For the past few weeks, Mike Scott has been in a West Virginia mountain haven, as co-leader of one of the largest World Scout Jamborees ever mounted—almost 45,000 Scouts (age 14-17) and leaders from some 120 countries.
Scott has spent much of the last 50 years leading the scouting movement at every level, from local to national, even international.
The 66-year-old Scott bought his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake with his wife Manuela six years ago, after an extensive career in customs brokerage, finally retiring in 2005 as president and CEO of Peace Bridge Brokers in Fort Erie.
Scott grew up in Weston, Ont., and was attracted to scouting at age eight. With the guidance of his scout-leader father, Scott went all the way up through scouting ranks, graduating to leadership when he outgrew the youth ranks.
The Scout movement has grown exponentially over the past century or so. Famously, it was Robert Baden-Powell who took 20 young men on an adventure outing on the south coast of England in 1907.
Baden-Powell’s 1908 book, “Scouting for Boys,” became one of the best-selling volumes of all time and formed the foundation of one of the largest youth movements in the world, engaging over 50 million teens and young adults, male and female, in more than 200 countries.
The 24th World Scout Jamboree is being held from July 22 to Aug. 2 at the 10,000-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve, near Beckley, W. Va., the most advanced and sustainable adventure learning facility for youth in the world.
Niagara-on-the-Lake was the home of the eighth World Jamboree, in 1955, when over 11,000 Scouts from 71 countries crowded the Commons around Fort George for the first Jamboree held in the Western Hemisphere.
This year’s Jamboree is a unique team effort by the national scouting organizations in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The event, held every four years, was last staged in North America in Alberta in 1983.
“The reality is that Canada is a relatively small scouting organization—around 100,000 or so,” says Scott. “We recognized that we didn’t have the resources and the manpower to run another World Jamboree. So, when the U.S. made the offer of partnership, we were pleased to create a kind of scouting NAFTA.”
More than 9,000 staff members mounted the 2019 Jamboree, planning and executing the event with military precision. The 80-page Program Preview explains where to sleep, where to eat, what to wear and the hundreds of activities, both physical and collegial, available for the Scouts.
“A World Scout Jamboree is a life-changing experience,” Scott says, explaining why these events are so valuable. “First and foremost, it’s about meeting people your own age from all over the world.
“The Canadian group of 800 Scouts will be broken up into groups of 10 and they’re plopped in everywhere, all over the campsite. They share the same washroom with Scouts from all over the world.”
The Jamboree is also an educational event. “The kids will learn all sorts of things about world issues, like the concepts and practices for achieving sustainable development or the impact of artificial intelligence.”
Rising in the Scout Movement from the local level, Scott became the chief commissioner for Scouts Canada, then the international commissioner. He and the other Jamboree co-chairs have been working on hosting the 2019 event for over 10 years.
As a member of the executive committee of the Jamboree, Scott has thousands of professionals and volunteers who worked to ensure the success of the event. “I’ve never had 9,000 people to delegate to before,” he chuckles.
Scott has put thousands of hours into the Jamboree because he knows it will be a life-changing experience for the Scouts.
He has difficulty putting his own motivation into words.
“It’s all about the kids. Making sure the kids have opportunities. I had a fabulous time in scouting and I want them to find what I found. It had such an impact on my life. It gave me confidence. It gave me skills.”
Despite the changes he’s seen in his 50 years of scouting, Scott believes the movement remains relevant. “If you get the kids into the outdoors and get them away from their electronics, they’re not really very different than we were.”
But “first and foremost,” he says, “scouting is about having fun.”
You can tell from his smile and his passion, Scott is having fun, too.
On the lookout for fellow model railroad enthusiasts:
It’s hard to imagine that Mike Scott has much free time for a hobby after his commitments to scouting are completed.
But he does.
Mostly during the short winter days Scott spends hours and hours of satisfying time, often with the help of his painter-wife, Manuela, recreating an HO scale railway layout that fills every corner of two basement rooms in their Niagara-on-the-Lake home.
The rivers and rocky cliffs, the towns and railyards and dozens of trains, come alive, modelled after photos taken of the real thing on the north shore of Lake Superior.
“For me it was a great release, because my job was very stressful,” Scott says. “It gave me something to do with my hands. I could forget the stresses of the day.”
Scott is more interested in the artistic side. “I want you to look at the whole scene, and say, ‘My God, it’s real.’ In fact, my laptop screensaver is a picture of the model and it has fooled a lot of people.”
He hopes he can coax other model railroaders to join him for informal conversations about their hobby. Contact him by email at:
“I know there are other model railroaders in town. I’d like to get together periodically for coffee and just talk about it. It’s fun to share ideas and experiences.”