By Sue Tiffin
Published Oct. 12 2017
On Thursday nights in Minden when the doors of Scout Hall open and a group of girls ready for a night of Sparks Brownies and Girl Guides walks in Carol Bellefeuille is ready for them. But they won’t call her Carol or Mrs. Bellefeuille – instead she’s known by her Unit Guider name Rainbow. Her camping hat is filled with badges and beads and tokens of the community like a Haliburton tartan keychain and a Canoe FM radio button.
You might have seen her leading the scouting girls to the cenotaph during Remembrance Day services carolling with the group at the longterm care home or joining her troop at the Santa Claus parade. Tonight she seemingly effortlessly blends a mixture of teaching organizing leading and support into the next few hours at Scout Hall.
Bellefeuille doesn’t do it alone – she has parent volunteers who come to work alongside her in creating a safe and easygoing place for the girls to learn lessons about community and essential survival skills women who help run activities and act as mentors. She lists fellow women who have recently helped to keep the Guides program alive in Haliburton County: Michelle Wolfe-Miscio Margaret Thompson Amanda Austin Sue Azevedo Winnie Kasepchuk and Jennifer Cox.
Cox attends the meeting as a parent volunteer with her daughter Kate newly a Spark.
“[Girl Guides is] all about learning and togetherness” she said. “All the things that seem to be missing from today’s society but that I want my kids to learn.”
It’s also about fun – the kids burn off any excess energy outside with a game of Chuck the Chicken before coming back to the toadstool in the middle of the floor that Bellefeuille recreated after the old toadstool used for years started falling apart.
She was a Brownie and a Girl Guide herself in Minden long before the purpose-focused space of Scouts Hall in the back of the community centre was established. But though she didn’t become a Pathfinder the group after Girl Guides the spirit of guiding never really left her. In college she helped with a friend’s Beavers group in Ottawa and while living in Banff she became a Spark leader a pre-Girl Guides group for kids aged five to six years old that was developed in the late-’80s. Returning to Ontario about 15 years ago a conversation outside a grocery store where the Brownies and Guides were selling cookies led to her helping with the Minden Sparks and Brownies unit. Now 10 years later she’s a leader in Minden as well as Haliburton.
“What keeps me coming back?” she asks. “I love kids and before I became a mom a few years ago – step-mom to a couple of amazing kids – it was a way to stay involved with kids in my community contribute to my community and meet some awesome women from across Ontario and Canada.”
Bellefeuille is so enthusiastic about Guiding that she’s been known to strike up conversations with strangers on a bus to discuss the national association.
She also has an endless stream of facts always on hand sharing the history and importance of the Girl Guides organizations. In just one night she can be heard recommending an enticing book – How the Girl Guides Won the War – speaking of exciting awards and events and scholarship opportunities sharing addictive recipes to use Girl Guide cookies in and announcing that a time capsule set by the Minden Guide group in 2010 will have to be opened soon.
“There are elements of the program that certainly would be familiar to our moms or grandmas: the Brownie story with the wise owl in the tree the opening songs the toadstool and owl and trefoil the promises and mottoes for the different levels in Guiding Thinking Day the wearing of a uniform earning badges and of course the sisterhood of Guiding” she says. “There are specific elements that have changed. For example the uniform is a T-shirt and the promises for all units were updated a few years ago to reflect our inclusiveness of all women and girls. I feel that these changes are just part of the program staying relevant. Overall the basics of the program remain: girls and women challenging themselves to try new things to be active in their community and to live by the Guiding Law.” The Guiding Law challenges girls to be honest and trustworthy use resources wisely respect themselves and others recognize and use their talents and abilities protect our common environment live with courage and strength and share in the Sisterhood of Guiding.
When the Girl Guides come in later in the evening they sit together in a group on the floor to pore over a collection of Girl Guide magazines flipping through the pages independently until Bellefeuille has finished passing along administrative updates about uniforms and paperwork to the parents dropping them off. She picks up a magazine and flips through it herself pointing out interesting pieces she sees and acknowledging that some of the magazines are a bit dated – she’s been doing this for many years.
The Guides – as well as Bellefeuille and Karra Wesley parent volunteer – are fascinated by an article they find on the history of the Girl Guides through the years.
In around 1910 when Girl Guides began in Canada a year after girls demanded to be part of a Boy Scouts rally in England camping cost only about $2 for 10 days. This fact gives Bellefeuille the chance to teach about inflation. In the 1930s Girl Guides during the Great Depression attempted to help people in need bringing thousands of toys to families that needed them during Christmastime. In the 1940s enrolment pins were made out of fabric rather than scrap metal which was in high demand during the war. In these times Girl Guides learned morse code and motor mechanics and also home nursing. In the 1950s Girl Guides learned to be prepared for emergencies as a result of the Cold War. Bellefeuille points out that because of this knowledge Girl Guides knew how to be organized as a unit and could help with first aid during the major earthquake crisis in Haiti. As time went on the Girl Guides continuously adjusted to changes in society reaching out to partner with African countries in the 1980s learn about global warming in the 1990s and obtain newly-developed badges that reflected recycling and computer use and awareness of mental health.
“So they went from listening to the radio to uploading digital images” Wesley tells the troop.
“And Girl Guides have been there for the whole thing” says Bellefeuille. “That’s pretty neat.”
Bellefeuille acknowledges other programming and sports available in the area and the cost of Guiding – Girl Guides costs $175 for the year plus an additional cost for uniform – might be a deterrent to higher enrolment numbers but she works to keep costs down for camps or extra trips like a sleepover at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. This year as in past there are just about 10 kids enrolled in Sparks Brownies and Guides but Bellefeuille said she hopes for more. To her the program is one that offers countless opportunities for young girls.
“I’ve had some cool opportunities with Guiding that I know I wouldn’t have had if I weren’t involved” she says. “I went winter camping for the first time ever last winter and it was awesome. If you’d asked me before that experience if I’d ever sleep outdoors in the snow in a tarp shelter I’d have said ‘no way.’ But a couple of girls in my Haliburton Unit wanted to try it so I went along … am I ever glad I did. I can’t wait to go again this coming winter – we’re going to learn to make different shelters and learn more winter camping skills including dehydrated food prep for camping. It’s going to be awesome.”
Wesley finds a piece in the Girl Guides magazine and points it out. It reads “Girl Guides enables girls to be confident resourceful and courageous and to make a difference in the world. In other words our Mission is to encourage girls to be great.”
“That’s what it’s all about” she says.
The girls end the night talking about songs they’ll sing around an upcoming campfire – Bellefeuille introduces them to Taps – and discussing community initiatives they can take to help others – local Guides have been involved in donating to the food bank picking up garbage during Earth Day and helping to make a quilt for the YWCA shelter before their parent comes to pick them up thanking Bellefeuille for the evening.
“Being a Guider is totally volunteer” Bellefeuille says “There’s even a patch that jokes about the commitment being only an hour a week but we do it because we love it.”
For further information about the Sparks Brownies Girl Guides or Pathfinders (ages five to 14) program on Thursday nights in Minden or the Guides Pathfinders and Rangers (ages nine to 17) program on Wednesday nights in Haliburton email email@example.com or register online at https://register.girlguides.ca.