Beyond the Badge: Bonita and Estelle - Girl Greatness Started Here
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
This is a guest post for Emma Kent's blog, Beyond the Badge. More about it at the end!
Visiting Bonita Glen
In March 2018, I got to visit Bonita Glen Girl Guide Camp for the first time. I was part of the team running Winterpalooza, a weekend camp we ran twice that year, on either end of March Break. Bonita Glen immediately struck me as a cute little camp. One of the first things I did was go down to the shore to take a picture of the very frozen Lake Simcoe.
As we settled down in House for the night, my attention was caught by a card pinned up on a bulletin board. As an amateur camp historian myself (check out the work Emma and I have been doing on the History of Camp Woolsey), it immediately piqued my interest. I searched the bookshelves in House, but couldn't find the book anywhere. So I took a photo with the intention of looking into the book later, and dove headfirst into a very busy winter weekend.
I forgot about the book until the following March, when we once again ran Winterpalooza for one weekend. I saw the card again, remembered that I was interested in it, and once again took a picture (I guess in case the previous picture had been deleted? If there had been any extra cards lying around, I would have just taken one).
After that weekend, I did look around for the book a bit, but when I didn't find much with the simplest google searches, I sort of gave up. That is, until almost exactly two years later, in March 2021, when the book appeared in a facebook auction. I bid, thinking if I didn't get the book then I likely never would. I won, and about a month later I was holding the book in my hands!
Bonita and Estelle
The book isn't really about Bonita Glen camp, it is about Blanche (Bonita) Hodgins, who was the Toronto Girl Guide Commissioner from 1923-1936, and her daughter Estelle Wishart, who was the Chief Commissioner of GGC from 1948-1954. In 2013, Estelle's daughter Alison Sanders (the book's author) erected a memorial plaque at Bonita Glen. The book (published in 2015) was a sort of extension of this project.
The book talks about how important these two women were to early Guiding in Canada and includes plenty of photos of the women, as well as newspaper clippings. Through it we learn that Estelle learned about Guiding in her early twenties, and started a unit in Toronto. She convinced her mother to get involved when a commissioner was needed for the Toronto Area.
It was Bonita who raised funds to open a camp, hence the camp being named after her. The first location was opened in 1929, and it is described in the book as "splendidly wooded with a sparkling brook twisting under small bridges (...) located two miles southwesterly from the village of King." The camp was very popular, and in 1935 it was even visited by Lady Baden-Powell, who planted a maple tree. Bonita launched Cookie Day in 1933 partially to raise money for the camp.
In 1938, it became necessary to sell the original Bonita Glen camp property, and a new camp was purchased in 1940 on the bank of Lake Simcoe near Hawkestone. This camp was also named Bonita Glen. Some trees from the original camp, including the one Lady Baden-Powell planted, were moved, as well as the white stone gate which had been erected in honour of Lady Mary Pellatt (the first Chief Commissioner of Canadian Girl Guides) in 1931. This was the camp I visited.
The book continues to talk about Estelle's time as the Chief Commissioner and everything she was involved in, including launching the Canadian Guider (then called Canadian Guide) magazine, attending the World Conference in 1950, and the National Camp in Ottawa in 1952.
This book was clearly a passion project for Alison Sanders, and her whole family. She includes information about how her family has continued to be involved in Guiding and Scouting. There are short passages written by her brothers about their mother, Estelle. Alison's son John VanDuzer designed the plaque and helped put the book together. It was even published by John's company WISHART, which was Estelle's last name.
After reading the book, I was looking through a pile of old Canadian Guider magazines and I was surprised to see Estelle appear three times! Once in her obituary (pictured above), once in a list of previous Chief Commissioners, and once listed on the back of the front cover. This copy of the Canadian Guide is from October 1949 (Volume 1, Number 9)!
To finish off the post, I would like to share the Bonita Glen song that was included in the book:
Bonita Glen without a camper,
is like a ship without a sail,
is like a row boat without a pair of oars,
and the mail man without your mail.
Bonita Glen without a camper,
is like a camp without a nurse,
and there's only one thing worse on earth,
and that's a tuck shop,
and that's a tuck shop,
without your purse!
"Beyond the Badge" is a project started by Emma Kent in 2020. She has a growing collection of Girl Guide memorabilia (some vintage, some strange and fun (a Girl Scout Barbie, who knew!)), and decided to look into the history of some of these objects. It is fascinating to see not only the interesting things she finds, but also the stories she discovers. Her "Beyond the Badge" facebook page includes many more interesting pieces that don't necessarily warrant a full blog post. I highly recommend the blog for anyone interested in Guiding history!