Jeopardy Quiz: the answer is the 6th Toronto Scout Group.
But what's the question?
By Ian Roberts
Which local scout group is the oldest one around, beating out all others? And which scout group serves the core of the Bluffs community?
Founded in 1909, the 6th Toronto is the oldest scout group in North America, dating back to just two years after the worldwide scouting movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lord Baden-Powell. The 6th was founded by Ed Redman, a lawyer by trade, with the firm, Muloch, Milligan, Clarke and Redman. He was also a leading member of a family that was influential in the history of early Birchcliff; the Redmans owned the house (# 4) at the foot of Birchmount Road.
When scouting began in Toronto, several groups met to draw numbers between one and six and Mr. Redman picked this now famous number out of a hat. The first meeting place of the 6th was at St. Nicholas Anglican Church on Kingston Road at Manderley in Birchcliff. Members of the group were influential in saving the baptismal font and a piano from a fire that occurred at the church on January 16, 1916, demonstrating their collective heroism and bravery from the get-go. This heroism was continued by the members of the 6th who later served their country and community. Howard Mitchell, Edwin Barker, and Dick Pollard served in the Second World War . Mitchell went on to serve as a leader in the 'B' cub pack of the 6th, and was well known as tent inspector at its summer camp. Another member, Bernard Bellamy, later worked as a Metropolitan Toronto Police Detective.
In 1927, the 6th held meetings at Birchcliff Heights United Church on Highview Avenue and moved into the new addition at the church when it was built in 1958. It relocated to Birchcliff Heights Public School and gained a new sponsor in the Scarborough Lions Club when the church was sold in September 2003. No matter where the 6th made its home, it was always well respected within the community. When people thought of a scout group that represented Scarborough, the 6th often came to mind. This group is an integral part of the community in Birchcliff Heights, and the community wouldn't be the same without it.
Through its formative years, Fred Foster was the stable rock that guided and shaped the group. Fred was involved in the 6th for an astonishing 70 years—until his death in May 2010. I first met Mr. Foster when I entered cubs in 1996. He had started out as a young leader, and spent his life working with the cubs of the 6th. He had also worked in real estate and was well known in the community. Fred brought the 6th into its own light as a scout group that became known everywhere. He was the one individual who was most closely identified with the group from the 1940s onwards. He brought his love of scouting and of the outdoors to the A pack of cubs of the 6th as the Akela. (The names given to the leaders of a cub pack are based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.) He made sure that sixers and seconders did badge work at each cub meeting and did the cub opening—the Grand Howl—but this didn't mean that there was no time for fun, as games were often played at each meeting.
So what was it about scouting that attracted Fred Foster, and what made him stay with the group for so long? It was both his personality and his drive to build a sense of community and respect among the boys of the Birchcliff Heights community (scouting was only open to boys in the 1950s, although it is open to girls now as well). By the 1990s, Fred had been a leader in the group for more than 50 years, and he brought a connection to the newest generation of cubs, and gave them a sense of the vast history of the group.
One of my greatest memories of Mr. Foster was when he helped me get used to the cold water of the Nottawasaga River and overcome my fear at summer cub camp one year. Fred was just like that—never hesitant to give his time to help others both in the 6th and in the community at large. It is sad that he is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on in the newest generation of leaders joining this scout group.
Ken Murray, currently the elder statesman of the group, has been involved with the 6th since the 1970s, when he took over the running of the A pack as the new Akela. (He had formerly been the Bagheera of the pack.) In June of 2015, Ken was awarded the Silver Acorn Award for his commitment and service to scouting. Just recently retired from Enbridge, Ken, along with his company truck were a well-known sight at various scouting events for many years. Ken is also well known for the many (dare I say eccentric?) styles of hats that he wears at camps and for his favourite campfire song "Goin' On A Tiger Hunt, Gonna Catch A Big One." One of my favourite memories of Ken was the time he taught me the "Tawny Star" during my early years as a cub. The stars in scouting are earned by the cubs along with badges. For "Bagheera's Tawny Star" class (circa 1997), one had do several things, including making a board game, and whittling a model out of soap. These were things I really enjoyed, even though I am not the most artistic person, since they challenged me. (Each star in scouting represents a different theme, and the tawny star was for creative expression.) Of late, Ken has cut back a bit on his activities in the 6th, but he is still very involved, especially with the preparation and planning of the annual summer camp.
Being the oldest scout group around, the 6th is certainly one to remember and cherish its history. It has celebrated big anniversaries in the past: its 50th in 1959, its 75th in 1984, its 85th in 1994 and impressively, its 100th in 2009. At each of these occasions, scouters have come together to reminisce about the past, while the future scouting generations look on and hope to make it to the next anniversary of such a long-enduring group.
Now let's go back to the history for a moment, for a special selection from the archives—some interesting tidbits from the minutes of meetings of the 6th Rover crew dating back to the late 1940s. (These recently came into my hands when the old storage building for the group was being cleaned out.) Aside from the mundane details that are part of any group's ordinary operation, it was fascinating to note the following:
Applications for membership asked about hobbies, and among those listed by the boys were: handicrafts, raising tropical fish, wrestling, stamp collecting, model building, and furniture making.
Dances were planned and camps were held throughout the Rover Crew's early existence in the 1950s. These dances were held mainly as a fundraising activity, but they were also a social opportunity and a chance for fun.
Fundraising events turned out as follows: $113.65 was made on an arrow shoot in October, 1952, a moonlight cruise was held on Friday, July 8, 1949, for which 23 tickets were sold, and there was a deficit of $25.00 incurred from the group picnic held on Saturday, June 14, 1953.
In June 1948, there were those who complained about the loud singing of Rovers in the streets of Toronto.
These are just some of the interesting insight into the minds of those living more than 70 years ago in Birchcliff Heights. In the next issue, I'll talk about scouting in the 21st century and how the 6th Toronto is helping the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow. Anyone who is interested in learning more about how they can join can contact David Roberts, commissioner of the 6th Toronto Group at email@example.com or by calling 416-264-2604. Boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17 are welcome.