Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A Guiding Light: How The Girl Guides Introduced Generations To Skating

Much like the history of figure skating, the history of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout movement is far from linear. No one smashed down a gavel and said "this is how we are going to do this in every country in the world starting right now". That is simply not how history usually works. Interestingly though, both figure skating and the scouting movement faced the exact same issue during the Victorian and Edwardian eras: females wanting to take part in take part in 'male activities'. Heaven forbid, right? In this day and age, if your child wants to learn to skate, you sign them up for CanSkate, Skate UK's Basic Skills Programme or your country's alternative, right? What you may not know is that back in the early twentieth century in particular, many young women got their first introduction to figure skating when they joined various incarnations of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout programs... and that is something that continues to this very day.

Achievement in the Girl Guide and Girl Scout programs has always been been measured by the completion of badges in a diverse array of areas. Skating was introduced to young women via - drum roll please - the Skater badge. In Great Britain, the badge was first introduced in the early twenties and evolved over the years as new syllabuses and badge designs were introduced in 1931, 1957 and 1978.

The 1933 syllabus for the Skater badge in Great Britain

Curiously, the popularity of the Skater badge in England waned during a high point in British skating history. It was discontinued in 1983, one year before Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic gold with their still unmatched "Bolero" in Sarajevo. Liz Rimmer, an expert on the history of the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in the UK, explained to me that "after 1983, there was a Sportswoman badge which skating would have come under with a vague syllabus for 'Individual' sports requiring the Guide to participate regularly and show progress by means of awards in their chosen sport." Over the years the Skater badge was in existence in Britain, the requirements evolved from the 1925 requirements of skating forwards and backwards unaided, performing inside and outside edges on both feet and executing the Dutch Roll to requiring skaters to be able to demonstrate basic school figures. By the thirties, the requirements were changed to note that "a holder of the Bronze Medal for Compulsory Figures (Ice or Rollers) of the National Skating Association of Great Britain qualifies for the badge provided that she passes clause 5."  In case you're wondering, 'clause 5' required skaters to be able to explain outdoor ice safety.

Circa 1914, The Rosebuds offered Canadian youngsters between the ages of eight and eleven their first taste of the guiding movement and by 1924, the Skater badge was introduced here in Canada as part of the Ranger program, where it still remains part of the Brownie and Girl Guide programs today.
Take a look at the 1924 requirements below:


Things have changed drastically over the years, with considerably more options for young women than the British program. School figures, edges and three turns were consistently part of the syllabus early in the game but as early as 1948, you could earn the badge even if you weren't a figure skater by playing "a game of hockey or equivalent skating game."

The 1948 syllabus for the Skater badge in Canada 

By 1956, skaters could be awarded the badge if they had passed "the 1st Test (Bronze Medal) of the Canadian Figure Skating Association." Requirements remained similar for decades until 1995, when the Skater badge was incorporated into a wider 'Winter Adventures' syllabus requiring the young women to "dress properly to go outside in winter, know how to prevent and deal with frostbite, skin on cold metal, falling through ice, hypothermia, go for a winter adventure with a group and prepare and eat a winter snack outdoors" then demonstrate skill in either skating, skiing, snowshoeing or building an outdoor winter shelter. By 2005, the Skater badge was back in full swing in a standalone format designed to accommodate recreational ice skaters along with figure and speed skaters, hockey players and roller skaters.

I have to offer a huge appreciation to both Ms. Rimmer and Katey Watson, the Archivist at the Girl Guides Of Canada, Ontario Council, for their amazing help in providing me with copies of the badge requirements over the years and background information about how the Skater badge has evolved. The Guiding program certainly deserves our respect for holding a very overlooked place in skating history.

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