With King Charles III set to be crowned tomorrow, May 6, 2023, journalists and content providers have turned to his mother’s coronation in 1953 for details and comparisons.
Hold onto your Beanie, dear readers, I’m going to link Westminster Abbey, Girl Scout cookies, and Rockwood National Camp. The story begins in Toronto.
Cookies (Well, Technically Biscuits)
W. Garfield Weston grew up above his father’s bakery in Toronto. He spent part of World War I in Great Britain, and after the war convinced his father to expand his business using British cookie manufacturing equipment. The new products were sold as Weston’s English Quality Biscuits. He inherited the business upon his father’s death in 1924 and began producing Girl Scout cookies in 1937.
He grew his single family bakery into a string of of food-service companies with sales of $1.3 billion in 1956. He established the Garfield Weston Foundation in 1958, pledging to donate 80 percent of his family’s wealth to charitable causes.
Mr. Weston was also known for his efforts to widen the opportunities of young Canadians. He launched an exchange program between Canada and Great Britain in 1953 when he arranged an eight-week Goodwill Tour of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Paris for 50 Canadian girls. Mr. Weston provided each girl with a new wardrobe, luggage, and pocket money. The girls had lessons on etiquette, the proper way to curtsy, and table manners en route to London.
The 16- and 17-year old girls who participated agreed that the highlight of the tour was seeing the procession before and after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Maryellen Love, from Cobalt, Ontario, (population 1,500) remembers:
The coronation itself, Love described as nothing she would ever have expected or imagined in her life — witnessing the entire coronation on large screens that showed inside Westminster Abbey, where the new queen was being crowned.
“It was so elaborate. There was a parade and a golden coach,” said Love. “It was a cold and damp day, but luckily we were protected form the elements sitting in the stands. And here I am, with a little camera and video camera, trying to take pictures and film the royal coach to bring back home for everyone to see… and you know, within seconds it was all over.”Oakville Beaver (May 31, 2012)
The coronation trip was also an intensive bonding experience for the girls. Surviving members stayed in touch and gathered to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2003.
While in New York City in January 1954, Mr. Weston was invited to visit Girl Scout national headquarters. Impressed with the Girl Scout program, he donated $25,000 specifically for a new, winterized lodge at Rockwood National Girl Scout Camp in Potomac, Maryland.
As a national center, Rockwood often tested new ideas for products and programs, such as flexible building configurations.
Weston Lodge featured a folding partition that allowed two small groups to share the lodge, if desired. Rockwood staff were invited to make suggestions for the name of the new unit. Assistant Director Jackie Collins suggested two names, one for each half—Weston and Easton. She was outvoted.
Weston Lodge was formally dedicated on May 1, 1954.
The ceremony began promptly at 2 pm and took place in front of the lodge, which sat on a hill at the northern edge of the camp. A chorus of 15 Intermediate-level girls sang “America the Beautiful,” “Swinging Along,” and “Girl Scouts Together.” The singers were smartly dressed in a new, alternate uniform. Instead of a light green dress, they were wore crisp, white short-sleeved blouses, dark green skirts, dark green wool berets, and a mixture of red and green scarves tied at their necks. Sashes in the same dark green fabric hung from their right shoulder to their left hip. Every girl had a freshly polished pair of black and white saddle shoes and white anklets. A quintet of three flutes and two clarinets accompanied the singers.
After everyone recited the Girl Scout Promise, the traditional Blessing of the House ceremony began. Written in honor of Edith Macy and debuted at the dedication of Camp Edith Macy in 1926, the ceremony is performed by a chorus and has three speaking parts: The Light Bearer, The Fire Bearer, and the Feast Bearer.
The young women with the speaking parts wore flowing white Grecian robes and wreaths of flowers on their heads. The Light Bearer carried a tall, lit white candle; the Fire Bearer brought a bowl of fire, and the Feast Bearer offered a shining bowl piled with grapes, apples, and bread. Each offered a verse of dedication, with the Light Bearer concluding,
God bless this house from thatch to floor.
And they who enter at the door blessed let them be.
Two uniformed girls then stepped forward to present a large wooden plaque carved with the words “Weston Lodge, 1954.” Finally, everyone sang “Bless This House,” and adjourned for tea.
Weston Lodge was extremely popular for troops. Eighty-one troops—1,447 individuals—used the new building in its first year. Adult groups tried to avoid it, however, as residents slept on mattresses on the floor, not cots.
The name was eventually changed to “Weston Hill,” so guests would not be surprised by the steep climb to the unit. Girls hated the trudge up the hill during the sticky summer months, but it was perfect for sledding in the winter.
Mr. Weston donated another $25,000 in 1970 that was used to renovate the lodge.
Developers razed Weston Lodge after the camp was sold in 1978. However, the name and the connection continue, with one of Rockwood’s three bunkhouses bearing the name.
© 2023 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, Girl Scout historian