Fettercairn Island

Agnes Richardson Etherington (1880-1954) and father George Richardson 1930s-40s
Agnes Richardson Etherington with her father, George Richardson (c.1930s) (Lakes and Islands, Times Past)

Did you know that Girl Guides of Canada used to have a National Training Centre?

From 1929 until 1941, the Canadian Council of the Girl Guides Association operated a Dominion Training Centre on Fettercairn Island, near Chaffey’s Locks in the Rideau Lakes.  (Both the small and large island are now called Richardson Island, but the small island off to one side is still locally known as ‘Girl Guide Island’.)

The island was purchased by the Richardson Family in 1901 and Agnes Richardson built a convalescent hospital for soldiers in 1916. The hospital closed when the war ended. Agnes Richardson would go on to marry Dr. Frederick Etherington of Kingston. The couple donated use of the property to Canadian Guiding in 1929.

“Fettercairn Island is situated on Indian lake, one of the Rideau chain near Chaffey’s locks – a wonderful place of wild beauty with Laurentian aspects. It is one and a half acres in size, and its buildings consist of the main house hidden amongst the trees, which contains a recreation hall, and sitting-room with large open fireplaces, two small cottages, storehouses, and a large boathouse above which is the dining-room overlooking the lake. A tiny island is linked to the larger one by a rustic bridge – this is where the campfires are held, while the mainland close by provides for woodland hikes.” (The Ottawa Citizen, May 21, 1932)

Main House, Fettercairn Island, c.1916-18 (Lakes and Islands, Times Past)

Boathouse at Fettercairn
Boat House, Fettercairn Island, c.1916-18 (Lakes and Islands, Times Past)

The first summer training camp is opened on July 1, 1929, under the leadership of Victoria Rossiter. Training camps on a variety of subjects are held every year, along with holiday weeks where Guiders could meet and spend time with Guiders from across the country without the intensity of a training week:

“The months of July and August are divided into periods of general training, Brownie training, Ranger week-ends and leisure weeks. The general and Brownie courses include training in these branches of Guide work, and swimming, boating and hiking form no small part.” (The Ottawa Citizen, August 11, 1934)

GGC Picnics - Fettercairn Island, ON
Picnic on Fettercairn Island (Girl Guides of Canada)

Some of the advertised weeks included:

  • General Training – Elementary & Advanced
    • “…includes teaching in the practical part of Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class, discussions on company management and opportunities to talk over special problems and difficulties”
  • Brownie Training
    • “Brownie week is devoted to the special problems and practical training of Brown and Tawny Owls, and discussions on pack management”
  • Woodcraft
    • “…how to build shelters and fire-places, to cook out-of-doors; … what to do with your Guides when you are hiking, and how to go about teaching nature lore”
  • Hiking and Lightweight Camping
  • Ranger Week-ends
  • Conference and Refresher Week for Trainers
  • Leisure Weeks and Week-ends, Holiday Weeks
    • “…an opportunity to enjoy a restful holiday”

With the growth of the organization and the pressures of war-time, it became less and less practical to offer training in only one location, and in 1941, the property is returned to the Etheringtons:

Black and white photograph of Indian Lake from Fettercairn Island around 1916 - 1918.
Indian Lake from Fettercairn Island, c.1916-18  (Lakes and Islands, Times Past)

“It is with sincere regret that the Canadian Council announces that Fettercairn Island will no longer serve Guiding as a training centre for Canada. Owing to the growing demands of the movement, it has now become necessary to promote summer training courses elsewhere in the Dominion. The Island property has therefore been given back to its gracious donor, Mrs. Etherington, to whom the Guiders owe a great debt of gratitude for the many happy hours spent at the Island.” (The Canadian Guider, March 1941)



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