From Winnipeg to the Jamboree
By Jim Nichols, St. Albert, Alberta
In 1955, I was a First Class Scout and Patrol Leader in the 70th Norwood Scout Group. I had been advised that I was selected to be a member of the Winnipeg contingent to WJ'55. The process, as I remember, was quite stringent. We were required to show our skills at two selection camps that were held at "Gillwell Park" in St. Vital.
Here we learned just about everything there was to know about the infamous "Bell Tent". Joe Harwood was the Provincial Executive Commissioner and when he was in camp we were awed by his presence. I think it was the Sam Brown belt and semi military uniform he wore that stuck in my memory.
When the day came to depart for Niagara-on-the-Lake, we assembled at the CP railway station in Winnipeg in full uniform. We were lined up in front of the old steam locomotive, "The Countess of Duffern". Pictures were taken and Sandy McTaggert, a well known fixture in Winnipeg Scouting, addressed us.
The train that we joined had started in the West and picked up scouts from the prairies as it went along. This was no small adventure as there were hundreds of fellow Scouts and their leaders jammed on board. I think that there were three dining cars for us to eat in as well as grub that came down from the baggage car from time to time. I don't remember much about the train ride. Perhaps it was that trains were nothing special for me as I had many long trips by train before. Each sleeper car had a porter to watch over us and in my car we were surprised when we got up in the morning to find that all our shoes had been polished and placed back at our bunks by morning. The porter was supposed to bring a ladder to an upper bunk when a Scout wanted to get down or up into the bunk. We soon got tired of waiting for him to come along and using our resources, figured out how to scramble in and out of the bunk with out his help. Secretly I don't think he minded this.
When we got to Fort William/Port Arthur, the ride was interrupted for a day so that all the scouts could get out and wear off some of their energy. The city opened its gates to us and the Keys to the City were ours. Many activities were laid on for us and I remember a visit to a flour mill and wheat elevator that was gigantic. We were allowed to go just about anywhere, the public transit was free to anyone in Scout uniform and we could ride at will.
The next morning we left for Niagara-on-the-Lake. When we arrived, things were a blur and not many memories stayed with me about the arrivals process but one thing I do remember is the story of how a hurricane had just gone through the camp and caused much damage. This must have been the start of a tradition of large storms preceding a Scout Jamboree. It seems that just about every one from Kananaskis to Guelph and PEI had some sort of disaster precede the camp.
Of the many memories I have of WJ'55, one that sticks out is the heat! The only thing that saved us was the wonderful, red Coke machines. For just a dime you could get a cool bottle (6 ounce size) of Coke. The service staff was hard pressed to keep the machines filled around our sub-camp. Dimes were also in short supply but we somehow worked that out. They had Scouts lined up all the time for pop. We had an alert system set up to pass the word when a new stock arrived. Speaking of line ups, each patrol was issued rations from a central QM stores and they had to detail two Scouts to pick up the rations twice a day. As I remember this duty entailed much "Hurry up and wait".
Many of the Scouts from Canada had experienced regional camps where attendance was only a few hundred Youth and Leaders, the size of WJ was a new experience for us. Along with the size there came many rules, one of which was that we were restricted to the Jamboree grounds except for authorized outings. To many of the adventurous Scouts it was soon discovered that there were ways around this and we slipped out of camp to explore the town and invade the local ice cream parlour for a treat. Along with the size came some special concerns for the sanitary facilities. I remember that sub-camps had Ontario Hydro come along and drill large, deep holes for grey water. A burlap sac was stretched over the top to strain food out of the water. In later years I remembered just how unsuccessful this system was, ech!
The kybos were something else. The same Hydro trucks drilled a series of close holes in the ground and a box with the appropriate holes cut into the top was placed over the holes. One of the ever present Bell Tents was pitched over top of this for privacy. As the heat and smell of this arrangement made for a very unpleasant experience, to be avoided at all costs until desperation made a visit necessary. It was decided that in order to make things more pleasant, the side walls of the tent would be furled to aid in air circulation. This added to the some what humorous aspect, we thought that it was funny to see all the legs from the knees down showing from under the tent walls.
My patrol was fortunate to be able to go to the CNE by boat. We marched down to the dock and boarded early in the morning. After a pleasant ride we arrived at the CNE and each Scout was issued an arm's length of ride tickets. Off we went to have a Grand day at the Fair. One thing was apparent though, It seems that the organizers under estimated the ingenuity of Canadian Scouts. It wasn't very long before some Scouts discovered that the tickets worked at the "Girlie" shows and side shows as well. This would never do in those straight backed days of the 50s. Soon there was a Scouter posted outside of each "objectionable" show.
One of the big events was the shows in the evening. This was the opportunity for the contingents to show off their dramatic skills. I remember that Manitoba's presentation was centred around the early migration of settlers to the province. Much work had been done to re-create the Fort Gary gates, which was featured in the skit. We must have been very proud of our efforts as the "Gate" was returned to Winnipeg after the Jamboree and sat at the entrance to the Gillwell Park camp in St. Vital. Many Scouts and Cubs enjoyed climbing upon this relic for years afterwards.
There aren't too many memories of the shows or "pageants", as I think they were called. I think the Scouts from the USA had their usual Indian dances, etc., but the thing that I remember most vividly is typical of Canadians in that era was the displeasure from Quebec Scouts that the dialogue wasn't bilingual. Choruses of "En Français" disrupted many of the pageants to the displeasure of most of us. Needless to say this unacceptable behaviour from some of the Canadian Scouts didn't go over very well with most of us and caused a riff between us that lasted long after the Jamboree.
Time didn't mean much to us as Scouts. There was always the pressure to finish clean-up from meals and get on to the next activity what ever it was. Trading and visiting always was high on my list of things to do. I do remember noon time though. Every day, lunch break was signalled by the firing of Maroons which could be herd everywhere in camp.
All too soon the Jamboree was over, we had to say goodbye many new friends and board the train to return to our homes, where ever they happened to be. The train ride home must have been very uneventful as I have few memories from that part of the adventure. When we got back to Winnipeg a few of us "Volunteered" to help clean the equipment and store it away for another day.
I have many other memories that pop up from that unforgettable experience. Perhaps it will be time to write about them later. It seems that WJ'55 was just a short time ago and I am sure that there will be time to recall much more in the near future.