Q&A with Cindy O’Flaherty, Commissioner, Wapiti Meadows District, Girl Guides of Canada

Girl Guides in the Central Peace area

What Girl Guides programs are available in the Central Peace region?
The area that covers Northwest Alberta is called the Peace River Area. There are seven areas in the Alberta Council plus the Northwest Territories and Yukon. We have five districts in the Peace River area. Wapiti Meadows District covers the area from Spirit River to Grande Cache and from Valleyview to the BC border. We have units in Grande Prairie, Spirit River and Wembley. Our units in Grande Cache, Grovedale, Sexsmith and Debolt have closed due to lack of leaders, and with COVID-19, we have seen a decrease in girl registration.

How often do the Girl Guides meet?
Historically, units used to meet once a week for 1-2 hours. Some meet after school, while others meet in the evening. But because of other commitments of the girls and travel to meeting places, some of our rural units found it easier to meet once a month for 6-8 hours. Also, with COVID-19 restrictions, we have not been able to meet indoor. Our camps run on weekends both indoor and outdoor.

What will a young girl get out of being a Girl Guide?
In Girl Guides, we strive for unlimited adventures, a chance to get creative and connect with her community. We hope to create self-confidence and a sense of community in our girls by teaching them skills that they can use into adulthood.

How has this year been different for Girl Guides?
Over the past few years Girl Guides has seen an increase in enrolment, but this year we have experienced a decrease due to COVID-19. We have not been able to sell our cookies the traditional way by going door to door or at local events such as craft shows. So, we have resorted to selling to family and friends; this year, an online option is available. We have had trips to Europe postponed and provincial trips cancelled. We haven’t been able to host camps or district events. Leaders have had to become creative with outdoor meetings while social distancing. They have had to deal with frustrated parents and provide clothing for those girls not dressed appropriately.

Girl Guide cookies have been for sale in local stores, is this something that might be considered in future as well?
Because we haven’t been able to sell our cookies door to door or at events Girl Guides has partnered with retail outlets to sell our cookies. This was started by a Canadian Tire store in Leduc, and it spreads across the province and then nationally to other retail stores. This fall, Girl Guide cookies will be available online for the first time.

Why do Girl Guides earn badges?
Badges are rewarded to girls who have met the requirements related to the badge. There are eight program areas with three themes each within those programs which the girls continue to develop on throughout their years in Guiding. As the girls get older there are more requirements to earn the badges.

What is the difference between Boy Scouts and Girl Guides?
Girl Guides and Boy Scouts were both founded by Robert Baden Powell. Boy Scouts was founded in 1907 to teach young boys outdoor skills. The girls tried to sneak into events, so Baden Powell had his sister, Agnes Baden Powell, start a movement for girls in England in 1909. By 1910, units started in Ontario. In 1913, units formed in Alberta, and in 1923 Guiding began in the Grande Prairie area. In 1930, Olave Baden Powel, Robert Baden Powell’s wife, continued her husband’s passion leading both organizations on his passing in 1941.

What does “girl-driven” mean in Guiding?
The Girl Guides program has changed over the years to be more girl-driven. At Girl Guides of Canada, providing girls and young women with a platform to speak out on the issues that matter to them is at the heart of what we do. Through unique research into the issues impacting girls’ everyday lives – from unrealistic expectations about what it means to be “a girl” to sexism in the classroom and inequities in their summer jobs – we give girls opportunities to share what matters to them and their experiences. These girl-driven insights shine a spotlight on how girls in Canada feel about a range of important topics and the emerging pressures they face today. The results help us advocate for girls and support girls to speak up themselves.

Are there still National Service Projects? If so, what was this year’s, and has it changed course due to the pandemic?
Girl Guides still encourages service projects. This year our Rangers (Grades 10-12) partnered with Bear Creek Funeral home to help clean and maintain some gravestones at the Grande Prairie cemetery. While doing so, they learned about the women who were buried there and their strengths and contributions to their community. We have participated in the Rotary food drive as well as simple things like raking leaves and sweeping church parking lots.

Why does it continue to be cool to be a Girl Guide?
In a world with lots of activities to choose from, we are excited to have some of the highest numbers of older girls in our district than ever before. We have worked on sisterhood, where older girls mentor and teach skills to younger girls. The opportunity to provide community service and see the rewards helps build self-confidence and commitment. The girls like to travel, and we teach them commitment and the value of money by fundraising for their trips. The girls fundraise by selling cookies, cleaning ditches and through other opportunities. We provide endless fun, activities and new experiences.

Can you tell us a bit about your own experience in Girl Guides?
I did not have the opportunity to attend Girl Guides as a girl. My first experience was when my daughter started as a Spark, when she was five. The leader left halfway through the year, and the unit needed a leader, so I took the challenge. As she moved through the levels, I became a leader with that group until Pathfinders. When she moved to Rangers, I remained as a Pathfinder leader where I have been a leader for the past 11 years. As I became more involved in the organization, my appreciation for what Girl Guides taught our girls grew. I have held different positions over the years – from Camp Advisor and Deputy Commissioner to my current role as Commissioner. People have asked me over the years why I am still involved in Guiding since my daughter has completed the program. I believe in the program and what it teaches our young girls. My rewards have been that I have built great friendships over the years. I have been able to help provide skills girls would not receive otherwise. I have seen so many girls become fine young women contributing to our communities.