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Quebec Girl Guides' camp devastated by robbery and vandalism

09/29/2014 08:11 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST
Someone has robbed and vandalized the Wa-Thik-Ane Quebec's Girl Guides' campground in Morin Heights, and the damage is extensive, costly, and heartbreaking.

Thousands of dollars worth of equipment and supplies locked in a cabin were stolen, including $4,000 in new tents alone.

“That feeling of absolute violation comes over you and it's sort of like what's next and who's watching,” says Susan Welsh, the Quebec Girl Guides Director of Operations.

Girl Guides staff and volunteers have been scrambling to repair the damage and have the campground ready to receive hundreds of young girls the first weekend in October.

The thieves broke through more than a dozen doors — mostly on small storage cabins — broke every lock, cut door frames and even cut heaters off the walls.

The Girl Guides believe the thieves entered the camp by boat because the gates along the roads leading in were not damaged or opened. They were locked and appeared untouched.

Welsh says the thieves also committed senseless vandalism by damaging mattresses, and ruining first aid kits and other property.

“Taking water and mixing it with talcum powder on mattresses so it’s just something you have to clean up that's ridiculous and a waste of time,” says Walsh. “Taking the Canadian flag putting it in the sink and pouring red dye on it — that's silly damage.”

Provincial police say they have opened a file on the theft and vandalism.

The camp counsellors say the theft has been emotional for them.

“I almost cried. I had this really heavy feeling...and I told my mom who had been a guider long before me and she was really upset too,” says Holli Drum, a Guide Leader in Dorval who first camped at Camp Wa-Thik-Ane in 1974.

Thousands of girls have camped there over the years, many of them from Montreal's West Island.

“This was the first summer I actually worked here and I just adore it. Really, I know this camp like the back of my hand it's crazy and just hearing it was broken into it was really hurtful,” says 17-year-old Daphne Sauvé.

Long-term struggle

Camp Wa-Thik-Ane is expecting about 400 people for their provincial fall day camp this coming weekend.

It's an event largely focused on the youngest kids as a chance for them to get a full day camp experience without staying overnight.

Volunteers have already worked very hard to repair as much as possible and get the camp looking normal so girls feel secure.

The big impact is longer term. It's a financial hit on top of an already shoestring budget.

Despite having insurance they say deductibles are high and they're not covered for replacement values, so the vandalism and theft will double their camp-related costs in the year to come.

They cover these expenses by selling cookies and collecting membership fees.

The fees can’t be raised because part of their mission is to be accessible to everyone.

What they say they need is more members, and that's a struggle.

Quebec campers

They have 1,800 girls signed up in Quebec, which is half of what they had ten years ago.

"We have a huge visibility in the rest of Canada. In Quebec, we're perceived as Anglophone roots organization and while that is entirely true we are also very accepting to girls who speak whatever language they get together and speak,” says the Provincial Commissioner, Valerie Zaloum.

Zaloum says the organization is trying to attract more Francophones, with all their handbooks now available in French. Still, only about 30 percent of their members speak French at home.

An evolving organization

Some leaders say the organization also has an image problem, with many people thinking Girl Guides are just cooking and knitting in church basements.

"We've had a neuropsychologist come to our unit and talk to our girls about the brain and how it works and how it's really important for them to get a lot of sleep and studying skills," says Charyl Hyndman, a leader in Dorval. "I just think that there's so many more things we do today and people have to realize we've changed with the times too.” 

Camp organizers say this weekend's event will go ahead, but the real push is what comes after with fundraising being more critical than ever for them to be able to get the camp ready for the start of next year's season.

Shari Okeke will have this story tonight on CBC Television Montreal at 5.

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