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The Weather Network
Nov. 21, 2019 | Thursday
Local News
Legion, Kinsmen offer rain refuge to Irish scouts
About 100 Irish scouts take refuge at the Legion on Tuesday night after their campsite in the Commons was rained out in a severe thunderstorm. (Jessica Maxwell/Special)

Even Tuesday’s torrential downpour couldn’t dampen the giving spirit of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

When more than 150 visiting Irish scouts returned to their camp in the Commons after the severe thunderstorm that hit town, they found their campground devastated. Tents were flooded, sleeping bags were soaked, and the rain just kept coming.

Luckily, the night would have a much happier ending, thanks to the kindness of members of the local Legion and Kinsmen Hall, and residents who stepped up to help out.

Beth Black, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion on King Street, was just closing up for the night when she noticed a couple of soaked scout leaders walking her way.

“I was out tending the plants, and two of the leaders came up and told us about the emergency they had out in the Commons — tents floating, the wind damage,” Black said in an interview late Tuesday. “They were all out on day trips, but when they came back they found chaos.”

She learned half of the scouts had already found shelter at the Kinsmen Hall, but it wasn’t big enough to hold all four troops, each consisting of 36 scouts and four leaders.

“The Kinsmen gave them the scout camp, but that only held about 60 people, so they came over here and asked us if we could help them out.”

Luckily for the remaining troops, Legion president Paul Eramian happened to be in-house and he didn’t hesitate to offer them the event hall for the night.

“We said, ‘Sure, come on in,’” said Eramian.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero had already offered to open the community centre for the scouts, but it wasn’t necessary because the Legion stepped up to the plate so quickly.

NOTL resident Mike Scott, who helped co-chair the World Scout Jamboree, which the Irish scouts attended before visiting NOTL, quickly jumped into action.

The scouts had to send their sleeping bags to a laundromat in St. Catharines to be dried, and a few that were found at the end of the day were dried by Scott’s wife Manuela.

Dean Gilchrist, one of the Irish troop leaders, said the whole ordeal was actually kind of exciting.

“When we pitched our tents four days ago it was dry, so we had no way of knowing where we were pitching was going to flood with heavy rain, and that’s exactly what happened.”

“As soon as we got back and we realized something had to change, the scouts just set about packing all of their gear into their bags, and any wet sleeping bags were brought to a laundromat to get them dried. And myself and one of the other leaders, Michelle, walked over (to the Legion), just to see if we could talk to somebody.”

They assumed the Legion might have a function room or a hall and Black was the first person they met when they got there. “She was really helpful, and it was just lucky that Paul, the president of the Legion, was in residence, and we were able to explain the situation. Him and a couple of the other guys that were here were very helpful, and there were no questions asked.”

“They were delighted to be able to help.”

He said on top of the flooding, a few “strong gusts of wind” also damaged some of the tents.

“The tents that we have are normally meant for timid weather, but not the wind that we saw today. So as a result, wet sleeping bags, and we had to try to find somewhere indoors to stay because the tents were so wet. I believe that a tree was struck by lightning as well, which added to the drama.” 

The scouts used the same tents at the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia just a week prior.

“We brought them with us when we moved up to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” said Gilchrist.

Eight troops had originally been in town, but four of them left the day before, missing the rain.

“The (other) four troops left in the sunshine, got their tents down dry, and there was no issues. The rest of us, some of us were at Niagara Falls today, others were in Toronto, and when we returned, obviously (things were chaotic).”

Gilchrist said they aren’t used to such extreme weather back home.

“In terms of the frequency here of thunderstorms and lightning, it’s much rarer in Ireland. We get heavy rain, of course, but we don’t always get lightning, so that’s kind of a bit exciting for us. When we were at Niagara Falls, we were doing the Hornblower boat tour, and it was thunder and lightning during that, so it was quite epic.”

When the group left the Falls, they were already soaked.

“The plan, of course, was get back to the tents and get dry, so it was just another notch when the tents were drowning,” Gilchrist said.

In the end, everything worked out, thanks to the generosity of the members of the Legion and Kinsmen Hall.

“We’re very grateful to them for giving us the shelter,” he said.

Still, with all the chaos and soaked gear, Gilchrist and the scouts were in high spirits, and already looking back with fondness on the whole ordeal.

“It’s not that this happens a lot, but when things don’t go to plan, it’s normally the more memorable experience, you know? The scouts will remember this far quicker than they’ll remember taking their tents down dry, and it all being lovey-dovey and easy-peasy and just getting on a bus and going.”

He said overcoming obstacles is what scouts are all about.

“It’s kind of like, adapt, improvise and overcome — so here we are. So, it really is a good news story and it’s kind of a nice end to our trip, to kinda leave on something different.”

He said the group is really just appreciative and glad that the guys “took pity” on them.

“And we made sure to tell them that if they were in Ireland and they found themselves in a similar situation, that, of course, we would be there to help.”

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