‘Brown Owl’ to generations of women in Bonavista
Frances Sweetland honoured for 80 years in Girl Guiding
As Frances Sweetland walked into the Matthew Elementary gymnasium in Bonavista, over 100 Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Pathfinders and Rangers — past and present — stood and applauded the consummate volunteer and lifelong Guider.
Tears immediately welled up in her eyes as many of the women who she affected over her lifetime in Girl Guides surprised her with a ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 3.
Sweetland, days shy of her 88th birthday, had also marked another milestone — 80 years as an active member of Girl Guides, a feat that is not only a record for the province, but likely the entire country.
The woman who is affectionately known to generations of women in the Bonavista area as “Brown Owl” — the title of the Brownie leader for a group — still sings and dances around the toadstool each Thursday night with the current Brownies, while also having been Brown Owl for women as old as their 70s.
Sweetland began her lifetime in Guiding as a Brownie in 1938, followed by time as a Guide, Ranger, Leader and Commissioner — even the “cookie conveyor” for the area, amongst a host of other roles. She even began the Rangers program in Bonavista.
In addition to the Girl Guides, she has also volunteered with countless other organizations in the community, including the Red Cross, Canadian Blood Services, Sunday School superintendent, Girls Friendly Society, Health Care Auxiliary and is a recipient of the Order of Newfoundland.
Lured to the event thinking it was a cake walk fundraiser for the Green Trees camp in Trinity Bay she had spent so many summers attending — and played an instrumental role in reopening after hurricane Igor ravaged the area — the humble volunteer was met with congratulations and thanks, as well as certificates recognizing her longevity and gifts.
She was also joined by her family, the majority of which were also a part of Girl Guides over the years, including her daughters and granddaughters.
Sweetland told The Packet, during a round of “Campfire Burning” sung by all in attendance, she was surprised by the event because she doesn’t participate in Guiding for the recognition.
“I don’t know how they got all these people together!” she marveled.
Pathfinder leader Leigh-Ann Ryder helped organize the event, having worked alongside Sweetland for 13 years, she — like most — was also in Brownies in Bonavista with Brown Owl.
Ryder fondly remembers working on a sewing badge in Brownies with Sweetland. She laughs when she recalls Brown Owl’s pragmatic response to the stuffed owl she sewed. Decades later, Ryder’s own daughter had the same experience in Brownies. Jordan is now in her last year of Pathfinders.
“We can both sew a button on because we were in Brownies,” she told The Packet. “And Brown Owl knew that was important.”
At the event, Ryder spoke of the empowerment Girl Guides gives young women, declaring that Brown Owl was “girl power” before “girl power” was
Frances Sweetland was presented with a flower by one of her Brownies, Claire, who is seven years old.
District commissioner Marsha Goodyear presents a certificate of Longevity of Service to Frances Sweetland. Bonavista MHA Neil King also gave a certificate from the provincial government to Sweetland at the event.
Pathfinders leader Leigh-Ann Ryder collects flowers from the girls and women in attendance, who offer their congratulations to “Brown Owl”.