New Brownies prepare to pop out of their cauldrons. HELEN TRAN

Girl Guides celebrate new enrollments

Underneath an almost full moon, an assortment of witches, princesses and fairies gathered under the pavilion at Harold Black Park on a chilly autumn night last week. The socially distant gathering was an enrolment ceremony for the Girl Guides divisions of Pelham, as they officially welcomed new “Sparks” and “Brownies” into their ranks.

The witches were Girl Guides leaders Corrine Grant, Elisha Niece, Lynn Beemer, and Katie Storm. The small group of Brownies and Sparks gathered around a cardboard and tissue “campfire”, seated on decorated “bum buckets” to maintain social distancing. Surrounded by ghostly lights and lanterns, they practiced their enrolment vows and chants, while wrapped up in warm coats over their costumes and masked to adhere to the COVID-19 safety protocols that have brought many changes to their weekly meetings.

“We are braving the cold,” said Grant as the girls ran around giggling and chanting during the rehearsal for the ceremony. She was glad that despite the pandemic, “the girls can come and still be a part of it all and have fun.”

Corinne Grant welcomes witnesses both big and small to the enrollment ceremony. HELEN TRAN

Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) started in 1909, when girls in England petitioned to join the Boy Scouts Rally in London. The movement reached Canada in 1910, with the first “Unit” formed in St Catharines. There are now units all over Canada, divided into subgroups, where themes and activities are organized by age: Sparks (age 5-6), Brownies (7-8), Guides (9-11), Pathfinders (12-14), Rangers (15-17), and Trex (12-14+).

Since lockdown began in March, GGC has implemented new ways of meeting in order to maintain safe social distancing while still fostering a sense of community and teamwork among the scouts. For the older girls, meetings moved to Zoom, the online videoconferencing program.

Hannah Beckett, a leader of the Pathfinder group, described how the GGC weekly meetings had changed since lockdown. When not meeting outdoors for socially distant events and gatherings, scouts would still create crafts online, or play the games available on Zoom. Normal GGC activities, such as putting together “shoeboxes” full of items to donate to kids and babies in need, were easy to complete while social distancing, so that the girls could still work towards earning their Community Service Awards.

As for the young Brownies and Sparks, they lit up the stage at Harold Black Park as their masked parents and siblings arrived to witness the enrolment ceremony. The Brownies’ ceremony involved lining up to be “cooked” in the large cardboard cauldron, while the Sparks flew through a large colourful rainbow.

Each group had their own chant to recite:

Brownie Promise

I Promise to do my best,

To be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada

I will take action for a better world

And respect the Brownie Law

Sparks Promise

I promise to share and be a friend.

When the ceremony concluded, there were many rounds of applause, and much laughter and congratulations as each newly minted Brownie or Spark went back home with her family, leaving the four good witches to pack up their cauldron and magic wands, and wave goodbye until the next weekly meeting.

GGC will be selling their chocolate mint cookies within the next few weeks. Girl Scouts will still be going door-to-door while masked to adhere to COVID-19 safety rules. For online orders, potential cookie-buyers can visit the Girl Guides main website and check out the “e-cookies portal.”

While enrolment has been much lower this year due to the coronavirus, GGC has still been active with their scouts, organizing socially distant or online events and activities so that the girls can still help the community, make new friends, and earn badges for their sashes.

“It’s been a learning curve,” said Beckett. “This has never been done before, but we’ve got it pretty down pat.”