Camp Chestermere has an amazing history as thousands of children and adults have passed through the camp. It was more than sixty years ago that the first summer camps began to take place here on the southeast corner of Lake Chestermere. The Sea Cadet Camp of the Canadian Navy League kicked off the first two summers but then in 1955 The Gospel Missionary Association (GMA), a fellowship of independent churches, became the new owners for a whopping $8,500 (a big undertaking in those days!).
The original site had 14 acres – the 6.5 acres that is home to the current camp, plus 7.5 acres to the north of our property. In the early days, the summer consisted of one or two days of staff orientation, two weeks of children’s camps for ages 8-12, and a five-day teen’s camp. About 70 campers attended throughout the summer at a cost of seven dollars each, with most of the campers coming from the associated churches. At first, the day’s activities were quite simple and inexpensive to operate: swimming, sports, crafts, archery and nature study.
Although the camp was purchased with six existing cabins (one of which is still standing today), as the popularity of camp grew, several big teepee tents were brought in to house campers. Unfortunately, these were also years of mice infestation! It was a common practice to empty shoes of mouse droppings in the morning and check to ensure no baby mice were born in sleeping bags before bed at night. It was quite the relief when five cabins were donated and added on the south end of the camp between the years of 1968 and 1975. This meant that year round operation was possible for the first time. Perhaps you are familiar with these cabins – we still use them to this day!
While you may suggest that some of the buildings on site are on the historic side, they continue to serve us well. Our gym was built in 1963 and originally was meant to act both as a gym and a chapel. We have since added in the climbing wall and for a brief while it also housed a half-pipe to entertain our skateboard fanatics. The old lodge, which has been dubbed the ‘chap,’ saw completion in 1971. As the name suggests we continue to use this building for our fireside chapel times and teaching sessions.
Camp Chestermere is quite an anomaly in the camping world – how many people have heard of a camp located within town limits? Chestermere has literally grown up around us over the years. While the houses around us disappear into the background when camp is in full swing the Camp Board and G.M.A. worked to establish Camp Little Red, west of Bowden, to preserve the opportunity of a wilderness setting for future campers. Today Camp Little Red is a separate entity still working to share Christ with campers throughout the summer.
The Gospel Missionary Association disbanded in 1991, handing over ownership to the “Camp Chestermere Association”. This is an independent non-denominational Christian ministry guided by a hard-working Board of Directors drawn from a variety of supporting churches.
You have to admit, Camp Chestermere has come a long way in sixty years! Between the more modern triplexes built in 1998 and the more authentic cabins on the south side of the site we can house up to 150 people overnight throughout the year. If you consider our humble beginnings in 1953 it is amazing to consider what camp has grown into! Throughout our eight weeks of camp this summer (2013) we saw 1600 campers come between our overnight and day camp programs as well as 83 CLTD participants (Christian Leadership Training and Discipleship participants).
Yes, God has blessed this camp abundantly! We have no doubt He will continue to do amazing things on this little site with a big heart.