This year marks the Canadian centennial of one of the most remarkable international youth organizations – the Girl Guides. It was 100 years ago, in 1910, that the first Canadian company of Guides was formed in St. Catharines, Ont.
The origins of this significant organization are closely tied with the Scouting movement.
When Lord Baden Powell established the latter organization for boys in 1907, he was impressed by the fact that large numbers of girls also wished to become Scouts. However, he felt single-gender groups would be better.
Hence, he persuaded his sister, Agnes Baden Powell, to organize a similar movement for girls. The Guides quickly flourished across the United Kingdom and soon spread to Denmark, Finland, South Africa and Canada. Many more countries, such as the United States and France, soon followed.
The first Guide Company was formed in Red Deer in 1917, following an impressive information evening held by the local Scouts in the Red Deer Armouries. The first captain was Mrs. F. Lund, while the first lieutenant was Olive Steward (later Munro).
The charter members created their own uniforms using “navy skirts, a white middy or blouse, a cobalt blue triangular scarf tied in front with a necktie knot”. They also made large soft hats, turned up front and back, that were very distinctive looking.
Originally, the Guides generally met in Mrs. Lund’s home. Eventually, they acquired a “Guide Shack”, which was a one-roomed house on the corner of 48 Ave. and 52 St.
The first camping trips were to Sylvan Lake. The Lund’s summer cottage was used. Most slept on the ground with blankets in tents, but some went into the cabin when it rained.
In 1922, the Red Deer Guides had the honour of being inspected by Governor General Lord Byng and Lady Byng while they were in Red Deer for the official unveiling of the Cenotaph. The following year, the Guides and Scouts greeted Lord and Lady Baden Powell when they made a stop in Red Deer.
Lady Olave Baden Powell returned to Red Deer in 1946 and again in 1955. During the 1946 visit, she spent a considerable amount of time with Mickey the Beaver, who had been adopted by the Forbes family.
In 1924, the first Brownie pack was formed in Red Deer by Olive Steward Munro. The group consisted of young girls, aged 8 to 11 and quickly became as popular as the Guides.
Both Guides and Brownies were very involved in the community. For example, they helped to refurbish toys so that they could be used as Christmas gifts to needy children. They also planted ceremonial trees in Coronation Park and tulips at the Cenotaph.
In September 1932, the Guides and Brownies were part of the official welcoming party for the Governor General, the Earl of Bessborough, and had the same role in July 1937 for the visit of Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir.
In 1939, the Guides helped to complete the construction of the Scout Hall on 48 Ave. North. Consequently, the building was renamed the Scout-Guide Hall. That same year, National Conference of Guiders was held in Red Deer with the delegates staying at the Nazarene College on Gaetz Ave. South.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Guides and Brownies experienced a real explosion of growth, as Red Deer became one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. By the late 1970s, there were more than 600 Brownies, Guides, Rangers and Pathfinders in the city.
A big boost came in 1961 when the Kiwanis and Kinette Clubs helped with the establishment at Sylvan Lake of the Kiwanis Girl Guide Camp (now known as Camp Sherbino).
The numbers of Guides and Brownies has declined somewhat in recent years, but they are still important organizations in providing opportunities, training and activities for young girls. They also continue to make wonderful contributions to the community, both for today and for the future.