years.

 

They also have a manufacturing and retail operation located in downtown St. John's. NONIA employs approximately 175 knitters and weavers across the province. Each knitted garment carries the NONIA label. For 90 years NONIA has been producing a variety of handmade sweaters, hats, mitts & socks for men, women, children and infants. 

 

You can read more about the history of NONIA at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Digital Archives -    and at Parks Canada  - and the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website. Much of this post is thanks to these publications. Thanks goes to them for helping to preserve this wonderful piece of Canadian heritage.

The money raised no longer pays for nursing care.  NONIA continues on as a non profit cottage industry with the knitters being the beneficiaries. NONIA also sells beautiful cross-stitch kits, you can see a few samples below.

 

 

You may also enjoy this wonderful article in the The Compass 

Knitting For NONIA -  by Lillian Simmons

Trinity South sisters keep 'em in stitches. They may not be out-and-out comediennes, but the three sisters have definitely gotten some fine yarns together over the years. Eileen Masters, Joan Belbin and Bertha Norris are carrying on a tradition that began in 1920, one that was handed down to them by their mother, Florence Ash.……read more

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From left, Sisters Eileen Masters, Joan Belbin and Bertha Norris pick up their knitting while relaxing at Masters' home in Winterton. © Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Compass