Girl Guide land, money, buildings now become moral struggle

For a quarter-century, hard core Barrie area Girl Guide enthusiasts and their families and their community have raised money to build a Girl Guide camp. What was the flicker of an idea in 1986 was struck by a match when Sylvia Dufresne was marshalled to lead the charge.

Today that Guide Camp, fully paid for and operating in the black is under threat by a provincial office determined to take over the deed and the bank account which is sitting poised to build the final piece in a 25 year project… the lodge.

Federal head office and provincial head offices remain intact, with full staffs. But because of “low” registration numbers, the regional and division levels have been disbanded and Guide leaders operate in isolation in their communities and answer to their provincial body. The provincial body doesn’t seem to have to answer to its communities.

When the Provincial Guiding body brought down its hammer on Champlain Division, demanding all revenues be turned over to them, the local group quietly stood up and said ‘no.’ They watched other groups acquiese and watched so many of their camps go up for sale. Of Ontario’s 33 Guide camps, 16 have been sold off by the provincial organization after being turned over by district organizations. The Barrie group feels responsible to their hundreds of donors, families who’ve laboured physically, architects and builders who have donated their time, business owners who’ve given money specifically for the Tewateno project.

The Guide camp team found perfect land north of Midhurst, embraced the river that runs through the property and raised money to help put services into this land. Hundreds of people contributed to make this camp grow from fabulous vacant land to a beautiful reality. People like Stan and Sue Jessup, Bob and Debbie Boychoff who give real physical labour and design talent, form the core that make up Camp Tewateno.

They were driven by the difficulty in getting camp time for 2500 to 3000 Barrie area Champlain Maple Leaf Division guiding units from Girl Guide camps owned by other regions. Not content to simply erect a mess hall and tent platforms, the Camp Tewateno team developed a theme that embraced the aboriginal ties from which it came.

My March 24, 2002 column celebrated the flipping of a switch on solar and hydro systems that brought power to the facility.

This camp is unique across the continent… it’s developed in themes… a military theme with barracks of tents, pioneer theme with covered wagons, the adirondack setting with pioneer shanties, a native Canadian setting with round teepees.

In all this camp accommodates about 300 Girl Guides at one time. Its bills are paid and it breaks even financially. The big project this year is the final building, a lodge, for meetings. Tewateno has been diligent about providing time to other Guiding and Scouting groups; the fallow times are used to camp development or rented out to fee paying groups to raise money to build the lodge.

Guiding in this region is a thriving activity with commissioners, guide leaders, area commissioners alike all focussed on the same thing.

With the federal organization holding title to the land, the provincial body reaching for the bank account, the individual Guide leaders and those who’ve lead camp development are dismayed at the refusal to listen to their voice. One Guiding pillar, a former leader, commissioner and donor received her long service award on a recent Wednesday only to be put under investigative suspension two days later!

Suspension? Helpless? Yes. The Barrie group feels helpless, but not hopeless. They’ve joined the website to speak out. They want to keep their camp. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why a provincial organization can’t embrace the same ideals.

Lady Baden Powell would be ashamed.

Thanks, Sylvia, Jackie & Gord, Al, Stan & Sue, Eileen, Barb, Bob & Debbie, Ted, and on and on and on. May your investment be protected so that Girl Guides and Boy Scouts from this region can continue to enjoy the activity so revered by Lord and Lady Powell.