Barb Arnold was a high school student, bopping from classes to student activities when her French teacher, Nancy Smith, nailed her.
“Barb, you need an activity that would round out your studies. I’m completing my training to be a Girl Guide leader. Why don’t you come and help out?”
Barb has been ‘helping out’ for half a century now and is so committed to the Guiding movement that her marriage to Keith Arnold featured an honour guard of Girl Guides outside the church.
Barb’s very special contribution, aside from leadership, has been the Guide store. For 20 years she has been the gold cord that has held the store together. It all began in the mid 70’s when local Guiders lamented that being able to order a limited number of items from the Walkers store downtown just didn’t give them the connection they needed.
When a Spark becomes a Brownie, or a Brownie becomes a Guide, outfitting a uniform is a number one priority. And trekking to Newmarket or Toronto was a tedious, often unsuccessful experience. It was also difficult on young families.
So, local Guiding Commissioner Jackie Pinder and her team of determined visionaries started the savings program and the asking of permission from Toronto Region and the myriad details of paperwork and location searches that went into finding a Guide store.
They had saved $15,000 for inventory. They went looking for a location, with a rent budget of $100 a month. They found it. A second floor Dunlop St E walk-up to two tiny rooms, 200 square feet in all, was the Guide Store’s first home. The building, across from the Queen’s Hotel, is being rebuilt by a brewery just now and what memories are etched into the floor boards!
Barb Arnold took on the mission to open this retail operation. She had a retail background from her father’s business so she placed the first order and set up the store’s operation, with the help of the first store treasurer, Joanne Agolini.
It was September, 1984. Often young Guiders and would-be Guiders were lined up down the stairs, waiting for a chance to try on the new Guiding uniforms which were designed by Alfred Sung in the late 80’s.
In 1984, a brand new Girl Guide uniform would be $40 for everything… dress, book, tie, tights. With the Sung uniform a few years later, dress was exchanged for blouse, shorts, pants… as the girls themselves dictated what they wanted to wear. Barb laughs as she recalls the ‘death’ of the Guide tam, which seldom sat on a Guider’s head but instead became a sea of frisbees night after night at Guide meetings!
Anyway, the second floor location was hell for delivery people, but the Guide store thrived, and survived three uniform changes in the process. Families from other guiding areas came to buy, not wanting the drive to the south. The store grew to carry an enormous quantity of stock, more than $50,000 of uniforms, badges, jewellery, camping equipment, whistles, books, backup equipment, flags.
Today, outfitting a Girl Guide is much less expensive than in yesteryear as the uniforms are more flexible. Tie, book, badge scarf, Tshirt, would set you back $35 with optional extras to choose from.
After 12 years, the Guide Store moved from Dunlop St to Alliance Blvd and the square footage multiplied. The Guide Store offered two change rooms, a washroom, a kitchen, a large store area, basement storage, and a meeting room at the back It’s also handicapped accessible.
“The Guide store haas always broken even or made a profit,” says Barb. On really good years they’ve been able to donate money to Tewateno, their treasured Guide camp which means ‘sisterhood.’ Barb retired as Store Manager this year, turning over the reins to Judy Whittaker. A retirement party held in her honour drew over 150 people, guiders past and present, who came to say ‘thankyou.’
She was given a Guide ring, gold, and a walking cane carved with guide symbols.
Barb Arnold has a strong sense of Barrie’s heritage and while she and former commissioner Pinder are now officially ‘retired’ from Guiding, both now receiving their pension cheques, they do take a sparks or brownie group to the Guide store once a month.
“We go into the back room, get out our archives of uniforms and let them try things on, drink tea from the teacups, and learn about the history of Guiding,” says Barb.
As she looks back on a quarter-century of store management, she sums it up this way… “people would drop in just to find out about the Guiding program. People came for information, we were the centre for distributing everything. It was the real soul of the program on a local level.”
And what did Barb get from all this goodness? “Fun. Contact with children and their parents. A challenge. It worked out well.”
It sure did.