OPINION: Girls in Training once a popular program for city youth

The official name of CGIT was Canadian Girls in Training. But its members, aged 12 to 17, unofficially called themselves the “Cutest Girls in Town.”

I know the nickname was deadly accurate for at least one of them. Laurie, my bride of 47 years, joined CGIT during the organization’s busy years in the early 1960s, when she was a lass of 12.

CGIT is a church-based organization in which girls promise to cherish health, seek truth, serve others and, with the help of Jesus, “become the girl God would have me be.”

Lofty goals, to be sure, but I suspect my wife was more interested in the games, projects, hanging with her girlfriends and weekend camping trips at Camp Lamrecton.

Camps featuring outdoor and group fun were an integral part of the program, and a few of the camps are still going today, including one near Gravenhurst, Ont.

CGIT was established in Sarnia by the remarkable Sadie Knowles, who was a fixture of the old Carnegie Library in what was then known as Victoria Park. I remember sitting on the floor of the library in the 1950s surrounded by five-and-six-year-olds as Sadie read us stories on Saturday mornings.

CGIT was founded in 1915 as an alternative to the Girl Guides movement, which was regarded as too British and too authoritarian. Supported by the YWCA and the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Anglican churches, an estimated 75,000 Canadian girls had received CGIT training by 1929, emphasizing Christian values, service and leadership.

Members wore a white-and-blue uniform middy blouse that had a distinctive navy look. Laurie’s group met at Central Baptist Church.

In 1933, Canada had more than 1,100 clubs and 40,000 young women participating in the experience. When the YWCA ran into financial trouble, CGIT was taken over by the Canadian Council of Churches. By 1976, it was an independent organization.

The decline of organized religion that began in the 1980s and continues to this day has resulted in shrinking congregations and fewer churches. That has had a cumulative impact on church organizations in generally, and CGIT in particular.

Today, the program is supported by the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church and the Canadian Baptist Ministries.

The program’s numbers are down to about 2,000 members in 150 groups. But generations of women in Sarnia retain fond memories of a youth spent in CGIT.