St. John’s most active and historically enduring partnership has been with the Girl Guides, starting with the 12th Toronto Company, its formal origin as a Brownies Pack that first met at St. John’s in 1939. By October 3, 1941, a group of 10 girls met for the first time at St. John’s as the 12th Girl Guide Company, most growing up from Brownies to Guide age during the intervening years. Today, St. John’s remains home to the 12th Toronto Brownies (ages 7-8) (known today as Embers), the 12th Toronto Guides (ages 9-11), the 12th Toronto Spark Unit, and the 47th Toronto Spark Unit (ages 5-6). Currently, there are waiting lists to join the Sparks, Embers, and Guide Units, which meet at St. John’s on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings. For more info see:
Girl Guides began in Canada in 1910 with the first Guide company established in St. Catharines, followed by companies in Toronto, Moose Jaw, and Winnipeg. The Girl Guide movement became popular quickly in Canada because of the new opportunities, experiences, and sense of community that opened up to young girls and women. Camping was a popular activity, leading to the Toronto Division acquiring the first Guide-owned campsite in Ontario in 1929. That same year, cookie sales in Ontario started to help raise funds for maintaining the camps, and then to help fund Guiding membership, activities, and camperships. With the growing popularity of Guiding, new branches began for girls of different ages, needs, and remote locations to participate. By 1930, the Guiding movement had spread world-wide.
During the interwar years, particularly during the early 1930s, St. John’s served as a focal point in West Toronto for several special Girl Guide events before a company was established in the church. Such events included annual Mother’s Day Marches from Humberside Collegiate to St. John’s and which also included the 7th Toronto Scouts and Cubs Troops that had been meeting at St. John’s for many years. There were also Guides/Scouts marches for Armistice (Remembrance) Day to St. John’s in November. When World War II began in 1939, Girl Guides helped support the war effort in several ways, including sewing insignia onto uniforms, making bandages, and raising money for the Red Cross.
The origin and development of Girl Guides at St. John’s was very much driven by the Weston family, including long-time St. John's parishioners, Nan and Cy Weston, which continued for at least three generations. At one point, members of the Weston family were leading the Sparks (Nan Weston was the originating Sparkle at St. John’s), Brownies, Girl Guides and Pathfinder age groups. Many of the current and past leaders of units that meet at St. John’s were influenced by the Weston’s leadership as girls. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Heather, daughter of Nan Weston, visited the St. John’s group to talk about the founding of the group and showed the girls pictures and records from its start.
The Girl Guide program draws from families around the local neighborhood and focuses on building confidence, leadership skills, and community responsibility. Girls learn about topics such as science, art, community, the environment, outdoor skills, financial skills, justice, and advocacy, being healthy, navigating friendships and bullying, and making an impact for a better world. They do this through games, crafts, drama, hands-on engineering, and meeting special guests and female role models. The Girl Guides have been a force to empower girls since it started start over a century ago, its current vision defined as “A better world, by girls.”