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Girl Guides group fights to save Owen Sound camp

For six years Mary Beth van Trigt has been teaching Girl Guides to stand up for what they believe in.

In March 2011 a friend showed her a real estate ad: Camp Aneesh, a locally backed centre of activities for Guides in Owen Sound and surrounding counties for nearly four decades, was up for sale.

Instantly she knew what she had to do. It was time to be a good Guider.

“We want to stand up for what is right,” van Trigt said. “We have a bunch of grassroots women who are doing our best to keep Guiding what it’s supposed to be.”

The provincial Girl Guides organization, which took over all the Guides camps in the province in 2007, now wants to sell the rural camp and use the profits to fund other more successful camps in the GTA, among other things.

Van Trigt and other parents and Guide leaders believe Camp Aneesh will make or break guiding in Bruce and Grey counties. They’re fighting to regain control so they can keep it open.

“Without our camp close and affordable . . . we really feel Guiding will die,” said van Trigt, a Guide leader for more than six years.

Guiding is an inclusive movement that doesn’t discriminate over race or religion; therefore, she said, it should also avoid bias against rural Guides.

The Ontario arm of Girl Guides Canada took over the camp in 2007 as part of a plan to consolidate province-wide assets. By 2009, 16 camps, mostly rural, were on the chopping block.

“The decisions around which camps were retained and those that were closed was based on a careful analysis of current and projected usage, amenities, proximity to guiding populations and financial viability,” said Ontario council spokeswoman Nisha Lewis in an email.

At that time, salaries for the council more than doubled from $ 1.45 million to $ 3.46 million following staff increases needed to fill the void left by volunteers who managed financial and decision-making at local and regional levels

If the 50-acre Camp Aneesh property sells, the provincial council could make nearly $ 250,000. There are about 400 Guides in Owen Sound and Bruce and Grey counties who benefit from the camp.

Currently, Guides in the GTA make up 40 per cent of the 37,647 Guides in Ontario. The numbers are projected to increase this year after years of decline, both provincially and nationally.

Van Trigt said the litmus test for viability was biased against smaller camps.

“One of the benchmarks was what percentage of girls in Ontario would be using the camp,” she said.

This, in her opinion, is an unfair question because Camp Aneesh serves a small percentage of the province’s Guides. “It was a total ‘Let’s keep the camps that are used by the girls in the GTA.’”

In April, organized as the Friends of Camp Aneesh, the camp’s defenders took the provincial council to court, arguing the property had been deeded to the Girl Guide Land Corp. in 1984 in trust.

(Guiders in North Bay have also taken the provincial council to court to keep their camp, Camp Caritou, from being sold.)

In their statement of claim, the Owen Sound group argued that the transfer was merely for housekeeping purposes, “to allow for insurance to be placed against the property and that the transfer would not alter the availability of the camp for future generations.”

Because the camp was put in trust to the Owen Sound Division of Girl Guides in 1984, and not to the Friends of Camp Aneesh, the argument over trust could not be made. Lawyers for the provincial council put a motion forward under this argument and the claim was thrown out.

The Owen Sound Division ceased to exist after Girl Guides Ontario eliminated geographic areas in 2007 at the same time it took control of the camps.

“When that happened, all the assets of the districts, divisions and areas became property of the province,” van Trigt said.

In her Dec. 4 decision, Justice Katherine van Rensburg made it clear the best approach was to terminate the action, “while permitting the plaintiff . . . to commence suitable proceedings.”

Van Trigt said the group is reviewing how to move ahead with a fresh legal fight under the act. If it wins, it could set a precedent for other camps to launch court challenges of their own.

For 38 years, the camp was operated locally. Fundraising efforts, support from West Hill Secondary School and rentals to other organizations, such as Scouts and Katimavik, helped the local Guides division keep the camp afloat.

If it wasn’t for the hundreds of hours put in by volunteers, a number of second- and third-generation Guiders from the community, the camp wouldn’t have stayed successful for nearly 40 years.

It has always paid its way, van Trigt said. But she said the head office wanted the camp to break even on membership fees alone, not including sizeable community donations.

In 2008, however, guidelines for camps to stay financially viable changed to allow donations to be included.

Either way, with the camp on the chopping block, the future of Guiding is threatened — if younger Guides aren’t able to camp (a cornerstone of Guiding) then Guides will fizzle out, van Trigt said.

“The whole thing about camping: if you get them when they are little, they’ll stay with Guiding. This whole thing is just tragic.”

thestar.com – News

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