Peter Joins the Scouts

One of the largest youth movements in the world is the Scouting movement. It is truly  international in scope and casting a massive shadow on pop culture, i.e., being mentioned in the theme music to the classic TV show “Car 54” as well as coming up in figures of speech that we use on a daily basis. ( “He’s a good scout!”) Of course, like every human endeavour, it can be subverted by those who seek power. In Germany in 1937, the Scouts were outlawed and every Aryan boy was expected to join “The Hitler Jugend”, a Nazi youth movement which eventually was used to form a Waffen SS Panzer division which fought fiercely in Normandy after D Day.

In February of this year, the Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in order to be able to adequately compensate the numerous victims of sexual abuse who had suffered at the hands of some of the less scrupulous men in positions of authority in the organization.

Now both of these occurrences are nowhere near what Robert Baden-Powell had in mind when he founded the Scouting movement over a hundred years ago, reference my first paragraph. Today’s column is going to be dedicated to three important women in my early life, namely Elizabeth Leith, Margaret Leith and Eva Lahay. Some of you reading this will know them as teachers, but a few of you will “get” their context in today’s column. (Bruce Ritter, I’m looking at you 😉!)

I decided to become a Wolf Cub, and I got assigned to the 4th Orillia Pack, which met at a church on James Street near my house. I signed up during a period of transition. For many years one had had to attain a number of achievements to be awarded a star. Further accomplishments would qualify you for a second star. In my case, I got very close to qualifying for my first star when that program was scrapped. A new “five star” standard was enacted. I had to start all over, as I recall, very discouraging.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We began the meeting in a circle. The leaders used names from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. Elizabeth, the leader, was “Akela”, the lead wolf of the pack. Margaret was “Bagheera”, the panther. Eva was “Baloo”, the bear who helped Mowgli a). “Akela” recited “The Law Of The Jungle” to start the meeting and we chanted our reply, promising to “Do Our Best”. Then we would stand and drop change, our “dues” b) in a hat at the centre of our circle. With this out of the way, the meeting would begin. We would break up into smaller groups and study citizenship questions, learn knots c), work on merit badges and get indoctrinated into the history and lore of  Scouting. My favourite Morse Code character was “E”, by the way, and yes, Google is your friend.

I got some good lessons taught to me during these group sessions. One evening I was answering a question posed by “Baloo”, and another member of the group began to laugh, because I was stuttering terribly. She told him not to laugh. Shamefaced, I was finally able to finish. Then she asked him a question, and it was obvious that he had no idea of the answer. It was my turn to laugh, and I did so. To my surprise she told ME not to laugh! I did stop laughing and on further reflection I decided that she had been correct in correcting me, as I was laughing at the boy because he was ill informed. On another occasion, I had been bullied at school for some time and I reacted not by confronting my tormentors, but by “acting out” at Cubs. “Akela” took me aside and firmly but gently told me that I was a much nicer boy than I had been recently. She told me that she was disappointed with me, but she knew that I could be better behaved. Loyal Reader, I burst into tears and cathartically cried out bottled up weeks of outrage and anger. I was still sobbing when I returned to the group. d).

Now we had some adventures outside the meeting place. For example, one year we entered a float in the Orillia Santa Claus Parade. Several Cubs were placed on the float, reenacting a farm scene. Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy was holding a wooden threshing rake while the other 3 boys stood statue like around me. “Akela” gave me one of her blouses to wear, and I had no coat on. It was late November, in Orillia. (Those who have been there know that which I write of.)

The wind cut through my blouse like a knife, and every time the tractor braked, 4 of the 4th’s finest had to grab something quickly and discreetly to avoid spilling out on the road. They tell me the parade was about 2 hours long. It felt like 2 weeks long! It was fun, though.

Another Saturday, we got bussed to Canadian Forces Base Borden for a tour, including lunch and the Worthington Tank Museum. Silly little fools that we were, we jumped on a Valentine tank and, showing great originality, shouted “Happy Valentine’s Day”! e) It was a wonderful day outing, made possible by the selfless dedication of these three women.

On yet another occasion, we camped overnight just outside Orillia. We set up camp on a Saturday and were scheduled to return to Orillia Sunday afternoon. Saturday afternoon was a series of games, followed by a nice dinner and some lame skits typical of Wolf Cub humour. As Samuel Pepys would say “And so to bed.”

Lovely sunny Saturday, followed by a torrential downpour overnight. The camp suffered grievously at Mother Nature’s hands, and we must have looked more like a campground full of (drowned) water rats than Cubs.

In these pre cellphone days, someone must have hitch hiked to the nearest gas station and used their payphone. We all got picked up, we were cold and wet, but we were picked up and within an hour I was soaking in a hot tub.

I was a Cub for about two years. I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot about myself and others. Again, I owe most of this to the tireless efforts of “Akela”, “Bagheera” and “Baloo”. As I always say “Anyone can teach you a lesson, if you study them long enough.”

I lost track of the Leith sisters and Ms Lahay after I left Cubs, although I understand that Elizabeth passed away some time ago. They had a great effect on me, and I am sure, many other Cubs. We should all be grateful that good minded people are prepared to expend their precious time and energy to keep organizations like this in operation.

I will be sharing this column to 3 “Orillia” Facebook groups. I would appreciate if any ex Cubs who read this put their pack and six in the comments.

Next week, inter alia, I will be printing a wonderful poem which my dear aunt Louise wrote.

See you soon.

  1. a) A little boy and the only human really mentioned in “The Jungle Book”.
  2. b) AFAIK, we funded our activities through our weekly dues and Apple Day proceeds.
  3. c) “The rabbit goes up the tree, around the trunk and back down under the root.” ( Why do I remember that and have to look to see if I am wearing a shirt? )
  4. d) My behaviour improved so much that 6 months later she promoted me to “seconder”. I was in the “yellow” six.
  5. e) This tank was named “Valentine” because its design was approved by the British War Office on Valentine’s Day. Sadly, they did not have a Valentine Archer, my favourite Allied Armoured Fighting Vehicle!

6 Responses to “Peter Joins the Scouts”

  1. 1rst Owen Sound pack, St. Andrews (Presbyterian) United Church. Several camps (cabins, actually) at Presqu’ile Rotary Camp just north of Owen Sound.
    Later became a Sea Scout (9th Owen Sound) whose uniform had a flat topped hat and ludicrously wide bell bottoms. Two winter camps as part of the Owen Sound Winter Carnival – the first of which on straw in an open air lean-to made by suspending a tarp between two trees. I made a bedroll out of Hudson’s Bay blankets but crawled into the wrong layer, causing it to unravel. Woke up teeth chattering with only one blanket around me – everyone else was asleep so I put my fire building skills to great use. Next year’s winter camp was in an army tent with a wood stove heater. Went to Ottawa in 1967 for Sea Scout regatta then on to Expo 67. Learned a number of verses of “The North Atlantic Squadron” (Chorus: “Away , away with the pipe and drum / Here we come, full of rum/ Looking for women to peddle their bum/ For the North Atlantic Squadron”

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Wow, when you conjure up a memory, you don’t kid around, ehh? Sounds very interesting and I do remember the Sea Scout uniforms. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Damon Hines Says:

    “There’s a scout troop short a child 🎶
    Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild
    Car 54 where are you?” 🎵

  3. Lori Oatway Says:

    I had all three of these lovely ladies as teachers and remember them well. They were definitely people who you didn’t want to disappoint

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