In the diminutive maritime town of Mahone Bay, N.S. (pop. 1,000), a youth tradition begun in 1960 is still going strong: the Church Boys League (CBL), headquartered at the picturesque, red-and-white Anglican church of St. James. And while there used to be a number of such Anglican-affiliated leagues across Canada, the St. James CBL may be the last of its kind.
Each week, some 35 boys, ages five to 14, proudly don blue shirts with white heraldic logos and gather at the seaside church in Lunenburg County for activities encompassing sports, pet care, the environment, first aid, boating skills, canoemanship and churchmanship. Over the decades, the CBL has taught many a youth life-lessons in survival, self-actualization, manners and social co-operation.
It was started by St. James’s rector at the time, the Rev. Henry Corbin, and his wife, Barbara, and welcomed boys of any or no religious background. The group wrote its own unique handbook. “We based our book partly on the Boy Scouts and partly on the 4H Club, and we expanded it and revised it a couple of times,” says Tom Ernst, one of the CBL’s prime movers since its second meeting 55 years ago.
As Ernst explains, the CBL has an incentive system of more than 20 badges, each with a bronze, silver and gold stage, as well as six crests with 10 tests apiece. “It’s very motivating for the boys,” says Ernst.
“At one time, the CBL ran the entire youth hockey in Mahone Bay and raised all the money for it,” Ernst adds. “A lot of the boys came into the league for the hockey.” It also had a boxing program. No longer involved in those sports, the CBL concentrates on other outdoor activities such as “coasting” (tobogganing), hiking and snowmobiling.
Apart from these, the league provides a comfortable social setting. “I just like to go and hang out,” says Grade 8 student Curtis Raymond, 13, who also enjoys the challenge of working progressively toward the badges. “I joined up in grade primary [senior kindergarten], and I’ve been going every week ever since.”
According to Blane Knickle, another CBL leader who has been involved for several decades, the league used to have upwards of 100 boys. “But the population of Mahone Bay has shrunk a bit. It’s mainly a retirement community now and doesn’t have so many young people,” he says.
Not to neglect the distaff side, about 10 years ago, St. James established the Church Girls’ League (CGL). Every Tuesday evening, about 30 participants-ages five to 15, wearing purple-crested pink shirts-meet for an hour at the church. “The girl’s group was loosely based on an earlier group called the junior auxiliary, which kind of went dry quite a few years ago,” says Christine Wissler, one of three Girls’ League leaders and wife of the Rev. Ian Wissler, rector of St. James.
Each session has a religious component, and opens and closes with a prayer. In between, the girls may engage in co-operative physical activities such as relays and parachute games or have a cooking lesson in the church kitchen. They also do seasonal arts and crafts, and sometimes they’re treated to a special talk or demonstration. “We had a gentleman come in and show the girls how to do knot tying,” says Wissler.
Like the boys, the girls follow a course of acquiring badges and crests, earning points for attendance, wearing their league shirts, bringing along their CGL book and attending church.
A large element is community service. On Earth Day, the girls help with community garbage cleanup, and the older ones help serve at community teas. “This year, the Quilters’ Guild of Mahone Bay has asked them to serve at its annual dessert party,” says Wissler. Perhaps most important are the several visits the girls make each year to a local nursing home. “The seniors just love them,” Wissler says.
Diana Swift is a regular contributor to the Anglican Journal.