Formation of the local Boy Scouts

On July 6, the Scouts Canada 2013 Canadian Scout Jamboree commenced at Camp Woods at Sylvan Lake.

It is one of the most important events to be held in Alberta this year. More than 6,000 scouts and volunteers are participating.

Central Alberta has long been a major centre for scouting with a history that goes back more than 100 years.

In early March 1910, Police Chief George Rothnie of Red Deer received a letter from his old friend, Sir Robert Baden Powell, to see if there was any interest in forming a Boy Scout troop.

An exploratory meeting was held at Rothnie’s home on what is now 56 St. in Red Deer. There was such enthusiasm for the concept in the community that on April 19, 1910, the Red Deer Boy Scout Association was formed.

The movement quickly took off.

There were soon three patrols organized. A big boost for the local scouts came on Aug. 23, 1910 when Baden Powell himself made a brief visit to Red Deer to offer his personal encouragement and advice to the Red Deer troop.

That same month, Red Deer, Edmonton, Calgary and Banff gathered together to form the first provincial council for the Boy Scouts.

Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, George Bulyea, agreed to be the first chair.

Representatives were quickly recruited from a number of communities across Central and Southern Alberta.

In June 1911, Red Deer’s new police chief, George Bell, was shot by a transient during an aborted armed robbery.

An extensive manhunt was launched to find the fugitive. It was the local boy scouts who found the man and helped to have him arrested.

The Boy Scouts became heroes. As a reward, in July 1911, two members of the Red Deer troop, Phil Galbraith and Donald Chadsey, were sent to the Scout Jamboree in England, which had been organized in conjunction with the coronation celebrations for King George V.

A grand party was also organized in Red Deer and the local scouts were all given special medals.

The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 brought a hiatus to the local Scouting movement.

However, the scout organizations across Central Alberta quickly revived and strengthened immediately after the end of the War.

In 1920, the Red Deer Boy Scouts resumed the holding of summer camps at Sylvan Lake.

While the pre-war camps had been held in the lower camp cabin area, the post-war camps were held a bit farther north at what is now known as Petro Beach in Jarvis Bay.

A major change came in the summer of 1932.

Colonel James Woods, the publisher of the Calgary Herald, had acquired a 105 acre parcel of land on the south shore of Sylvan Lake, which had been originally homesteaded by Rev. Oscar Hjelt, a Finnish Lutheran minister.

When Colonel Woods was appointed as the provincial scout commissioner, he decided to donate the land to the Boy Scout movement.

Fittingly, property was named Camp Woods in his honour.

The first summer camps were held on the site in July 1932. The scouts spent most of their time clearing campsites and creating activity areas, while leaving most of the land in its semi-wilderness state.

The Community Players of Red Deer donated funds for an activity building, which was constructed on the Red Deer portion of the camp by Lachlan and Johnnie Kennedy.

Over the years, a number of other facilities were constructed at the camp and a number of improvements made.

Among the main buildings are Frontier Lodge, Gilwell Lodge, Paley House and Woods Hall. Fortunately, much of the site has been maintained as a natural area.