WJ'55 Masthead Scouts Canada

Lord Mayor, Councillors, Ladies, and Gentlemen...

On June 13, 2005, WJ'55 attendee and 50th Anniversary Committee member Tony Roberts addressed Niagara-on-the-Lake town council.

Lord Mayor, Councillors, Staff, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

"Once upon a time..." I would like you to imagine Niagara-on-the-Lake as it was 50 years ago, in the summer of 1955. World War II had ended 10 years before, and the Korean War two years before. Vincent Massey had been appointed as the first Canadian-born Governor-General three years previously, in 1952. The Old Town was a separate political entity from Niagara Township, and the most convenient way to visit Toronto was a trip on the Cayuga. The Shaw Festival was still seven years in the future, and the theatre was not to be built for another 11 years. Tour buses were thin on the ground.

The Commons was still an Army camp under the Department of National Defence, and the north side of John Street was lined with white frame Army buildings. Queen's Parade was a narrow private gravel road within the camp. The Niagara Parks Commission operated Fort George, and the Niagara Parkway ran just south of the Fort and connected to Byron Street.

The estimated population of the Old Town in 1955 was about 2000 people. Imagine then, the effect of dropping a fully-functioning community more than five times as numerous right beside it. That is what happened when the 8th World Scout Jamboree came to town. 11,000 Scouts, from 71 countries, came to spend ten sweltering August days on the Commons. They encountered overwhelming Niagara hospitality, Niagara fresh fruit, especially peaches, donated in vast quantities by local growers, and Niagara poison ivy. (The editor of the British Scout magazine, Rex Hazlewood, noted in his diary for August 11: "Saw my first poison ivy and Niagara Falls, and impressed by both.")

The reaction of residents and visitors to each other was universally favourable; many local people invited Scouts to their homes, and came out to the campsite for instant shots of multiculturalism. Some of the visiting Scouts were so impressed by Canada and its people that they later immigrated here.

The Parks Commission, counting vehicles, estimated that 132,000 people visited the Jamboree. Among them were the Governor-General, who came to officially open the camp in his capacity of Chief Scout for Canada, and diplomatic representatives from more than 20 of the countries represented.

This was a Jamboree of firsts: The first World Jamboree to be held outside Europe, hence the motto, "New Horizons"; the first where Scouts cooked on charcoal instead of wood; and the first to have its own hurricane, Hurricane Connie, which made a mess of the campsite one week before opening day. It was also the first to be televised, using the new medium (I Love Lucy was big that year). The CBC sent out a number of broadcasts in two glorious colours, black and white.

Those who were fortunate enough to be there will never forget it. Many of the adult leaders have, to use the Scouting term, "Gone Home". Those of us who were youth participants are sliding into what is euphemistically termed the "Golden Years", as OAPs or other "O" sobriquets, so it is now or never to commemorate the event. We plan to do this on the weekend of September 16-18 this year, in conjunction with the annual Scout Brigade of Fort George activities. Among other things, we will be unveiling a commemorative plaque, as there is nothing currently on site to tell the world that the Jamboree ever happened.

To help mark and celebrate this occasion, we are respectfully asking the Council to proclaim the weekend of September 16-18 to be the "Celebration of Scouting New Horizons Anniversary Weekend". Thank you.