Red Deer’s colourful scouting history would live on with preservation of cabin, says local man

Catching a fugitive is one of the historic hallmarks of local scouts

Preston Parks’ father was a Red Deer scout in the 1920s.

Parks became a boy scout himself, in the 1940s.

Then Parks’ sons, Greg and Kevin, joined in the movement in the 1970s and early 1980s, when Parks was a scout leader.

With three generations of scouts in the family, Parks is a strong supporter of preserving the little scouting cabin that sits on 47th Avenue.

The unused Rover hut, built in 1937, occupies a corner of city land being considered for an expansion of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter.

Parks wants to secure the hut’s future as a reminder of the long and illustrious history of scouting in Red Deer.

“It should stay right where it is, as a monument… Too much of our history is being lost,” said the 86-year-old Red Deerian.

Canada’s former governor general, Roland Michener, was among the boys who joined the first generation of Red Deer scouts in 1911.

That inaugural troop — which also included Philip Galbraith, the son of Red Deer’s first mayor and Advocate publisher, Kenneth Galbraith — made a heroic mark by helping capture a fugitive who had tried to kill the local police chief.

According to historian Michael Dawe, Red Deer’s emergency bells began to peel on June 1, 1911, after Police Chief George Bell was shot while trying to stop a robbery being committed by Arthur Kelly.

Kelly high-tailed it into the woods. The local scouts — perhaps inspired by tales of Boer War heroism by their organization’s founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell — quickly volunteered to help the search effort.

Dawe believes the boy scouts were dismissively “shoo-ed off” to the scene of the crime by adults who figured the fugitive would be long gone. But Kelly happened to still be hiding in the bushes, only metres from where the shooting had taken place.

The intrepid scouts formed a tight circle around Kelly, who ended up surrendering to the fire chief, who arrived only moments later in a buggy.

The thrilling story of how the Red Deer boy scouts helped catch an armed fugitive put the city on the map.

Dawe recalled it was a huge news story for the Advocate, and was also carried by newspapers across Canada and beyond.

The Lacombe-born Michener went on to become a lawyer and politician. He was Canada’s governor general from 1967 to 1974, as well as chief scout of Canada.

Parks’ scouting memories were more of the conventional camping, knot-tying variety.

But besides all the fun he had camping, swimming and earning his skills badges, Parks said he also learned all about respect — for others, for his country, for animal life.

“It’s a lifestyle you learned — you respected things.”

Parks recalled two scouting cabins once sat on the same downtown Red Deer property, but the larger one burned down, leaving only the little scouting hut that was officially opened in 1937 by Canada’s top scout, Lord Tweedsmuir (also known as John Buchan, another former governor general (1935-1940) and author of the suspense thriller, The 39 Steps, which became an Alfred Hitchcock film).

All the more reason for preserving what remains, Parks added.

A Scouts Canada official is looking into whether the Red Deer hut has enough historic significance and integrity for preservation.

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