How My Experience in Scouts (in Canada) Shaped My Life
Recently, I noticed a news article discussing how The Boy Scouts of America were finally accepting girls. I actually thought the article was a joke because I was in Scouts myself, here in Canada, about nineteen years ago when Scouts Canada became completely co-ed. I didn’t realize Scouts USA was behind us or how heated this topic would become!
I had a lot of positive experiences in Scouts and know it helped to shape me into the woman that I am today.
Here’s my story:
In my lifetime, I’ve participated in Beavers, Cubs and finally Scouts. Scouts was the only program I stuck with because the other two programs didn’t really catch my interest. I had the choice of joining Girl Guides, as I had friends who were in it, but it never interested me. My friends’ stories of baking or sewing seemed boring to me because that’s something I already did at home.
Now, I know not all Girl Guides are like that, but that was my experience with it. I wanted to do something adventurous; I wanted to go camping, hiking, canoeing and learn how to survive in the woods, just like my older brothers. I don’t know if I was attracted to Scouts because of how I was raised, but I truly believe that being outdoors and physically challenging yourself is equally essential for boys and girls. We all need to step away from technology and learn how to appreciate our beautiful countryside, and we need to learn how to do basic things that were once very common, such as making a shelter and fire.
Shortly after I first met my husband, we went camping one weekend. Figuring he would have an ego, I let him try to start the campfire. After much ado and fluttering around, I realized the fire wasn’t going to happen but I kept my lips sealed as I watched him wondering, “Didn’t the Army teach their members to make fires?” It became so awkward that at one point a neighboring camper sent his kid over with fire starters to help my boyfriend. He promptly threw them all into the fire with no thought, barely succeeding this time. At this point, I was laughing. Needless to say, I made the fires from that point on. Also from then on, he made it his mission to excel at fire making. This is just one simple example of how Scouts taught me something that I took for granted.
While I did have wonderful experiences in Scouts, of course, there were times I wanted to quit. However, I think that’s normal for a pre-pubescent, grumpy kid who thought “I gotta show these adults who’s boss.”
Thankfully, sanity prevailed and I remained a Scout. This program served to educate me in so many ways – including how to respect our country and my elders. At the beginning of each meeting, we would stand at attention and raise the Canadian flag. At the end, we would take the flag down and fold it properly. Every November we would participate in a local Remembrance Day service to show our respects.
Scouts taught me how to make shelters in all seasons. One of my best memories was making a winter shelter with tree boughs and snow with my troop. We were required to sleep in our shelter all night, and luckily, our troop had two other girls to keep me warm. The feeling of accomplishment the next morning was awesome – we had done something that a lot of people wouldn’t or just couldn’t do.
We learned how to use a map and compass, lash, tie knots, make traps, cook fish, pack a rucksack and hike with it, dress for all sorts of weather, and the health risks associated with different seasons. There were so many important things that we learned, it’s truly hard to list them all!
I went on to receive my Chief Scout’s Award, the highest award you can get in Scouts here in Canada. In America, I believe it’s called the Eagle Scout Rank. I read one article that proudly stated, “Boy Scouts Will Admit Girls, Allow Them to Earn Eagle Scout Rank”. The title stuck out because it should go without saying that if girls were allowed in a program, of course they would be able to achieve the highest award possible.
I understand some people will say, “Well, there’s Girl Scouts, why can’t they just stay there?” Obviously there’s something lacking there, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a demand for girls to join Scouts. Other people will say, “Boys need a space to be boys and do boy things and talk about ‘boy’ issues.” Well, I don’t think that’s much of a concern for boys. I feel like that’s more of a concern parents have – so maybe you should talk with your sons instead of pushing it onto other adults and kids? When we were in Scouts we did Scout activities, nothing changed because there were girls. Whatever the boys did or talked about, we did the same thing … just like in co-ed schools.
The only time I experienced being singled out, ever so slightly, was during an overnight hike. We were required to pack our rucksacks and hike to a location to spend the night. The hike was about 25 kilometers (a fellow scouter recorded this length as I apparently blocked out this eventful moment!). This was during one of our weekend camping trips and I wasn’t aware that we were doing this (more likely I was just being oblivious). But there I was sitting beside the only other female Scout qualified to do this sort of thing. The instructor was telling us about how hard it would be and said, “If you don’t think you can do it, if you think you’re going to quit halfway through, you need to tell us.” He looked around the room of boys, his eyes settled on us girls, and he asked,“Okay?” My friend and I were actually curious why we were singled out – didn’t we get this far for a reason? It goes without saying that we were just that much more determined to prove him wrong.
We went on the hike and passed. However, it was also the first time I got a blister under my toenail because of my ill-fitting shoes! The pride I had in finishing that hike was overwhelming.
Now I’m an adult and I have to admit without Scouts, I more than likely would not be the woman I am today. Scouting has allowed me to explore the world and guided me into becoming who I am. Scouts helped build character and leadership qualities in me as well as an appreciation for my country and community, which other programs may not have.
Scouts provided me with confidence in camping, hiking or anything outdoorsy. These activities don’t intimidate me, in fact, I seek them out. Through these experiences I understand the basic concepts of surviving in the wild and the practicability of products that companies develop, allowing me to make an educated decisions on my camping purchases. I’m willing to bet I can make a fire and shelter faster than most people I know, and if I was stranded in the woods I’d be confident enough in my skills to know that I wouldn’t die quickly from exposure.
If I have daughters or sons in the future, I would encourage them both to join Scouts. And I think you should too.
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About the Author: Melissa Georgeson (Houtekamer) is the better half to our other Canadian writer (the giant one). She grew up scouting and living in the middle of nowhere. During her teens, Melissa was interested in drawing and science. But she realized that she’d never make any money as an artist; so she went into science. She decided plants were interesting (not the illegal ones) and pursued a Masters in Agriculture. She actually worked at the Christmas Tree Research Center for a bit and yes, that is a real place – a magical place that smelled like Christmas all year round. When she’s not camping, adventuring or shooting her Remington 7615 and Gen 3 Glock 17 with her husband, she’s drawing, gardening and pursuing ‘The Art of Nerdiness.’