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The Girl Guide movement began in 1909 when girls demanded to take part in a Boy Scouts rally at the Crystal Palace in London, England. Lord Robert Baden-Powell was a British army general who had written a series of articles on scouting based on his experiences that were published in an English boys’ magazine. Boys started practising scouting on their own, so Lord Baden-Powell picked up on their keen interest and formed in the Boy Scouts in 1908. By 1909, scouting had become so popular that the turnout at the London rally was more than anyone imagined. Roughly 11,000 boys turned up and even some girls!
At the time, girls were expected to be ladylike and focus on homemaking and quiet activities like needle work. Mothers and the general public alike were shocked and horrified at the girls’ antics and appearance. They were running around with their skirts hiked up, wearing scout hats, and wielding knives and carrying enormous backpacks decorated with large red crosses. all while practising tracking, first-aid and going on unladylike outdoor adventures.
The girls pleaded with Lord Baden-Powell to be allowed to join the Scouts. He agreed, but on the condition that the girls would have their own group. He asked his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, to lead the girls, and she became the first president of the Girl Guides. Working together with her brother, they produced two pamphlets, Pamphlet A and Pamphlet B, which outlined program ideas and badges for the girls. Later, an adaptation of Scouting for Boys was published: The Handbook for Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire. This remained the standard manual for many years.
The two pamphlets were sent to a Boy Scout leader in St. Catharines, Ont., and he passed them on to Mary Malcolmson, who organized the first Girl Guides Canadian Company, which was officially registered in January 1910. This was followed by companies in Toronto, Moose Jaw and Winnipeg. The movement spread quickly to all provinces during 1910 and 1911. By 1912, 1st Toronto Company was the first group to hold a guiding camping trip; they set up camp on the banks of the Credit River.
The success and popularity of camping led the Toronto division to buy the first Guide-owned campsite in Ontario in 1929, Bonita Glen in King Township. That same year, cookie sales in Ontario started to help raise funds for repairing the barn at Bonita Glen. Since then, Ontario Guides have continued selling cookies to help fund membership, activities and camping. Agnes Baden-Powell received so many requests from Canada to form Guide companies that she suggested the formation of a committee to look after Canadian Guiding. Lady Pellatt, one of the members of this committee, was appointed chief commissioner in 1912. Many Guide events were held at her home, Casa Loma, in Toronto. By 1917, the value of Guiding was recognized by the Canadian government with an act of Parliament approving the constitution of the Canadian Girl Guides Association as it was then known. The name was changed in 1961, again by act of Parliament, to Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada.
Branches of the Girl Guides began forming in Perth County by the 1930s. A gathering of Guides in Stratford around 1933 is shown in this photograph from the Stratford-Perth Archives. There have been several different branches of Guiding, depending on ones age: Sparks, introduced in 1988 for ages five to six; Brownies, introduced in 1919, for ages seven to eight; Guides, the original, for ages nine to 12; Pathfinders, introduced in 1979, for ages 12 to 15; Rangers, introduced in 1920, for ages 15 to 17-plus; Junior Leaders, introduced in 1973, for ages 15 to 17-plus; Cadets; and Lones, for girls who cannot attend meeting or live too far away to join a branch. Most of the original branches in Perth County started as Guiding troops in communities like Atwood, Kirkton, Monkton, Mitchell, Stratford, Milverton, St. Marys, Tavistock and Listowel.
The success of Guiding in smaller communities and rural areas would not be possible without the dedicated women who volunteered their time, all the way from branch leaders to district commissioners. Two notable women were Ms. Adelaide Clayton, the district commissioner in the Listowel area from 1932 to1944, and Beth Tubbs, the district commissioner of the Clydesdale Division, who volunteered for more than 30 years with the Girl Guides of Canada. Some women still wanted to be involved after they retired from guiding, so Trefoil Guilds were born. These guilds were groups of active retired guiders who still wanted to be involved but in a smaller capacity. One of these guilds – the Festival City Trefoil Guild – was formed in Stratford in December 2000 and had nine members.
Guiding is still an important part of the community and it challenges its members in their personal development and empowers them to be responsible citizens.
The Stratford-Perth Archives is open for in-person research by appointment. Service by phone and email remains still an option. Please contact us to set up appointments to use the collections or to meet with the archivist to discuss possible donations of archival material. We can be reached at 519-271-0531 ext. 259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.