WJ'55 Masthead Scouts Canada

Lord Mayor's Keynote

At the 50th Anniversary banquet on Saturday, September 17, 2005, the Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gary Burroughs, gave this keynote address.

Fifty years ago, in 1955, the 8th World Jamboree was held in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was the first major international gathering of Scouts outside of Europe, and over 11,000 Scouts from 71 countries attended. We are here today to remember and celebrate that wonderful and momentous event in our history.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, being the first capital of Upper Canada and the place where Canada began, was certainly a very fitting site for the 8th World Scout Jamboree, which was called "The Jamboree of New Horizons".

In 1792, John Graves Simcoe was appointed as the first Governor of Upper Canada with a mandate to bring government and order to the colony. Newark, as he called Niagara-on-the-Lake, became the seat of government for the new province from 1792 until 1796. The capital was subsequently moved to Toronto for strategic military reasons. During the time that Governor and Mrs. Simcoe lived in town, it became the centre of military and social life for the fledgling province. A Canadian portage route from Chippawa to Queenston enhanced Newark status as a commercial centre.

During the war of 1812, the Americans occupied Fort George from May to December 1813 and burned the town to the ground on December 13, 1813, while retreating during the attack on Fort George. Rebuilding began almost immediately. Many houses were reconstructed on the foundations of burnt buildings, preserving the original character of the town with buildings set close to the street. The Commons, as we know it today and the site of the World Scout Jamboree, became the site of the Indian Council House and Butlers Barracks and a new Court House and Jail were relocated to a safe site on Rye Street. By the 1830s, Niagara recovered from the effects of war and was once again a prosperous community.

Throughout the Second World War, Camp Niagara, located on the same site as the World Scout Jamboree, was a hub of activity which troop stationed here to protect the hydro facilities of Niagara Falls and the vital transportation link of the Welland Canal. Thousands of men of the Canadian Army and Women of the Canadian Women's Army Corp. called the town home during the War years. Camp Niagara continued in official use until 1965 with all local militia units using the Commons for training at summer camp.

Canadians who trained in Niagara-on-the-Lake fought in the War of 1812, Upper Canadian Rebellion, Fenian Raids, Northwest Rebellion, Boar War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and other actions. A few of the peacekeepers of modern times had their first taste of military camp at Camp Niagara. Because of this long history, the site of the 8th World Scout Jamboree will be preserved in perpetuity.

World Jamboree '55 was a historic event for Canada and for World Scouting, and it was the first major international gathering of Scouts outside of Europe. It was the first World Jamboree to be broadcast on television, and the CBC provided both radio and TV coverage.

The event gathered huge and enthusiastic support from our local area and from the whole of Canada. An honorary advisory committee was struck, chaired by the Governor General and Chief Scout of Canada, the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, who also officially opened the Jamboree on Saturday, August 20. The Committee included such distinguished individuals as Lester B. Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs; Donald Gordon, President of the Canadian National Railways; W. A. Mather, President of the Canadian Pacific Railways; and Leslie Frost, Premier of Ontario.

During the Jamboree, the Niagara Parks Commission monitored the traffic and estimated that 80,000 vehicles entered the area representing over 130,000 visitors, which included diplomatic representatives from at least 20 countries. The Province of Ontario supplied highway signs, snow fences and a grant of $25,000. Many organizations provided huge amounts of assistance. The Ford Motor Company loaned 45 vehicles and drivers. Bell Telephone Company provided a switchboard and 24 hour staffing. Canada Post issued a special commemorative postage stamp. The Jamboree was no doubt a pivotal event in the lives of many of those who attended. To put it into perspective, today these Scouts are in their mid-sixties.

Work on the Jamboree site was almost completed when, on Saturday, August 13th it was struck by hurricane Connie. Volunteers from local fire departments, service clubs, Scout groups and private individuals rushed to help in such numbers that some actually had to be turned away, and everything was restored in time to welcome the first arrivals on Thursday, August 18th. The volunteerism spirit in Niagara-on-the-Lake was very strong and still continues to this day. It is part of what makes Niagara-on-the-Lake such a very special place.

Three Scouts from Japan, who attended the 8th World Jamboree in 1955, visited the Jamboree site on May 28-30, 2005, and I was very pleased to be able to meet with them during their visit. The Japanese contingent to the World Jamboree in 1955 consisted of 10 Scouts and 4 Scouters. They sailed from Yokohama to Vancouver aboard a freighter and from there they took a greyhound bus from Vancouver to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their journey took over 3 weeks each way. Upon their return to Japan, the members of the contingent formed the Hudson Bay Club, named after their sub-camp. The Club continues to meet every year. During an interview on their recent visit, Fumio Ishida, a 67 year old member of the Hudson Bay Club, said "it was really a big deal to come to the Jamboree. many people (in Japan) didn't travel abroad because it was just 10 years after the war. We were still a poor country".

There are many stories written by the Scouts who travelled to the World Jamboree in 1955. These stories tell of a different world where travel was much less frequent and much more time consuming than it is today. One of those stories is the story of Henry Beer who travelled along with almost 500 boys from Nova Scotia to the Jamboree in Ontario. He states it was an adventure of a lifetime, a chance to see the world, or at least a small representation of the world as it existed in post-World War II era.

After months of training and collecting badges and raising money, the Scouts were ready for their long journey. Henry Beer was part of the Scout troop of Pictou County and in the early hours of August 13, 1955 they met on the platform at Stellarton to board a train for Kentville where the entire Nova Scotia contingent would gather. The slow winding trip to Kentville took almost 3 hours. For many of the boys this was the first time they had every seen another part of Nova Scotia or had been this far from home on their own. For the next three days the residents of Kentville would act as host to almost 500 boys from all over Nova Scotia at the pre-Jamboree camp.

On the morning of August 16th, the Nova Scotia contingent arose early and packed up their tents, sleeping bags, utensils, stoves, buckets, washbasins and personal belongings and left town by train for the Greenwood Airforce Base. They were hosted by the military that night as they made a stop over on their way to Digby. From Digby they boarded two Royal Canadian Navy Frigates for the next leg of the trip, across the Bay of Fundy to St. John. Upon arrival at St. John they were met with the rest of the Maritime contingent. The disembarking Boy Scouts were filmed for the local TV news. They had hit the big time, and everyone knew for certain they were going to be famous.

By 4:30 in the afternoon they were rolling out of the city of St. John. The CPR had provided sleeping cars, which looked like they had been out of service since before World War II, but to a bunch of small town kids from Pictou County it was the Orient Express. Mahogany panelled bunks could be pulled down from the overhead for the night, and there was no need for using Boy Scout bedrolls, sheets and blankets. The bunks were already made up for the night ahead and for the first time they ate in a spotlessly clean dining car complete with silverware, china and crystal. Table service was provided by French waiters and French chefs. Yes they had hit the big time.

That night the train rumbled through the woods of Maine towards Quebec as the weary travellers slept soundly. The next day as the train crept across the Victoria Bridge near Montreal, the windows were opened to allow the breezes off the St. Lawrence to cool the sweaty passengers. By the time they have reached Smith Falls it had been 5 days since the troop sat on the platform at Stellarton. Some of them were probably wondering if they were ever going to reach their destination in time to participate in the Jamboree. However, by 4:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon the train rolled into Toronto Union Station where it stopped for about half hour. The station was live with commuters, more people in one place than many of the boys had ever witnessed. Finally, 2 hours later, the maritime contingent disembarked the train at St. Catharines and boarded buses for their last 30 minutes or so to Niagara-on-the-Lake. By the time they had set up their tents and had eaten it was dark.

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was the centre of the world for those 10 days of the Jamboree. People of the Town went out of their way to make the visitors comfortable. They set up concessions stands on their front lawns selling lemonade, fresh fruits from the region and hot-dogs to the boys who roamed somewhat aimlessly through the downtown area. All along the main street the Scouts were approached by children asking for their autographs, and asking for souvenir badges. They were treated like celebrities. They had become famous.

The official opening the Jamboree was August 20th. Every countries contingent was there for the grand march past at the open air stadium. The Nova Scotia contingent paraded in with its provincial flags and multi-coloured ribbons twirling in the wind. A troop of kilted Scouts playing bagpipes and drums led procession. When the opening ceremonies were concluded the boys marched pass the reviewing stand and out of the stadium. They continued to march from another 3 miles before they could break off. Many of the boys took refuge from the heat, which was reported to be 120 degrees, by heading for the many shower facilities set up for the Jamboree. Others headed for the soft drink concessions. Throughout the day hundreds of boys were treated for heat prostration and dehydration by the First Aid stations throughout the site.

The Jamboree site was a self-contained tent city. It had all the amenities of a real city: health care facilities, stores, public utilities, streets, post offices, grocery stores, movie theatres, maintenance crews, laundromats, showers and toilet facilities. There was even an on-site newspaper, which published every day. Accommodation was basic. The Scouts lived in tents of all shapes and sizes. The Scouts from Nova Scotia slept in bell tents, which accommodated up to eight campers. Throughout the 10 days, every camper had a chance to show off his culinary skills as each took turn being chief cook and bottle washer for his group of tents. Although quality varied, the menu was wholesome and nutritional.

Each night a grand spectacle was presented at the main grandstand. The biggest production of all was staged by the American contingent. Their show was a version of the Calgary Stampede with chuckwagons, Cowboys and Indians, music, and fireworks. In fact, the American influence was everywhere throughout the Jamboree. They made up the largest contingent next to the Canadians. America was just across the river and the boys from Nova Scotia wanted to go to America. In Niagara Falls, N.Y. the boys marvelled at the trappings of American civilization: Softee Freez ice cream (two flavors entwined on a single cone!), hot-dogs and bagels sold right on the street, souvenirs of the USA such as real wooden nickels. This was truly the land where dreams came true. And the best part was that the Canadian dollar was worth $1.05.

The Canadian National Exhibition was the largest agricultural fair in the world. On opening day August 26, over 9,000 Scouts were transported to Toronto to be part of the festivities. They marched through the Prince's Gate in their national contingents and were greeted by thousands of fair-goers who lined the avenues to cheer them on. On the final day they moved to the Arena one last time to attend the closing ceremonies and to say goodbye. This time they walked to the arena with Scouts from all over the world, no marching, no formal groupings. It was a veritable United Nations. At the end of the ceremonies the Scouts linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne. The adventure was over; it was time to go home.

It was not until I started reading the stories of those who attended World Jamboree '55 that I became fully aware of the magnitude and significance of the event. It was a remarkable achievement that had a profound affect on both organizers and attendees.

I am truly honoured and proud to be here today to celebrate and take part in this ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the 8th World Jamboree held in Niagara-on-the-Lake in August of 1955. My sincerest thanks to the organizers of this remembrance celebration, and for inviting me to participate.