The Girl Guides started out where the boys were

In 1909 a magnificent scouting rally was held at the Crystal Palace in London, England. Something like 11,000 boys who had been following Lord Baden-Powell’s exercises in scouting showed up, and much to the surprise of the highly respected founder of the scouting movement, a large number of girls also arrived at the event.

This happy group of young ladies and their leaders are the Ponoka Brownie Troop of 1954. Shown from left to right are: Leader Greta Savage

This happy group of young ladies and their leaders are the Ponoka Brownie Troop of 1954. Shown from left to right are: Leader Greta Savage

In 1909 a magnificent scouting rally was held at the Crystal Palace in London, England. Something like 11,000 boys who had been following Lord Baden-Powell’s exercises in scouting showed up, and much to the surprise of the highly respected founder of the scouting movement, a large number of girls also arrived at the event.

The young ladies firmly claimed that they too had been practicing scouting and politely demanded entry into the huge rally. Baden-Powell was so impressed that he asked his sister, Agnes, to create a program just for girls and this was to be the exciting beginning of Guiding. This new Guiding Movement grew very rapidly, thanks in part to the efforts of Agnes, and later, to Baden-Powell’s wife, Olave Lady Baden-Powell, who toured the country tirelessly promoting Girl Guides wherever she went.

By 1910, the Guide Movement had reached Canada, and by 1912 there were units in every province. Many of Canada’s most forward-thinking women had gathered together to create the Canadian Girl Guides Association, with Lady Mary Pellatt as Canada’s first chief commissioner. By 1917, the Canadian Girl Guides Association was considered of such value to the people of the nation that an Act of Parliament was passed approving its constitution.

Throughout its long and proud history Girl Guides have always strived to prepare girls to meet the challenges that they face in their lives head-on. Whether it was Agnes Baden-Powell teaching young ladies to bandage wounds during First World War, or today’s Unit Guider teaching girls to think critically about beauty magazines, Guiding has always been dedicated to helping its members be confident contributors to their community. The movement quickly expanded to include age divisions of: Sparks, Brownies, Pathfinders and Rangers; all avidly supported by generations of Alumni Committees, dedicated leaders, parents and supportive communities.

The early story of Guiding in Ponoka

by Lindsay Amundsen

The first Guide Company in Ponoka was registered in May of 1929. Before this, a rally was held in October 1928, with the Wetaskiwin Guides and Brownies coming to Ponoka at the request of the Anglican minister to tell what Girl Guides was all about. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough interest at this time to form a company and it wasn’t until the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire came in May 1929 that guiding really got going in Ponoka.

There were no Brownies or Rangers at this time. In June 1929, the Guides held a Strawberry Festival, where the town band played music, and the Guides made $37 towards their camp. To me, this doesn’t seem like much, but in 1929 a full meal could be bought for 25 cents. The Guides camped at Pigeon Lake for 10 days in August 1929, with the camp pitched at the north end of Ma-Me-O Beach. There were about 40 girls from Ponoka and Wetaskiwin present and the highlight of the two week camp was a visit from the provincial Commissioner, Lady Rodney and Mrs. Ellis, who may have been the assistant provincial commissioner.

Also in October of this year, Ruth Harvey, a Toronto Guide touring the Dominion visited Ponoka and on the same day of her visit the Guides took a trip to Wetaskiwin to join their girls in a gala Halloween party. 1929 also saw Lord and Lady Rodney of Bentley visit the Ponoka Guides many times. Lady Rodney was Alberta’s first Provincial Commissioner. I also found a reference to a Seafield Guide Company in Novembers 1929. Seafield is south of the Alberta Hospital, but when I asked one of Ponoka’s first Guides Doris Howell, she couldn’t recall there being any Guides in any of our surrounding districts.

1930 saw the local Girl Guides open their spring meetings with a sleigh ride and skating party, as well as the annual summer camp at Pigeon Lake. They also had a Halloween party with the Cubs and Scouts, another skating party in December and a Mother’s Day tea, but there was no record of profit realized from this event. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to look at newspapers from later in the decade, but I am pretty sure that there was no Guiding in Ponoka during the late 1930s.

Guiding got going again in December 1941. The highlight of the 1942 season was when the District Commissioner visited the Ponoka Brownie Pack and enrolled the new members. During the war the Brownies were very busy making afghans, toys, and babies’ clothing for War Relief in Britain. They entered their work in a handicraft competition, where they received first place and a honourable mention. The 1941 Brownie promise was “I promise to do my best, to God and the King, to help other people everyday, specially at home.” Before being enrolled as a Brownie every girl had to pass the Recruit Test. Part of this test included knowing how to comb and braid hair and to wash up the tea things.

The Guides practiced such skills as Morse Code, signaling, lighting a fire, artificial respiration and properly making a bed. The Home Defence Badge was awarded to any girl who had learned about personal protection such as the use of gas masks, the correct conduct during an air raid, who knew first aid and who could care for small children during an air raid. She also has to have a general knowledge of air raid precaution, positions of taps of essential services and she must be able to send and receive a message with accuracy by phone or in person. Another badge, called the War Service Badge, was awarded to any girl who gave 100 hours or more of free service in direct connection with the war effort.

The Girl Guides camped at Pigeon Lake in 1942, then in 1947 Guides from Ponoka, Wetaskiwin, Hobbema and Winfield bought property on Pigeon Lake for a permanent campsite. The Brownies held an event of some sort and made $21 for the Red Cross. They also served tea in the Red Cross rooms, and I wanted to find out what those rooms were, but have not been able to yet.

Please watch a future edition of Reflections in the Ponoka News for the ongoing story of the local Girl Guide, Brownie, Sparks, Pathfinders, and Rangers organizations from the 1950s to the present day.