Camp meeting has been an Adventist tradition in Alberta since 1904 when 50 people attended the first camp meeting in Ponoka. For 70 years after, Adventists met in various places throughout the province. As attendance grew, it became clear that a new location was necessary. So the search began for a location that would provide permanent facilities for a conference-wide camp meeting site. About the same time, the Alberta Conference was developing a new youth camp site 24 kms west of Bowden, and in 1972, the Alberta Conference Committee voted to “look with favour at developing camp meeting facilities for 1973 in conjunction with the new youth camp site northwest of Olds.”
Once the decision was made to use the camp site as a permanent camp meeting location, the hard work of building began and the following facilities were completed:
- Camping and trailer sites with picnic tables nearby.
- A lodge of cedar-log construction with sleeping accommodations for 140 people, dining facilities on the main floor and two worship rooms with fireplaces.
- Four sleeping units and two dormitories were erected with over 60 heated rooms.
- Two large washrooms to accommodate those not staying in the lodge.
- Four quonset-style auditoriums with plans to winterize and heat one of the auditoriums for year-round use.
Although the buildings were completed, the camp grounds still needed some finishing touches, so in May, 1973, over one hundred volunteers arrived to cut logs, pile wood and burn brush. While the ladies worked inside the lodge washing windows and sanding walls for the final finishing coat of sealer, the men and boys worked with plumbing, heating, and levelling of floors of various buildings prior to pouring cement. The Anderson brothers showed up with their heavy equipment to help with the landscaping. The archives report that “the weather was glorious, and a profitable time was enjoyed by all.”
In July, 1973, with the theme “’But by My SPIRIT,’ saith the Lord,” Foothills Camp was ready for camp meeting. Innisfail MLA Cliff Dean represented the Province of Alberta at the official ribbon-cutting and residents living in the area were invited to attend the opening ceremonies followed by a luncheon. They were also invited to attend the meetings throughout the week. The speakers included General Conference Ministerial Secretary E.E. Cleveland, and General Conference Associate Secretaries Ben J. Liebelt and Lowell L. Bock. Special musicians included The Heritage Family, Russell Davis, singer for Concerts for Christ, and the King’s Heralds of the Voice of Prophecy.
Other camp meeting participants included: R.C. Naden, Field Secretary for the Australasian Division, Chuck Scriven, Insight magazine; A. Mazat, Signs of the Times magazine; T.E. Unruh, former Education & MV Secretary; Dr. Gus Hoehn, dermatologist; Josephine Cunnington Edwards, a favourite story teller; W.M. Adams, Religious Liberty; and H.M.S. Richards of the Voice of Prophecy. Local and Canadian Union leaders were also represented.
Unfortunately the “glorious weather” that the volunteers had enjoyed in May disappeared, and rain poured down on the camp just prior to the grand opening.
“The fresh landscaping and unpacked roadways became ‘miry ways.’ Sabbath turned out to be a sunny day but the mud remained. There was no place to park; vehicles got stuck and boots and shoes tracked every building. On Sabbath Pastor John Anderson donned a pair of boots and work clothes, started up the bobcat and pulled vehicles out of the mud and spread some gravel. Looking back, people still recall camp meeting of 1973 for the weather more than the spiritual blessings.”
The rain was so memorable, in fact, that when Alberta Conference President Kaytor accepted a call to be president of the British Columbia Conference, he was given a pair of rubber boots as a gift. The sentiment was, “After all, we are concerned as to how you fare in the monsoon regions of B.C.”
In the forty years that Foothills Camp has been home to camp meetings in Alberta, Adventists have seen many storms during July camp meetings, but in spite of that, the camp meeting tradition continues. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones, to spend time with family, and to take time for spiritual growth.