Girl Guides of Canada

Exhibit prepared by Heather Fitzsimmons Frey

Just prior to and during the First World War, the newly formed Girl Guides of Canada (established in 1909) did a wide range of performances to entertain, demonstrate skills, to participate in rituals created by the Guides, and to raise money for various causes (including the Red Cross, local hospitals, and going to camp).

“Entertainments:” musical concerts; dance performances; plays, operettas, and comedic sketches written by girls or their troupe leaders; Empire pageants and tableaux. The culture and goals of the girl guides suggest that girls had a great deal of control over the content of these performances, and they probably built their costumes, props, and sets themselves.

“Spectacles” of physical culture (also called “Swedish” exercises or gymnastics)

Demonstrations of First Aid skills and drills

Demonstrations of military drills, including flag signaling

Rituals, marches, and ceremonies directly related to the Girl Guides (receiving badges or honours, “flying up” to a higher level, etc.).

The following documents are from the Girl Guides of Canada Archive. Researchers are welcome to visit: scrapbooks include images and reports from across Canada, starting in 1913 and reaching to the present day. There are photographs, newspaper clippings, and performance programmes. Please contact archivist Catherine Miller-Mort at girlguides.ca to arrange a visit or to ask questions (archives@girlguides.ca).

Images 1 and 2, printed in Toronto Sunday World, June 29, 1913. The Girl Guides of Toronto present their original play “The Adventures of the Princess Ring,” on the grounds of Casa Loma. In image 2 the newspaper caption reads “Prince Charming Discovers Princess Virginia in her Bower.” All roles were played by girls.

Image 3 and 4 “Triangle Club Girl Guides, 14 – 18 years of age Dumbell Drill” Kenora; Burnaby Club Girl Guides “Club Swinging”. These images are two of many in the collection of girls performing physical culture drills. These exercises were intended to improve strength, flexibility, endurance, and grace. They were often performed to music. Note that the girls in Burnaby are probably wearing clothes that were not their regular Guide uniforms, but were probably specifically worn for exercise drills.

Image 5 “8th Girl Guides Club, Toronto” performing First Aid Drills. For an audience, girls had to speedily create stretchers from found objects, performing bandaging, and other safety and rescue drills.

Image 6 “Empire Pageant” Toronto. Performing “the Empire” featuring Britannia in the middle, surrounded by her colonies, was a popular form of entertainment throughout the nineteenth century. Performed in “national” dress, these entertainments offered opportunities to wear costumes and fancy dress, and to solidify a sense of loyalty to the crown. They were also used in schools as ways to teach geography. Note, for example, in this tableau on the far right that Australia is represented by a girl wearing a kangaroo dress, and next to her is a girl dress with long braids, presumably representing Canada in stereotypically “Indian” (First Nations / Indigenous) dress. The text on the back of the photo is faint, but may indicate that this photo is from 1925.

Image 7 “Do Your Bit.” For this inventive tableau and performance, Girl Guides were promoting the importance of Victoria Gardens to address First World War food needs. The scrapbooks do not indicate what the girls did while dressed as vegetables.

Image 8 Little Girl under a Toadstool. Guiding involved particular performances of rituals loosely connected to Juliana Horatia Ewing’s story “The Brownies.” Involving recitation and pledges, the girls performed their commitment to Guides and Empire.

Image 9 “The Magic Kiss” by Jean McConnell Casa Loma. In 1914, Lady Pellatt invited the Girl Guides to perform another play at Casa Loma, the perfect performance space for a fairy tale. The images were printed in The Globe on June 20, 1914 and Toronto Sunday World, June 21, 1914, but it was performed on June 13.