It was 11:00 at night, but the light glowing behind Lookout Peak was still strong enough to read by. Flags were coming down. Bugles were sounding taps, echoing thinly off pine-and fir-covered mountains. As the last mournful notes died away, two trumpets raised a clear and golden sound. Scouts saying their evening prayers nearby stopped to listen. Far away, where the notes came dim and uncertain to the ear, other Scouts stopped brushing their teeth to hear. A few began singing the words that matched the notes—“I am a child of God, And he has sent me here, Has given me an earthly home With parents kind and dear. …” The site of the 15th World Jamboree was vast, sprawling over 1,000 acres of poplar, pine, and juniper, so most of the Scouts didn’t hear the trumpet call. But the message it told was in the hearts of Latter-day Saint Scouts all through the encampment, as sweet and golden as the call of any trumpet.
The jamboree was held in Kananaskis Country, an area of mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests right on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. It lies some 50 miles west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and under all of heaven there is no better spot for a jamboree.
Like all international jamborees, this one was held with the express purpose of promoting brotherhood among Scouts of the world. It is true that the Scouts learned new skills, but that was not really why they were there. It was not necessary to cross the ocean at considerable expense to learn how to tie a knot.
The Scouts were divided into 11 subcamps, with the contingents from many nations scattered through each, so that America rubbed shoulders with Asia, Europe bumped elbows with Africa, and everyone got a chance to get to know everyone else. Each of these subcamps was named for a Canadian wild animal. Thus, Scouts hailed proudly from Fox, Deer, Otter, Polar Bear, Elk, Wolf, Buffalo, Antelope, Cougar, Caribou, Beaver, or Wolverine. Or, since both French and English were the official languages of the jamboree, some participants would claim residence in Renard, Chevreuil, Loutre, Ours Polaire, Elan, Loup, Bison, Antilope, Couguar, Caribou, Castor, or Carcajou. Many of these animals were actually citizens of the forests around the camp. Black and grizzly bears had been frequent visitors in the past, but fortunately none turned up to internalize the Scouting spirit.
A visitor wishing to understand the purpose of the jamboree might have done well to stand in the far reaches of Antelope Subcamp in the late afternoon and look westward across Wolverine, Elk, Polar Bear, Buffalo, and Fox. He would have seen flags licking the sky like colored flames, banners of every continent and clime, ignited by the afternoon sun pouring through a break between the granite peaks. The flags of 106 nations flew over the jamboree, from the red maple leaf of Canada to the red sun of Japan. As Scouts from all these nations met in brotherhood, barriers of language, race, and culture fell away. Hands clasped, smiles and shoulder patches were traded, and oceans shrank to the size of a Scout tent. Kananaskis Country became the world for two weeks, and the world got along just fine. The theme of the jamboree was “The Spirit Lives On.” And it did.
Each Scout at the jamboree received a Passport to Adventure, which could be stamped by each of the other national contingents and at each of the activity areas to show what activities he had participated in. The lucky Scout who came back with every possible stamp had indeed enjoyed an adventure.
For the Scouts’ convenience, many services were provided. At the Katimavic, located roughly at the center of the camping areas, Scouts could cash a travelers’ check; buy a snack, a souvenir, or film; get a camp stove fixed; learn to tool leather; and, most important of all, trade patches. This was a serious business, and the relative value of the colorful bits of cloth was calculated as carefully as the rates of exchange of national currencies. Knowledgeable traders could tell you to within a quarter of a thread what was worth what. Each trade was sealed with a Scout handshake. One of the most sought-after trades was a beautiful blue and gold arm patch of the angel Moroni issued to the LDS contingent. But since only one was given to each Scout, almost none were being traded.
Perhaps the most coveted patch issued for the 1983 jamboree was that of Hikemaster. These were the elite corps who guided the day and overnight hikes through the mountain trails. They had to be expert woodsmen, know the area perfectly, and have the leadership, survival, first-aid, and human relations skills to be in total control of the situation. They were responsible for the lives of their charges, and they had to pass stiff competition to gain the honor. A disproportionate number of this prestigious corps were LDS. Some estimated that LDS Scouts made up three-fourths of this group.
Calvin Takahashi of the Edmonton First Ward, Edmonton Alberta Stake, was one of the hikemasters. “Three guys from my ward are hikemasters,” he reported. “I really enjoy being out on the trail. Here at the jamboree we have to get up at 6:30 to pick up food, but when we’re on an overnight hike, we go to bed at ten and get up at ten the next day.”
Serving as hikemaster has been a great leadership training for Calvin. “When you’re up on the trail it’s you that’s in charge and that’s it. If anything goes wrong, you’re responsible to make sure that those people get back safely. Before I took the first group out, it was a little bit scary thinking about it, but now it’s second nature. But you’ve got to take charge. You can’t let people go off and do whatever they want. If they’re doing something that’s dangerous to themselves or the environment, you have to stop them, even if you know it’s going to disappoint them. I’ve been president of my deacons and teachers quorums, so that’s helped prepare me too.”
At the Gateway to the World of Scouting, there was an international village which contained the headquarters of all the visiting countries, as well as exhibits and displays. On a circle of flagpoles flew the flags of all those nations, symbolizing the worldwide brotherhood of Scouting. South of this was a large open area with a stage. This area was known as the ceremony area (terrain de rassemblement), where Scouts met for many ceremonial functions, including the closing ceremonies.
In addition to the many chances for meeting brother Scouts from around the world, the jamboree provided an almost inexhaustible supply of fun things to do. To mention a few:
An ice-cold turquoise river surging and tumbling down the valley from its mountain source carried brave Scouts in rafts that they had constructed themselves from four inner tubes and plywood. Sometimes the hungry water slurped them off and mouthed them and sucked at them, but it could not swallow the bulky life jackets, spitting them back out with a wet kiss.
At the trap shooting station, Scouts exploded orange targets that skimmed out over a pond seeking the safety of their own bright reflection in the cold water. Scouts who had never pulled a trigger before amazed themselves as they broke several targets in a row.
The assault course was an authentic military training device, an open-air torture chamber, demanding the best in the teams attempting it. It could unstring the knees and leave the arms overcooked spaghetti. The teams learned over the first barrier that brute strength was not enough. There had to be coordination, planning, and, above all, teamwork. Those on the ground had to get somebody over, and then he had to start helping the rest. The least able had to finish right along with the others, so it was all for one and one for all. They had to swarm up netting; swing from tire to tire; go hand over hand under bars; zoom down a rope on a pulley; go through, under, over a nightmarish assortment of obstacles. Some were pushed beyond what they thought was possible. It was an irresistible challenge, and there were always long lines waiting to test themselves against the toughest challenge.
At the motocross area, Scouts on BMX bikes charged uphill and down, over jumps, over barriers, across bridges, around turns, through a tortuous course that was tough enough to be a lot of fun.
Camp Handi helped the ablebodied to appreciate the difficulties of the physically handicapped. Scouts negotiated an obstacle course blindfolded, played soccer in wheelchairs, learned to type with a stick clenched in their teeth, competed in a scavenger hunt without being able to hear, dialed a telephone without use of hands, and came away with a profound respect for those who triumphed over physical disadvantages to live full and successful lives.
The archery station (tir a l’arc) filled the sky with arrows which appeared quivering in the target, beyond the target, in front of the target, in the wrong target, but not in any Scouts or instructors, to everyone’s mild surprise.
At the world games area, Scouts from all over the free world competed in sports such as soccer, cricket, basketball, football, softball, lacrosse, rugby, volleyball, field hockey, and lawn bowling.
At the western activities area, Scouts tried their hands at such things as gold panning, branding, riding a bucking bronco (a barrel suspended between four posts), lassoing, pole climbing, rope making, log sawing, log burling, and log rolling.
In the pioneering area, Scouts learned to make many things with poles and lashing. These included a merry-go-round, hourglass tower, swing derrick, aerial runway, monkey bridge, draw bridge, and catapult.
There were miscellaneous competitions such as a three-way international tug-of-war, a platform onto which Scouts tried to cram a record number of bodies, slat ski races with three men to a pair of skis, dogsled races with the musher riding a trash can lid pulled by Scout huskies, and too many more to mention. To mention one more nevertheless, at a camp of Japanese Scouts, under a huge paper carp fluttering in the breeze, a young man took on and vanquished all comers in Japanese-style wrestling. Meanwhile at many camps, there were displays which taught skills to passing Scouts.
But the warmest and most meaningful and longest-remembered events at the jamboree were not the official, scheduled ones; they were the impromptu encounters between Scouts from all over the world. Each night in the various camps parties would spring up. A group of American Scouts might invite some Scouts from Zimbabwe over for some chili and singing, or the Scots might have the French over for a little Highland dancing.
One of the activities designed to bring people together was a wide game. Each Scout was given one letter from the word friends or its French equivalent amis. Scouts then had to get together in groups which could spell both words. The letters were passed out in such a way that each Scout had to search among foreigners and strangers for the other letters. As each group was completed, it assembled at the ceremonies area so that the members could get to know one another and sign each other’s passports. Each of these groups was a small United Nations. A group might contain representatives from ten different countries. By the time the game was finished, the cards didn’t just represent words but reality. New friendships had been formed, friendships both with individuals and nations.
The Canadian government was generous in its hospitality to the Scouts. Canadian Mounties in their bright red uniforms were on hand for photographs. The Lord Strathcoma Horse Musical Ride featured soldiers in scarlet coats and bright brass helmets executing precision drills on horseback.
One day the Canadian Armed Forces precision aerobatic team, the Snowbirds, sent their red and white jets screaming overhead, painting gorgeous arabesques on the sky. Another day the Sky Hawks, the Canadian Forces parachute team, put on a breathtaking exhibition of free-fall acrobatics.
Each Scout spent a day in Calgary at the Calgary Stampede, and another in the resort town of Banff.
If all this entertainment were not enough, many of the national contingents had within them performing groups. Irishmen danced reels; South Africans danced the malambo and gumboot; Trinidadians and Tobagozans played steel drums; Ozarkians played bluegrass. In every subcamp, practically in every camp, there was the sound of music and laughter.
One of the rock-solid foundations of the Scouting movement is faith in God, and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Scouts who followed the tenets of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity respectively, met in worship. The LDS contingent was especially grateful to receive a visit from Elder Thomas S. Monson on Sunday. Also present was Elder Robert L. Backman, who was serving as a chaplain. That morning, the LDS Scouts all gathered in front of the red and white stripes of the staff mess tent for open-air services. They separated into groups for priesthood classes. The lesson was on service. Then there was a sacrament meeting at which the sacrament was blessed and passed to the congregation. Elder Backman and Elder Monson spoke, sharing experiences from Scouting and urging the young men to keep the commandments. Between Scouts, leaders, and visitors, there were some thousand people present.
The LDS Scouts came from all over the world, including Germany, Wales, Guam, England, and South Africa, but most were from the United States and Canada. One thing they all shared was a zest for getting to know Scouts from other parts of the world. One LDS Scout executive was worried because he had heard a complaint that the U.S. Scouts weren’t integrating well enough with other contingents. Determined to do his part, he hailed a passing English Scout. He was surprised to find that the lad did not have an English accent.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Where are you from?”
“Salt Lake City.”
The “English” Scout had traded uniforms with a friend in the British contingent. This was not unusual. By the end of the jamboree, many of the LDS Scouts looked rather like a walking world atlas, with headgear from one nation, shirt from another, trousers from another, and a neckerchief from still another.
But more important than the uniforms were the friendships. There was not a Scout who did not have stories to tell of his contact with foreign contingents. David Hedly from the Sanford Branch, Brisbane Australia Stake, represented his nation at the World Scout Forum. Each country at the jamboree sent a delegate. “We get together and talk about different things with regard to Scouting, and we put forward recommendations to the World Bureau. Half our unit is LDS, and half is nonmember, but we have very high morals in our unit. There’s no drinking or smoking. All the guys feel really strongly about that.”
Jeff Lonwells of Provo, Utah, reported, “We’ve had some Finnish Scouts and some Austrian Scouts eat with us. One of our patrols ate with the Germans. We also participated in some dances with some Scouts from Trinidad and Tobago. They just picked up pots and pans and started beating on them in the rhythms of their country, and we all just started dancing. There are some Scouts next to us from Tanzania, and we trade with them a lot. People don’t seem foreign anymore.”
Sean Armstrong from Walla Walla, Washington, said, “I’ve met mostly the Japanese. I studied Japanese before coming up here so that we could talk to them a little bit. I really like them. Everybody’s making a big deal about how countries can’t get along together, but the Boy Scouts from all over the world get along great. They stuck a British troop and an Argentine troop next to each other. One night we had a big rain up here, and the Argentine troop got flooded out. The British took them into their camp, fed them, and helped them get dried out.”
Eric Dowdle of Green River, Wyoming, said, “The funnest thing is meeting all the people from other countries through trading, passport signing, and just talking. When you go into somebody’s camp to have your passport signed, you find out their favorite sport, their religion, their customs. This is the first time I ever got to see the whole world in one place.”
Lance Dowdle, also of Green River, Wyoming, proudly reported that he had met Scouts from Scotland, Norway, Egypt, Mexico, Japan, West Germany, Sweden, Armenia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Switzerland, Italy, Sudan, India, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Philippines, the Bahamas, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, and Australia. “It’s better than the United Nations,” he said. “We really talk. We visited a British troop. Two of them were in tuxedos. They were serving tea on real china.” It was clear that those two British gentlemen in tuxedos would be a valued memory all his life.
Lloyd Jones of Provo, Utah, reported that each troop at some time during the jamboree would dress up in national costumes and host a “see and do” presentation. They would invite another troop over, but any Scout who wished could wander in.
According to Shawn Tucket of Murray, Utah, there were plenty of chances to share information about the Church. “I’ve already given my Book of Mormon away, and I’ve been offered three patches for my Mormon patch. When I say I’m from Utah, someone will usually ask, ‘Are you guys Mormon?’ When I told one guy I was, he said, ‘Where are your horns?’ I told him I was dehorned as a kid.”
As darkness deepened, the two trumpets finished their song and fell silent. It was a time to review the day’s experiences and file them away somewhere inside the mind where they could be held forever. Soon the jamboree would be history.
Almost two years have passed since the trumpeters raised their song. Only memories remain, memories and the Scouts whose lives were changed by what they learned there. But the spirit lives on—the spirit of brotherhood and honor and excellence. The LDS Scouts at the jamboree took with them experiences that will soon serve them well when they become missionaries in the Lord’s service. The hikemasters will soon find themselves guiding men and women on more important paths. The trumpet players will sound a clearer call to the truth. And the love that was kindled for peoples of other nations, races, and religions, will be taken all over the earth in search of the honest in heart. And wherever they go the spirit of Kananaskis will go with them, because the spirit of Kananaskis is really the spirit of love.