Uniforms: The history lesson you need to understand where we stand today

It’s been a week since Scouts Canada unveiled its new uniforms, the first time in 20 years.  Well, ignoring the Circa and Bring on the Adventure.  Both campaigns that failed miserably.  Circa was supposed to bring a modern look to the movement in Canada, instead it just served as an distraction to a sinking ship that was Scouts Canada at the time.

Back in 2005, a document was sent out to all who had email address on file and would be interested in seeing where scouting should go in the next decade. Not the best system of getting feedback but it was a start.  Slowly we’ve seen the document turn into reality.

We’ve seen electronic training for new leaders come out, so there is less time spent away from home. That can be crucial for getting new parent leaders involved and interested beyond the time their child is in the movement, or even recruiting brand new people to Scouts Canada.

We’ve seen a website that is massively better then previous generations.

And we thought this was good web design? (scouts.ca around 1998)

Only slightly better. (scouts.ca around 2004)

Part of that plan is to make camps more usable for scout groups, and I can attest to seeing the results.These sites aren’t only a place to camp, but are building up activities available there for minimal usage cost. Camp Byng for example now has a Frisbee disc golf course, an archery range, and a soon to be high ropes course, among other things. Plus we can make the camps useful for corporate retreats and such. Apparently having a group of adults learning how to work together to climb over a wall is teambuilding. Imagine that!

What I’m trying to get at is that changing the uniform is part of a multi-pronged offensive to get Canadians part of an organization where the core program can benefit all.  Getting rid of outdated ideas and misinformation in terms of getting rid of the stereotypes is part of the reason Scouts Canada is updating.

Let’s talk to Our Chief Scout.

BP on brownsea island, wearing a tie. This guy is classy, ALL the time! Also, not a Zombie.

When Scouting for Boys was published, it was assumed that boys would form troops within other organizations and wear the scout badge on that uniform in addition to the other groups various bits.  Obviously Scouting grew far too quickly for that to work and BP laid out his vision of uniform which was relatively cheap and easy to get.

Which it is now.

So let’s actually compare uniforms shall we?  Lets look at the uniform that is being replaced, The Tan coloured one. This uniform originally was an updated and more 90’s look for scouts and replaced a wool jersey for cubs.  The uniform was largely unchanged since the mid 50s.

About 8 years ago, the “Circa” came on the market for Scouts, Venturers, Rovers and their leaders.  Billed as an activity uniform, but provided the troop decided on it, it could have been their full time formal uniform as well.  Many decided that it was hip and modern and was exactly what the movement needed.  They were wrong, numbers continued to drop and circa is all but invisible now.

My circa t-shirt was a paint shirt in college, it worked as a shirt you could wear to school and *if* someone saw the TINY Scouts Canada logo, they might ask you about it. It was also factually wrong, claiming that Scouts Canada started in 1907. Scouts Canada, as Boy Scouts of Canada was incorporated by act of the Canadian Government in 1914. Of course there were groups in Canada not long after B-P published “Scouting for Boys”, but the national organization wasn’t formed till much later.

Anyway, lets get on with the meat of this thing: the uniforms themselves.

Not sure what the photographer was thinking.... From 21st Capilano's website

I really hate stock photography.

Beavers, the change is cosmetic. I assume various beaver shirts will be available and the vest and hat as per usual will be tying the uniform together. As it’s also fleece, the vest can now  be worn on top of heavier sweaters during the winter; which is always a plus. While the vest may come off at meetings since it is fleece hopefully it’ll all work out. No real change here, same basic look that’s been around for nearly 35 years.

But what about the rest?

Cubs, Scouts, Venturers and Rovers all have two uniforms: a formal one, and one for the general activities that Scouts do. That activity uniform has always had a name: Camp uniform.  Every major camp I’ve ever gone to, there’s been a camp uniform, usually consisting of the neckerchief, hat, proper shoes, a tshirt and shorts or pants. Hey look! That’s EXACTLY what the activity uniform is!  Awesome!

At PJ 2007, these cubs were happily sitting on a cedar log, waiting for the fun to start. (Photo Credit: Me 🙂 )

In more then 1500 photos I’ve looked through for this article, I haven’t been able to find a single one that shows a cub in full uniform (tan shirt, epaulettes, sash and necker) with the shirt tucked in and still doing something other than standing still. I think this says a lot about the practicality of the tan shirt for cubs. I know there’s a photo of me getting invested and I was swamped in my uniform as a cub. There was just too much of it.

Anyway, here’s what they look like currently:

Shirts that really shouldn’t tuck in and are still functional. There’s probably a smaller size for the girls, but probably not available come time for the photos.

Couple of things people have pointed out about this new uniform:

“How will cubs ever fit 40+ badges on two arms plus the regional and group badges?”

I've seen kids this age, with two arms full of badges.

I’ve seen it done.  There’s a group here in Vancouver that I was a part of once which have been sewing their badges to their tan shirts like the cub shirts were never changed. This issue of cubs sewing badges on their uniform isn’t really an issue; cubs can sew *if* you teach them and isn’t that an important skill to teach a child?



“What a joke! These uniforms will make our kids look sloppy and barely in uniform!”

Look at these Aussie Cubs, being awesome in untucked cub uniforms!

These shirts are also not designed to be tucked in. Which as long as a parent buys a shirt which *fits* their child, this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s essentially a long sleeved rugby shirt which fits in perfectly for the type of things cubs get up to.  All I’m saying is just wait till you see 30 cubs wearing the same thing and then tell me it looks sloppy.





“Why did we go grey with the Cub uniforms? The Cub colour is YELLOW, NOT GREY!”

Grey wolf is Grey.

I’m not even joking, this is a paraphrased quote speaking on the colour of the New Cub Scouts uniform.

Why Grey? Because they’re WOLF Cubs.  Under the care of the Akela. This only makes sense in context of the program. Beavers look up to Cubs and see them in their uniform and in typical child fashion they want what the bigger kids have.  It’s the same with Cubs to Scouts and so on.  By the way, for those that joined the movement after 1991, Cubs use to wear grey wool sweaters, which are FAR worse to sew on, wear, and not nearly as good as the new materials. Granted, Yellow is predominate in the cub program, but Green actually has more of case in this colour battle. Pre-1950’s the cub shirt was actually green and still is in some parts of the world.  Yellow was only the complementary colour to the green in the old cub hat. Go figure.

What about the Scouts?

A photo by Harry Shnider. He can be found @harryshnider on Twitter.

First thing I said when I saw this uniform. Is wow. Joe Fresh actually understands Scouting.

Not much has really changed.  Scouts have gone to a far simpler uniform, reminiscent of Boy Scouts of Canada uniforms from the past.  Essentially, pants, shirt and necker and the kid can be out the door in full uniform.  This is actually far closer to what BP intended for scouts in Scouting for Boys. In his original description, he picked items that were readily available and everything had a purpose. We’ve come a LONG way in terms of clothing construction and the materials we use, even in the last twenty years.

In the same group as above with the cub badges, all the Scout badges, which are bigger and embroidered were sewed onto the uniform.  The diamond badges were sewn on the left arm below the province badge, and then removed when the voyageur level was completed to make room for the pathfinder level badges, and the activity badges were sewn on the right arm below the patrol badge.   I never had a problem sewing on those badges and never had an issue rolling up my sleeves.

I don’t have much to say about the Venturer blue and Rover red, mainly because it’s already been said about the Scout’s version of uniform.  What I do have a problem with is the decision to go with Red for the leaders.  I get that SC is trying to say the Rovers are our most valuable assets and essentially leaders of the movement.  But at the same time Rover Program is so different then Venturers, or even Leader development.  Rovers have long been a section that’s a little bit different and grouping them in with leaders, I feel, nullifies that “I’m a Rover!” effect. On the other side of the coin it addresses that Rovers for the most part *ARE* legal adults, which is very important to realize especially with a recent event in Alberta.


I and others feel like the unveiling was all flash and no content. Now that may have been because I wasn’t at the unveiling, but a lot this information could have been released on to the website.

I have a few unanswered questions:

  • Lack of information for badges, where are the Venturer badge redesigns?
  • Lack of badge placement on uniforms at launch
  • Too many questions with the answer “that’s still under development”
  • What about Sea Scout uniforms? Will they change?
  • Are Flags changing? Most notably the Venturer Flag, as the light blue is all but gone from the insignia
  • Will there be standards for when activity wear and “proper” uniform is worn, or is it “up to the youth”

That all being said, This is one of the first times in my scouting career where I can legitimately say, well done National.  Now, where I can find me a red rover hat?

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