Girl Guides mark a century in Oak Bay

This year marks a century of sisterhood with the 1st Victoria Guides, one of the units that meet at Bowker Hall in Oak Bay

Katrina McLaughlin

Fun that breeds gut-busting laughter.  A sisterhood building lifelong memories.

These are foundations of the Girl Guides as much as their Guiding Law: to be honest and trustworthy; use my resources wisely; respect myself and others; recognize and use my talents and abilities; protect our common environment; live with courage and strength; and share in the sisterhood of Guiding.

This year marks a century of sisterhood with the 1st Victoria Guides, one of the units that meet at Bowker Hall in Oak Bay.

“It’s fun. There are a lot of different activities we do,” said current member Katrina McLaughlin. Among the 11-year-old’s favourite activities is the longtime Guide standard: camping.

“We get to do activities there we can’t do at the hall. Also I just like sleeping in tents and cabins. You can actually cook your own food over the fire which is really nice,” Katrina said.

Camps such as Kingswood on the Saanich Peninsula have “lots of space to run around” during annual functions. They hold memories, like waking up at the bottom of a hill after sleeping too near the door of her tent, or waking sporting a felt-pen moustache. Among its many outings, the programs provide epic sleepovers at the observatory, aquariums and overnights at Science World.

The memories are theirs as well, like creating a jello tree for their girls to ‘find’ in the morning.

“You’ll bump into those kids 10 years later and they’re still talking about it,” Finnigan says.

Katrina interjects a tale of the recent vote to go outdoor skating at the Empress as opposed to an outing to the pool.

“We can actually choose what we want to do,” she says. All activities are “choice based,” agrees current 1st Victoria leader Anna Dzioba. “If you’re comfortable you can join in. They don’t have to be the one presenting a pet badge, they can watch and participate next time.”

That growth, the build up of a girl’s esteem and character, is a gift for the leaders.

“Watching girls that start off really shy and don’t have a voice and seeing them blossom is amazing,” said Doty.

“It builds self esteem. It’s a really empowering thing,” Finnigan added.

They strive to be as inclusive as possible, points out current co-leader Heather Shiedel. “If we have a shy girl, girls with disabilities, they’re all included and we all get along,” she says.

The 1st Victoria Guides is the first to mark a century in the Victoria District but many started as the First World War broke out in 1914. By 1915 there were five companies in Victoria.

“It started and it just ‘bam’ took over,” said Doty. “They learned a lot of life skills.”

Oak Bay owns the Bowker Halls that house the guides and scouts adjacent to Fireman’s Park, but Kiwanis purpose-built them in the 1950s. The program over the past century has not only survived, but thrived.

“There are over 10 million members in 147 countries,” says Finnigan.

“You can start when you’re five, and we have women in our Trefoil Guild who are 94,” adds Doty.

Guilds support the Guides by offering their skills in lesson form, or fundraising for activities in a lifelong sisterhood that spans generations.

When 1st Victoria used to visit Aberdeen, an Island Health residential care facility on Hillside Avenue, they shared stories with residents there who were guides as young girls, both in Canada and England. Many memories were stirred by the uniforms, the leaders say. It’s something that happens a lot.

“A lot of people keep their uniforms,” said Doty.

“It marks a passage of time that’s bigger than yourself, broader than yourself,” said Katrina’s mom Christine, who was also a guide as a child.

As part of her uniform, Katrina sports a hat covered in “traders”, small crafty works the embody memories of camps or outings. Tiny drinks, a small roll of toilet paper, a teeny plate of brownies all affixed with safety pins. Doty brought her badge blanket crowded with badges and crests from overseas trips to provincial campouts to local sleepovers. The two commissioners remember taking the 1st Victoria on a trip where every girl got a hat, and within 15 minutes were back in the tents madly pinning their “traders” on.

“Trading sessions were epic,” Doty says.

It all leads back to the empowerment of girls. All of the adult women say they’ve seen girls come out of bullying situations, emerging with a group of close friends. While the songs and uniforms of Guides may change, that foundation of sisterhood and friendship doesn’t falter.

“[Guiding] changes with the times, but it retains its roots,” Doty said.

“The core values and rules,” Finnigan added. “If you follow the basic rules, you’ll be a confident, self-assured, nice human being.”

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com