We’ve been celebrating! Not in the usual way with a huge camping trip, parties and cakes – thanks to Covid-19 – but still managing to acknowledge 100 years of Girl Guides in West Van! The West Van Historical Society and the Memorial Library gave us the chance to talk about our history through the ‘Local Voices’ series, the Library put on a memorable display over the summer and with support from the West Van Parks Department and the West Vancouver Foundation we have just finished clearing out masses of invasive ivy and replanting with native species an area of Whytecliff Park. To round the year off you will soon see colourful wooden medallions, made by the girls, hanging up somewhere in West Vancouver. Watch out for them!
September marked 100 years since the first Girl Guide company opened in West Vancouver, led by a teacher at Hollyburn School. True – but in fact we had a Girl Guide here in West Van even before that. Dorothy Harris, the daughter of the light keeper at the Capilano Light Station was so keen to continue Guiding after the family moved from Vancouver to the mouth of the Capilano River that her father rowed her across to Stanley Park once a week and she walked to the meetings on Burrard St. An early photo shows Dorothy and sister Guides camping, in middy blouses and bloomers, at Gower Point, on the Sunshine Coast in 1916.
And that kind of determination shines through 100 years of fun, friendship and learning new skills to the way Guides have been coping with the Covid-19 virus – meeting via Zoom, working at home making gifts for seniors, learning camping skills in their own back gardens. The Rangers (the 15 -17 year old girls) were meant to go on an extended group camping trip by bicycle earlier this year – so they adapted their plans, with each girl camping in her own yard then packing up and cycling a long distance each day, returning to set up camp again, all by herself, in her own backyard, then repeating the process. Not as much fun as doing it with friends, but they each achieved their goal.
The company that opened in September 1921 saw enrolment reach 40 girls by Christmas and soon a second company opened, followed closely by a Brownie Pack for younger girls. Back then many walked through forest to get to meetings. One Guide company met in the basement of St. Stephen’s Church hall with its dirt floor and wooden benches along the walls. They did ladylike activities like putting on tea parties, always with ‘entertainment’, to raise money to run their companies – but they also hiked up the local mountains. Once, having walked from St. Stephen’s to Cypress Creek and up the mountain, they stayed out too long cooking their dinner over an open fire, and made their way home in the dark by crawling down a logging flume to the beach at West Bay and walking home along the coast.
“Our mothers weren’t worried”, one of those girls told me 70 years later “– we knew what to do – we were Girl Guides”. They camped a lot even in those early days – on a pheasant farm in what is now the British Properties, at Cypress Park, Eagle Harbour and at the much loved Girl Guides’ Camp Olave, a glorious stretch of beach and forest in Roberts Creek. Getting there was an adventure in itself – a ferry ride to Vancouver, then a trip on the Union Steam Ship to Davis Bay where a local farmer met them with horse and cart to take the heavy stuff while the girls walked to the site. $7 it cost for 10 days, or $5 for a week in 1928.
As the movement became more established, a company of Sea Rangers was opened, learning nautical skills, climbing the rigging of visiting ships in Vancouver Harbour, holding annual regattas on Lost Lagoon, going on long cycling trips on Vancouver Island. By the 1950s our girls were camping further afield on the first Girl Guide All Canada Adventure Camp at Lake O’Hara in the Rockies. That decade saw an explosion in house building in West Vancouver with a similar increase in the Guiding population to several hundred girls. Opportunities for camping and travel seemed limitless – a trip in 1957 to the newly opened World Centre, Our Cabana, in Mexico was just the first of many adventures to meet with sister Guides all over the world. And we have entertained many here in West Van from other countries including Britain, the US, Sweden, Japan, Papua New Guinea. Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Scout and Guide movements, fervently believed that youngsters meeting others from around the world to play and work together would help to foster peace among nations. And within Canada hundreds of our local girls have enjoyed provincial, interprovincial and national camps.
The program constantly changes, keeping up with the times (computer, science and astronaut badges take over from needlework and hostess) but never losing sight of the underlying principles. Guiding encourages girls to be independent, accepting of all, learning leadership skills and teamwork, helping others, all while having lots of fun.
Service to the community is a big part of this: the girls do beach clean ups, they collect food for and volunteer at the Food Bank. They have painted fish on drains, made gift packages for seniors and tray favours for Meals on Wheels, and removed invasive plant species from parks. They have knitted baby blankets, planted trees and native plants, run babysitting services at major events in West Van, sung carols and visited in nursing homes and are always prepared to ‘lend a hand’ as the Brownie motto states.
One special service project was the opening of the nature room in the Girl Guide Phyl Munday Nature House in Lighthouse Park to the public on Sunday afternoons from 2 – 4pm, as a way of thanking the municipality for letting us use that building for nature study and meetings. Over the past 35 years we have welcomed thousands of visitors each year and are looking forward to re-opening the nature room as soon as health regulations allow.
Thousands of girls have enrolled in Girl Guides in West Vancouver over the past 100 years – and that means hundreds of busy, dedicated volunteer women have spent time encouraging them and inspiring them to have fun and to do their best. I, as an older Guider who remembers slower times when we housewives could spend all day planning activities, look on in awe as today’s leaders rush in from work, full of ideas and plans and never too tired to listen to the girls and encourage them to be and to do the best they can.
If you would like to know more about Girl Guides in West Vancouver, please contact Nathalie Simard firstname.lastname@example.org
Daphne Hales is Chair, Phyl Munday Nature House Committee, West Vancouver District, Girl Guides of Canada. She was a Brownie and a Girl Guide in England, and over the past 45 years has held a variety of volunteer leadership and administrative positions in the Girl Guide movement, in West Vancouver and provincially.