By Judith van Berkom –
Cherish health, Seek truth, Know God, and Serve others – these were the principles that generations of women grew up embracing as they attended CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training), organized through local Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist churches across Canada from 1915 to the present.
Born out of the ‘restless eagerness of teenage girls to be of service’ CGIT became a mid-week practical extension of what was learned in Sunday school. Small groups of 8 to 10 girls, between the ages of 12 and 17, met on a weekly basis over a five-year period with an understanding leader who placed responsibility on the girls.
The likes of Flora MacDonald, Sheila Rogers, Kathleen Wynne, Maud Barlow, Jean Pigot – all graduated from CGIT whose purpose was “to become with his help the girls God would have them be.”
“Nine times out of ten if you meet a woman you admire,” explains Carol Ann Joiner, whose mother and daughter both attended CGIT, “they are CGIT graduates.”
Joiner “served others” after graduating, earning her 25-year volunteer pin several years ago. Her daughter attended the last class here in Ottawa in 2012.
Distinguished by their uniform – a fashionable ‘middy’ in 1915 – with either a white or blue skirt, whose length went up or down according to fashion, or the white or blue shorts worn in summer at Camp Kallala on the Quebec side, the middy is only worn today for special occasions such as formal initiation, Vesper service, fund-raising events and graduation.
“CGIT is the core of who I am,” says Joiner. “Everything I do – cherish health – I watch what I eat, exercise regularly; when there are things going on at work I ‘seek truth’ or times are tough in life and I’m floundering, I struggle to know God.”
Joiner went through a divorce and remarried in her life. Her daughter is adopted. The program bills itself as “a foundation for life.”
“Because you’re in a small group every week with other struggling girls, all grappling with life’s decisions, you build life-long friendships,’ says Joiner. “You’re with the same leader for five years, someone who loves you, is interested in you and listens to you. They become your role models.”
In some ways similar to Girl Guides, CGIT girls earn their lanyards, badges and pins. After three years, they receive a white lanyard to be worn on their middies. A World Friendship Badge, earned after completing a four-week intensive mission study, involved researching a project, presenting a report, raising funds.
“My girls said it was the highlight of their year,” says Joiner. Joiner was one of six senior girls invited to attend a leadership camp.
At the CGIT Centennial Celebration Tea, to be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 470 Roosevelt Ave. on Saturday, October 17, 2015, it is expected that over 100 ‘girls’ will be attending, some coming from as far away as Vancouver, the UK, and Southern Ontario.
Doreen Hewlett’s leader, now a woman of 86 years of age, will be in attendance. This represents a momentous opportunity to celebrate a movement that has had a positive effect on the lives of many women in our society today. It’s a chance to renew life-long friendships, to wear ‘middies’ with a real sense of pride in all that represents.