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The Canadians are Coming!

by Jerry Mulhern and Jessie Sperry

On August 17th, 18th, and 19th Birch Bend hosted an international group of Scouts. Northern Star Council International Chair Geoff Forbes and Jessie Sperry, Akela for 6th St Thomas Cub Pack of the Northern Ontario Council, Scouts Canada, worked to bring Scouts young and old together. What better place to come together than Birch Bend?

It started a few years ago when Geoff send out an email to the Thunder Bay

area Scouts Canada asking if anyone might be interested in working on some joint camping events. Jessie, who works with our equivalent of Cub Scouts (Beavers ages 5-7 and Cubs ages 8-10), at first didn’t respond. She thought Geoff was only looking for older Scouts. (Canada Scouts are ages 11-14, Venturers 15-17, and Rover 18-26.) When she realized Geoff was indeed interested in something for Cub Scouts, she replied.

That’s how it started with emails back and forth to determine when and where the best time and place would be to plan a joint event. In the spring of 2015, Scouts Canada, Thunder Bay area, was planning a Spring camp at their Grey Wolf Scout camp. Plans were made between Akela/Jessie and Geoff for BSA Pack 582 to travel to Grey Wolf Scout Camp, just outside Thunder Bay, to join in on the Spring camp. 18 youth and Leaders traveled from the States, which is when and where Akela and Geoff met for the first time. It was determined then that the groups would try to connect each year, alternating countries. In August 2016, 14 youth, Scouters, and Parents from the 6th St Thomas and the 12 Port Arthur groups joined BSA Pack 582 at Birch Bend Campground; and in July 2017, 27 youth and leaders again traveled to Canada for a “tour Thunder Bay” camp.

This year, August 2019, Pack and Troop 582 and the 6th St Thomas Pack, along with the 12 Port Arthur Troop, enjoyed their fourth get-together and their second time visiting Birch Bend Campground:

From Minnesota: 7 Scouts and 4 adults from Troop 211 from the Osseo area; 7 Scouts and 3 adults from Troop 582, 7 Scouts and 3 adults from Pack 582, both in Rogers.

From Ontario: 5 Cub Scouts, 4 Scouts, and 1 Venturer, along with 5 leaders and a couple of families staying offsite.

The event started Friday evening, but not everyone drove straight there. A few of the Canadian families took the opportunity to come a day or two early and spend time in the Brainerd Lakes area. Ziplining was mentioned. As they arrived at Birch Bend, Americans and Canadians spread out from campsites 4 through 5; a few Canadian tents, then American, and so on. People started greeting and getting to know one another.

A Cracker Barrel was held at the pavilion, then everyone gathered at site 4 for a campfire and songs. That’s when the fun and camaraderie really began. Scouts eventually drifted off to sleep looking forward to the next day. Seven members of Troop 205 from Apple Valley were also at camp working on the Astronomy merit badge. They joined the other Scouts at flag-raising and campfires when they were available.

Saturday started with breakfast. Then flags were raised. In anticipation of the event, two flagpoles were ready in the field. However, three flags were raised: American, Canadian, and Irish. The Irish flag was raised under the American flag.

A group of Irish Scouts from Belfast had arrived in Minnesota a week and a half earlier and were just finishing a week at Tomahawk Scout Reservation. Geoff’s family was hosting 11-year old Shea Evans. After spending most of the week with that group at Tomahawk, Geoff, his sons, and Shea had left there Friday to join the group at Birch Bend.

After flags were raised, the group took a hike around Birch Bend. Everyone was interested in seeing the progress being made on the stone house, which a few association members were working on. Then lunches were packed, and it was off to the Powwow! The 52nd Annual Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Traditional Powwow was being held that weekend at the Iskigamizigan Powwow Grounds in Onamia. Everyone enjoyed the event, and some tribe members commented that they were happy to see the Scouts there in uniform. It was announced over the PA that BSA and Scouts Canada were present in the crowd.

Saturday was warm, so after returning to Birch Bend several folks headed to the swimming area for a dip in the lake. Pine Bend member Dave Skinner, who was there with other members working on the stone house, had a project for everyone to work on. He cut down a tree and asked for help removing the bark. Yes, you guessed it: this was going to be flagpole number three, which was completed and in place before dark, pulleys, ropes, and all.

After sharing an evening meal, Canadians and Americans again met in the pavilion to trade patches (or badges) and pins. By now folks knew one another. It was a relaxing, fun evening. Another campfire was shared on another picture- perfect evening.

In the morning flags were raised. This time each national flag was on its own flagpole. (For those wondering, although Belfast is part of the UK, the Scouting program is combined across Ireland and the Irish flag is used when travelling internationally.) Then Chaplain Dave, who came at Geoff’s invitation, led the group at Chapel. Everyone agreed the setting was perfect, beautiful and peaceful.

Then it was time to pack up and part ways. There were many handshakes and hugs, as well as a few tears. Everyone left with a College of Wilderness Knowledge patch (badge) and fond memories. The Canadians extended an invitation for Americans to visit them in 2019 and were hopeful that they could come back to Birch Bend in 2020.

I have many good memories of the past few years camping with the Canadians. The highlights for me and my boys has been the travel. The adventure of traveling internationally to another country. We’ve fallen in love with the Duluth area simply due to our travel up north to the Canadians. I asked the boys about their highlights of camping with the Canadians and the patch training was a fond memory. We have a box of Canadian patches that we revisit each year before the trip and hopes to trade for non-duplicates. It was fun to see my youngest son Graham (Bear Scout) put together his patch panel and see two Canadian scout patches on it. My boys also enjoyed the special foods that the Canadians cook around their fire - the frosted cinnamon rolls (can’t remember the name) was the standout.

There are a lot of great memories. It’s good to see other people from other countries so excited about being outside camping with scouts. There is a sense of camaraderie and friendship with our Canadian friends.

Bob Nylin Cubmaster Pack 582

The Canadian scout group is a wonderful group of scouts and scouters! I was sorry to see them leave, and wish they could visit us every year!

Jan Keller, Birch Bend Camp/Pine Bend Assn.

As a scout family we are all brought together by duty and service! That said, it was a lot of fun meeting the scouts Canadian and share in skits, songs, hikes, food and culture. We learned many things on how scouting has evolved over the years in both our countries and how our partnership has strengthen both our programs! A big thank you to all parties involved in planning and look forward to continued adventures in the years to come!

Peter Larson Scoutmaster, Troop 47 Gamehaven Council

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