This year marks an important anniversary in the history of youth organizations in western Canada. It was 100 years ago, in 1915, that the concept of the Canadian Girls In Training (C.G.I.T.) program for young women was first proposed.
The proposal was developed and financed by the Y.W.C.A. The idea was to have an extensive training and activity program for young teenage girls, similar to what had been developed by the Girl Guides since 1910.
In contrast to the Guiding movement, which was secular, the focus of the new organization was on young teenagers in the Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.
A National Advisory Committee for Cooperation in Girls’ Work was established, with representatives of the four churches along with the Y.W.C.A.
Although Canada was still in the middle of the First World War, there was a strong positive response to the C.G.I.T. idea. When the War finally ended in the fall of 1918, the C.G.I.T. organization really began to flourish.
Calgary was one of the first centres to form C.G.I.T. groups in Alberta.
In the summer of 1919, 14 girls went to the first C.G.I.T. camp. This gathering was held at the Naval Cadet campground in what is now Norglenwold on the southwest corner of Sylvan Lake. The next year, 22 attended, with five coming from Medicine Hat.
By 1921, the number had soared to more than 60, with campers coming from across southern Alberta.
In January 1922, Evelyn Storey paid a visit to the Gaetz Memorial Methodist Church in Red Deer to make a pitch for the creation of a formal C.G.I.T. group in Red Deer.
Since 1919, Mrs. Nita Thorne, a formidable church organizer, had included many of the concepts of C.G.I.T. in the church’s Sunday School program.
Following Ms. Storey’s visit, a C.G.I.T. group was established with Nita Thorne as the first superintendent.
Phyllis McGregor became the first C.G.I.T. president.
She was an exceptionally bright and athletic young woman, full of the promise that C.G.I.T. hoped to attract and nurture. Her older sister, Leone, had already left for University of Alberta where she became the first student at the U of A to graduate in medicine.
C.G.I.T. grew very quickly.
In mid-March 1922, the first Mother and Daughter Banquet was held at Gaetz Church, with virtually every teenage girl in the congregation in attendance. Soon, there were C.G.I.T. groups in almost every town and village across Central Alberta.
In November 1922, the first C.G.I.T. regional conference was held in Red Deer with more than 100 delegates from a 100 kilometre radius of the City.
Those in attendance included representatives of all of the four churches who were backing the organization.
C.G.I.T. continued to grow and flourish across the province.
In 1925, C.G.I.T. summer camps moved from the Naval Cadet Camp to the new and much larger, Camp Kasota that had been created farther to the west on the shores of Sylvan Lake.
Because C.G.I.T. provided excellent affordable programs for teenage girls, the organization was not hindered much by either the Great Depression or the outbreak of the Second World War. C.G.I.T. enjoyed an enormous boost in the post-war years as the ‘baby-boomers’ joined in very large numbers.
By the 1960s, however, C.G.I.T. began to level off, and then to flag. Television and other forms of entertainments provided alternatives to traditional youth programs.
While four large groups existed in Red Deer in 1957, by the end of the 1960s, there was only one C.G.I.T. group and it held its meetings at Gaetz United Church.
Meanwhile, in 1962, the Alberta Girls Work Board was re-organized as the Alberta C.G.I.T. Association.
It then became a registered charitable society. By 1976, the national association had ended its ties to the Canadian Council of Churches’ Department of Christian Education and became a totally independent organization.
Today, there are not many C.G.I.T. groups left in Alberta, although there are still annual summer camps at Camp Wohelo at Pigeon Lake.
On March 1st, Gaetz United Church held a special celebration for all alumni to honour the many accomplishments of the various C.G.I.T. groups and the individual members.