Confessions of an ‘Urban Guider’

GirlGuidesCANblog Big Deal SealUpdate: This post was voted as a 2011/2012 GirlGuidesCANblog Big Deal Seal winner in the Growing Guiding category! Bravo blogger Tammy!


I am an Urban Guider.

I used to almost be ashamed to admit it but as time has gone by I am more and more convinced that in order to be relevant to today’s girl we need to recognize that there needs to be a place within Guiding for those who challenge themselves on asphalt and concrete as much as those that long for the wilderness.

I was not a Girl Guide as a girl

I joined 13 years ago as a Guider in an attempt to provide my extremely
introverted daughter with a group experience. As a new Guider, I had convinced myself that camping was one of the necessities of Guiding that I would have to endure.  And so I camped.  I would not go so far as to say I have ever woken up at camp feeling invigorated and one with the world. Usually I feel like I need a coffee and an Advil.  I have had unfortunate experiences of food of poor quality and quantity that – combined with lack of sleep compliments of the homesick Girl Guide sleeping nearby – was just about enough to do me in.

Because I am an adult I was able to modify my Guiding experience so that camping was no longer part of the equation. This makes me wonder about girls who may have had less than favorable experiences with camping.  Did they persevere or did they
leave Guiding?  A Guider who is passionate about what she has to offer can be a force to be reckoned with or something to fear depending on whether or not you are able to fully commit to the experience.  I have camped with the Guider who was passionate about camping and could not fathom that anyone could possibly not love scraping the charred bits from their campfire dinners and drinking warm Kool-Aid with the subtle lingering flavor of whatever was served from the jug on the last go round. I am one of those unfortunate souls that gets weepy when I am not properly fed, watered and bedded down for the night.  I do not regret my camping experience (in the same way that I do not regret having my wisdom teeth removed) but at the same time do not find that camping is the quintessential reason I continue Guiding.

3rd Saskatoon Rangers

3rd Saskatoon Rangers

I confess.  I am an Urban Girl Guider

I believe that Guiding empowers girls and women to be the best that they can be whether that is striking a tent or reading a subway map, cooking a meal over an open fire or choosing a restaurant suitable for all palates.  I have had the privilege of
being going as the Guider with Pathfinders on an urban tour of Minneapolis,
will be taking a group of Rangers on a travel tour of New York City this summer.  Am I any less of a Guider because I am not taking the girls out camping, hiking or digging a latrine?  I suppose that depends on how you define Guiding.  If you focus on experience you realize that the girls have learned to value friendship, they have learned to read maps, use GPS systems, plan events and meals, learn to be tolerant of others in the group and to respect the diversity of cultures and lifestyle.  We have had lengthy discussions on the appropriateness of cell phone use and wardrobe, the
importance of accountability, learned the value of volunteerism (whether it is as insignificant as stuffing envelopes for a Guiding mail out or as necessary as being a spokesperson to the media), become very proud to be Canadian and most importantly the girls have learned that they can choose to make a difference in the lives of other girls and women.

We accomplished all of this without an open flame.

By guest blogger Tammy Sutherland. Tammy is a Guider with the 3rd Saskatoon Rangers (pictured above).

Have a comment? Please share using your Facebook, Twitter logins or as a guest! What do you think about the notion of ‘Urban Guiding’? Is there a middle ground between ‘Urban Guiding’ and ‘Camp Guiding’? Could we lose our ‘roots’ if we strayed too far?

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14 Responses to Confessions of an ‘Urban Guider’

  1. Good for you for realizing that camping isn’t your thing. I’m all for doing what works for you; but, do you ever wonder if your girls feel they are missing out because you don’t offer camping?
    I personally love to camp, I love everything about it. BUT, I’m also a girly-girl who would LOVE a tour around NYC and a pair of Manolo’s! To my way of thinking, a unit “could” do both provided you work with other Guiders who have different interests. I’ve worked with Guiders who loathe camping and so they just don’t go. I find screened, adult volunteers to go in their place, to keep up ratio; but, this works for us and may not work for others.
    In any case; you and your girls will ultimately know what works and what doesn’t. As long as everyone is having a good time and filling GGC’s mission & principles, then more power to you!

  2. Cathy says:

    I think ‘urban’ and ‘camping’ Guiders are equally important. Teaching girls the skills to survive the wilderness, as well as the skills to navigate with a map in an unfamiliar city are both valuable to producing confident young women who can cope with various settings. Ideally, the girl members should be exposed to both experiences.

    I’m not a highly skilled camper–I only camp with Girl Guides and not much as a family–but I believe in the importance of getting the girls out and teaching them the skills. For the past two years, we’ve gone to a Provincial campground for tent camping. We’ve had access to running water, outhouses, a dining shelter, and a quartermaster who believes in feeding us well. Both years, I was accused of wanting to go ‘wilderness’ camping by two different Guiders!

    But I’m just as happy to take our girls downtown to the city, to expose them to the culture that exists downtown, which is quite different from the rural suburbs where we live.

    I think both experiences show the girls how much there is do where we live, depending on what they want to do. Forty-five minutes one way and we’re in the middle of the city and all that it has to offer; forty-five minutes the other way, and we’re in the middle of nature, sleeping next to a running stream.

  3. srdiane says:

    Good point about urban survival skills. As a person who grew up technically in an urban area but definately not a city (town of 10 000), I have used my ‘wilderness’ skills while trapsing around Ottawa while at school and Paris, Amsterdam, London and other European cities. So the skills are basically the same in some instances, how they are applied is different. (Streets became reference points rather then the creek with awareness to time of day and where the sun was to just explore.)

    I love camping, but even in a town where everyone goes ‘camping’, some think it can’t be done without a camper with all amenities, one without a bathroom is roughing it! My co-Guider and I would like to take our girls to explore more urban areas, some never do until they graduate and leave town, may having culture shock issues.

  4. Beverley says:

    I’m not a fan of camping either but here in the wilds of British Columbia it is an easy experience to give girls and an important one. Even if you are not a camper, the girls in your unit can still be offered the experience through district or area camps or by hooking up with another unit. This is no different than bringing in any other resource people. Guiders must not bully other Guiders for not camping (or singing or crafting). Going camping with a Guider who is gritting her teeth the whole time will sour girls on the whole experience. The best things about Guiding are the wide variety of girls and women you meet and the wide variety of experiences you can have.

    • Meredith says:

      You’re right in British Columbia, the wilderness is in leaps and bounds. Everywhere you look including in metropolitan cities such as Vancouver, Prince George, Kelowna, Kamloops, Victoria, and Nanaimo for example, you will still notice wildlife such as squirrels, skunks, raccoons. There is nothing better than going into the wilderness, and being able to hear the chirping of birds, the wind in the willows, the loons that are calling. British Columbia is full of wilderness, and no matter where you look, you will always see it.

  5. Cathi says:

    The wonderful thing about being part of the sisterhood of guiding is that the girls can partake in a variety of experiences outside their unit. Do what works for you and enjoy it! The girls that want more “camping” can get it through rally experiences and Saskatchewan summer camp at Can-ta-ka-ye and Heritage Lake. I am a Guider in Melfort so we have ample opportnity to “wilderness” camp (just returned from a fabulous, al beit “wet” weekend at Heritage) so we have acctually done a few “urban” camps in Saskatoon to provide the other side of the experince that they simply can’t get in a small city like Melfort…
    So all the power to you Tammy! You’re doing what works for your group and the effort and committment from guiders like yourself to provide the girls with new experiences are appreciated!!
    Keep up the good work!
    and remember that we are preparing the girls for their future, not our past – that may mean that we need to rethink what’s always been considered the “right” way….. That’s how progress is made 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    You are doing amazing things for those girls!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Girls and Guiders ALL benefit from a wide range of activities and learning experiences. I would caution that you not avoid those activities that you personally find challenging and then justify it as “the girls won’t miss it”. Tap into resources around you to give a balanced experience. The outdoors can be a very rewarding place to learn about the environment, self-sufficiency, appreciation of nature and team work. Please don’t be too quick to dismiss it as unnecessary in this day and age.

  8. Tammy Sutherland says:

    The 7 girls who are Rangers in my unit have camped, crafted and sung their hearts out over the years. They now fnd themselves in the twilight of their “girl years” and are able to choose the unit they belong based on their interests. As a Ranger Guider I have provided an Urban option. In no way did I wish to imply that the great outdoors is unnecessary. What I did wish to question was whether Guiding was able to embrace the “urban” girl who at Pathfinder/Ranger age had no interest in camping. Is there a place for her or is she simply off the radar?

  9. I loved camp as a girl member, and I still love it now as a leader. But I have noticed a trend with the the Pathfinder unit I have been working with for a few years now–most of the girls begin in Pathfinders rather than going through all the levels of Guiding (they join up with school friends). This has ment that they don’t have the camping fundamentals that one picks up over the years and it makes camping very difficult at times. I think being a creative urban guider is important if you have a unit like mine, it’s more relatable to the girls and they get more out of it sometimes than they would doing a wilderness camp.

    I think it’s important to remember when we discuss ubran vs. wilderness camp that it’s not the physical location of camp that really important, it’s what they learn while there. Camp teaches independance, self-sufficiancy, and creative problem solving. Who’s to say those things can only be learned out in the middle of no where, where all you have is a tent and a camp stove?

    So, congrats to all you urban guiders, keep coming up with great urban “camping” ideas and share ’em!

  10. Because of this fantastic feedback, we’re excited to do a follow up post about nature and outdoor experieinces – in urban settings! Watch for it in July. If you have any input, we’d be happy to hear about it. (Email:

  11. nancy haynes says:

    If the girls are engaged and excited by their activities, go for it! I wish that you had been with our unit this past year. Our girls had extensive camping experiences over the years. They did it all from your basic car camping to wilderness camping to even a winter tent camp. We did almost nothing during the 3rd year of Rangers because we were ‘camped out’. If you had been with our unit, we would have expanded our horizons. A trip to NYC certainly would have given our girls something to get excited about!

  12. Jean Boyle says:

    Great comments and thoughts! While I am a camping guider, and have camped all my life…and do wake up invigorated in a tent, I also grew up in a big city, and love the urban life as well. At the end of the day, we are teaching girls to be self sufficient, independant, and empowered, as well as caring and willing to lend a helping hand. Those skills, which I think are the core of being a Guide, are universal – whether it be wrangling a buddy burner or tent, or, figuring out the city map or how to purchase tickets for transit. As long as we are teaching these skills in a way that is accessible to the girls in our unit, and enjoyable to them, I think we are doing a great job at buidling girl greatness 🙂

  13. Cathy - Northern Ontario Guider says:

    I love camping, but in comfort. I camp every May with my Pathfinders and Rangers, we make sure everyone has the right gear so they are warm and comfy. We cook on campstoves a variety of meals that leaves no one exhausted or hungry. We also believe that if everyone is tired we adjust the wake time and or the schedule. You can’t lead by example if your not having fun yourself. But not everyone is a fan of camping and the same bonding experience and skills can be achieved in an urban setting. So do what works for you and it will be the best for your girl members.

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