By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
One of the most distinguishing marks of the North Shore is the Baden-Powell trail, named in honour of one of the greatest ‘trailblazers’ of the past century. Baden-Powell blazed many new trails in the areas of physical education, character-building, spiritual growth for youth, and peace-making.
Baden-Powell (B.P. as he is affectionately known) hardly knew his clergyman/headmaster father, as he died when B.P. was only 3 years old. Being raised without a dad gave him a keen appreciation of the need for boys to have healthy male role models. B.P. took little interest as a boy in school, preferring to act in school plays and explore the woods around his school. At age 19, he joined the Army where he served in India, South Africa, and the Mediterranean. From his Military scouting and reconnaissance experience, B.P. wrote a book entitled Aids to Scouting. It was published in 1899, just as he was becoming a well-known hero through bravely defending the South African town of Mafeking for 217 days.
Upon his return to England in 1903, B.P. was dismayed by the apathy among English young people: “thousands of boys and young men, pale, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting.” As a result, he wrote a second book in 1908 entitled Scouting for Boys (the third best-seller in the world after the Bible and Shakespeare). Within a year, over 100,000 boys had already enrolled as Scouts. Within two years, his sister Agnes, and then his wife Lady Baden-Powell, began the parallel Girl Guiding movements. Today there are 17 million Scouts world-wide, with around 250,000 in Canada. In our own Seymour/Deep Cove area, there are 253 boys in Scouting (Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts) and 500 girls in Guiding (Brownies, Guides, and Pathfinders).
Many misconstrue Baden-Powell and Scouting as merely a recreational diversion for children. In fact, as Mr. John Pettifer the Provincial Executive Director puts it, “Scouting is really an educational program making use of recreational means.” B.P. was a progressive Educator, way ahead of his time, who saw recreation as a key method towards character-building. B.P. described Scouting as “…education in high ideals, in self-reliance, in sense of duty, in fortitude, in self-respect and regard for others –in one word, in those Christian attributes that go to make ‘Character’.” Unlike many today, Baden-Powell was totally unembarrassed about the role of faith in character-building.
At the heart of the Scouting and Guiding promises was their ‘duty to God’. When dealing with conflicts in the Scouting movement, B.P. recommended that people “…ask themselves the simple question, ‘What would Christ have done under the circumstances?’ and be guided accordingly.” Part of B.P.’s problem with Mussolini’s Ballila Youth and the Hitler Youth was that “the essential elements of ‘Duty to God’ and brotherhood with other nations were missing.” Baden-Powell saw a danger in Scouting that the recreational might overwhelm the spiritual side. So he wrote them, saying: “Don’t let the technical outweigh the moral. Field efficiency, backwoodsmanship, camping, hiking, good turns, Jamboree comradeships are all means, not the end. The end is CHARACTER –character with a purpose…the active service of Love and Duty to God and neighbour.”
My prayer for both young and old reading this article is that the character-building and spirituality of Baden-Powell will be rediscovered in our daily lives.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
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