Renfrew – In 2007, Scouts Canada announced the No One Left Behind program in an effort to ensure that every youth is provided with the opportunity to experience new adventures with a local Scouts Canada program.
Unfortunately, there may be some boys and girls in the Renfrew area left behind permanently as declining enrollment and a lack of volunteers may mark the end of a once strong Scouting tradition dating back more than 60 years.
Local Scout leader Angela Field has been one of those unsung volunteer leaders since 2016 after watching from the sidelines for a year as her young children put on the different uniforms associated with Scouting.
“I watched my children really enjoy all the different aspects that Renfrew Scouts had to offer and I figured since I was taking them into town for Scouting, why not get involved,” she said. “Until COVID came along we had a small but active group and then we were forced to shut down last year. Normally we used the gym at St. Thomas The Apostle School or we used Camp Legewade out near Hurd’s Lake. But with both those places not being available, we shut down activities until we had a better idea of what was going on.”
The sudden halt of all activities put a dent into any aggressive recruitment plans that Ms. Field and the other five leaders/volunteers had talked about in an attempt to not only increase the number of children involved in all levels of Scouting, but they also recognized the need to build a bigger pool of adult leaders.
“What makes it so frustrating is that 1st Renfrew Scouting always had a good healthy number of kids enrolled,” she said. “Unfortunately with more organized activities like hockey and others taking over and drawing the kids to their organizations, we saw a steady decline in our numbers. I can tell you that COVID really hit us hard. I know all volunteer organizations are facing similar challenges, but in our case, it is especially bad.”
In its heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon to have between 20 and 30 Scouts (11-14 years old); 30 or more Cubs (aged 8-10 years) and Beavers would usually vary anywhere from 15 to 25 members.
Ms. Field said when the leaders agreed to suspend operations until COVID restrictions were lifted, there were about six children enrolled in the Beavers program and anywhere from four to six in the Cub level.
“We had about a total of 12 children who were enrolled and the sad part is we had no Scout program up and running for the simple fact we could not find enough volunteers,” she said. “Due to earlier problems, Scouts Canada brought in the rule that there always had to be two leaders on site at all times so that an adult is never alone with a Scout. Our leaders are busy people and some who might want to help out can’t always commit to regular attendance.”
The 1st Renfrew Scouts draw not only from Renfrew, but the troop stretches into the Calabogie and Arnprior areas, and still has problems increasing the number of participants.
“It gets frustrating because when we look up at Cobden, they are a much smaller community than Renfrew and yet they are able to have a healthy size,” she noted. “Their numbers have also decreased over the years, but for now they are in good shape.”
Just as frustrating of not being able to attract children and adult volunteers is the fact the Renfrew troop has some very visible legacy projects that depict the strong history of past memberships. When Scouts Canada introduced a national tree planting program in 1972, it created an ongoing legacy tradition and in 2018, the Scouting movement was responsible for more than 80 million trees being planted in Canada.
The Pottinger Plantation, located on Gillan Road near Highway 17, is a deep rich forest plantation filled with trees planted by local Boy Scouts. As a sign of the times, the plantation was sold by the 1st Renfrew Scouts and the original wooden sign remains as a reminder of past projects.
Perhaps the greatest asset the local Renfrew troop had was Camp Legewade, a 50-acre multi-purpose camp located on Hurd’s Lake, about eight kms outside of Renfrew. Viewed as a prime location for camping adventures for children, it contains cabins that sleep up to 40 people (25 people winterized), along with a separate dining hall with large kitchen facility including running water, propane fridge, and stove.
The camp, which was established just after the Second World War, was sold to Scouts Canada and the Renfrew troop is responsible for the administration of the popular site.
“Although the camp is closed from November to April, we had bi-weekly meetings out at the camp when we can access it and each spring the 1st Troop has a week of camping to themselves,” Ms. Field said. “But like everything it all comes down to numbers.”
She said with the current state of COVID restrictions being lifted, Scouting groups across the Ottawa Valley will be looking at both maintaining and expanding their respective rosters. However, Ms. Shields said their immediate recruitment is fueled by desperation.
“We have to get the youth out, but more importantly is getting volunteers to support our youth,” she said. “We are down to our last four or five volunteers and we really need to bring in some new blood. If we don’t find new volunteers then it looks like 1st Renfrew Scouts will be shut down. It is not something any of us want to see happen, but we will be left with no choice unless adults step forward and help us keep the long tradition of Scouting alive in Renfrew.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader