The history of living springs

The Pre-Camp Years

The members of a number of churches in the Central Alberta region realized the importance of a camp ministry to the work of the church and “a church without a camp work lacks something”. In the summer of 1946, a few men from Wetaskiwin, New Sweden, Highland Park (which was later moved into New Norway) and Meeting Creek went scouting at Red Deer Lake to find a suitable location for such a program.

At the first general meeting for the association, held on November 22, 1946, the results of the property search were made known that the Camp Site Committee had found a location on part of the Arthur Ringwall homestead lands on Red Deer Lake. 

In 1947, the first summer camp was run on this property, which was still being rented from the Ringwall’s at that time. At the end of that first camping season, the decision was made to purchase the property from Mr. Ringwall for a total of $400.

Later that fall, the forming members of the camping association decided on the name Central Alberta Youth Fellowship (CAYF). By 1948, a formal constitution was drawn up, and CAYF was officially incorporated in the Province.

Initially there were 33 charter members in the CAYF membership, representing the following churches: New Sweden, Malmo, Highland Park, Wetaskiwin, and Meeting Creek. Shortly thereafter, another 33 members were added to that membership. It was decided at that time that members would sign a letter stating their agreement with the doctrinal statement of the camp every year in order to maintain voting status within CAYF.

The Establishment of the Camp

For the summers of 1947 and 1948, all residents at CAYF would stay in tents. The only constructed building on the property was the kitchen; a large tent was attached to the side of the kitchen to serve as the dining hall. For those first few years, a separate large canvas tent was used as the chapel, which is where all of the major meeting assemblies would take place. The tents used for sleeping campers were pitched in the trees on the north edge of the campsite. those early years were another interesting story. The water supply for the camp came from a spring which flowed out of the ground on the property. Outhouses were constructed on the property in a few convenient locations. Even in those early years, the water from the spring and from the lake was both tested for safety.

The year between the 1948 and 1949 camping seasons was one of massive change for the physical look of the camp. After the 1948 camping season, the membership decided to enlarge the kitchen area, as well as to erect a permanent dining hall building attached to the expanded kitchen. Additionally, opportunity arose for the camp to purchase part of an old H-shaped army barrack, which was situated in Wetaskiwin and was used to house troops from WWII. On August 24, 1948, the camp agreed to purchase the center section and south wing of the barrack, and decided to break the structure into a number of different sections: two 60 foot sections to be used separately as boys and girls dorms, part of another 120 foot section, as well as the 40 foot center section of the barracks as the Tabernacle, or main chapel building. This small Tabernacle building was used at the CAYF property from 1949 until 1984, when it was demolished in order to build a larger meeting area.

Later in the 1949 camping year, the building and grounds committee made a recommendation that rules be established for the construction of additional, separate cabin structures on the camp property. At that time, some of the other cabins on the campgrounds started being constructed. Over the years, a number of different cabins were built, many of which are still standing today.

The Development of the Camp

While the camp was originally started by just a few founding churches, CAYF established the policy to allow campers from any surrounding church. Soon after opening, adults and children started attending CAYF from as far away as Edmonton, Lacombe, Three Hills, and Stettler. As the number of campers increased, and the workload became heavier, the churches sending children were asked to send adults to help staff the camps’s formation, it was determined to attempt to keep the cost of attending camp as low as possible. In addition to low registration costs, CAYF also established the policy to grant free camp to any camper who could memorize certain verses and/or portions of the Bible: for grade 1 students, the requirements were to memorize 10 Bible verses; for each additional year of age, an additional 10 verses were added to memorization list. The list of verses was selected in part from lists compiled by the Bible Memory Association. Outside of memorizing verses to come to camp, campers in the early years had to pay $1 per day to attend summer camp at CAYF.

During the formative years of the camp, CAYF offered two separate weeks of camp; the first was devoted to the “young people” and the second was designated as a family camp. At these camps, there was typically a key speaker who was brought in from outside the camping constituency to provide a fresh look into the Bible. Such speakers included a variety of pastors, teachers and missionaries from around Alberta, Canada, and the entire world.

The provision of amazing meals has always been a strong point in the history of the camp. Every year, a cook would be hired to plan, oversee and/or cook the various meals at camp. Daily assistance was provided by groups of volunteer ladies who came down from the (at that time) five supporting churches: New Sweden, Wetaskiwin, Highland Park, Meeting Creek, and Gwynne, which was added to the list of official supporting churches for the camp. In addition to providing a valuable service for the camp in peeling potatoes and preparing salads, the ladies also enjoyed the time in serving together.

In the early years, the washing of dishes was done by an adult using an old wash tub, while the children would hand dry each dish. Soon it became apparent that this was not a very sanitary way of handling this, so the kitchen was remodeled to include proper sinks, a dishwasher and a large water heater.

In addition to the small chapel building which was placed on the camp property in 1949, in 1950 a large quonset structure was constructed toward the South end of the camp property. This large buildings (known as the Big Tabernacle, or the “Big Tab” for short) was used to house larger gatherings, and has been used for various indoor activities as it provides a great protection from the elements while allowing for a large play area.

Despite the reasonably fast-paced growth of buildings on the camp property, it soon became apparent that the narrow piece of land that was the camp property had a relative lack of open playing areas. As a result, the decision was made to MAKE a ball diamond on the camp property. This was done by using tractors and “fresno” scrapers (a type of land-leveling equipment) to destroy a few small hills toward the North end of the camp property, pushing the earth material into the lake to create a flat playing surface.

Ironically enough, one of the greatest concerns in the years following the construction of the ball fields was a tentative plan that the Alberta Government had to divert water into Red Deer Lake to raise the water level by eight feet; this would submerge the entire ball field under water, negating the recently finished work. (In recent years, one of the greatest concerns has been the rapidly receding water level of Red Deer Lake, which has created a different set of challenges for the camp.)

Sometime between 1950 and 1964 (I am still attempting to track down the exact year), two gentlemen from the New Sweden church drilled a water well near the kitchen and dining room facility. This provided the camp with a more consistent water supply, and in addition to the construction of a formal bathroom and laundry facility, drastically improved the health and sanitation on the camp property.

The Growth of the Camp

Typical camp schedules were established as follows: the morning generally consisted of Bible teaching for the campers, as provided by the speakers and/or missionaries which were brought in; after lunch and a short rest period, the day was mostly devoted to various crafts and sporting activities; after supper, the camp held an evening chapel service, which was also open to the general public; finally, the day would end off an evening snack and visiting in the dining hall, a great number of volunteers helped to make the camp run smoothly. In addition to the cooks and kitchens aides, who were discussed previously, a few individuals helped out by purchasing and delivering the groceries for the kitchen. As well, there was always a maintenance person on site to help fix up the camp’s facilities. The Alberta Government required that the camp provide a certain number of key safety staff, including a nurse to be on duty at each camp, as well as a lifeguard to help protect the campers’ safety during waterfront activities.

As the camp continued to grow, it became apparent that the camp could no longer handle the demand for the camping program. The decision needed to be made to either limit the camps to only those campers which were local, or to expand the summer camping program to include more weeks. In the end, the latter was chosen. Over the years, continual expansion of the camp occurred, and by 1987, the camp offered five separate camps: a weekend college & career camp, and week-long camps for families, for teens, for “intermediates”, and for “primaries”. While interest in a camp specifically for college & career aged people eventually waned to the point of its discontinuance, interest for the other camps continues to grow.

Over the years, there have been a number of changes to the camp. One of those changes was to the camp’s name. In 1978, the camp decided to officially change its’ name from “Central Alberta Youth Fellowship” to “Living Springs Bible Camp” (abbreviated as LSBC). The name “Living Springs” was chosen to pay tribute to the fact that the groundwater spring from which the camp’s drinking water was originally supplied in its formative years was still flowing to this day, showing a testimony of God’s faithfulness to the camp over the many years of the camp’s existence.

As was previously mentioned, the majority of the teaching down at camp took place in the old army barracks turned small tabernacle building. As this old building continued to be used, the wear and tear on the building – as well as its relatively small size – led to the construction of a new Chapel building on the same location as the “Small Tab”. Work on the building began in April 1984, and the chapel was formally dedicated at Family Camp in the summer of 1985.

As the physical infrastructure of the camp continues to be used and grows older, facility changes have become more common in recent years. The old administration office building was replaced in 1994 by a new 26’ by 36’ office building. The old boys dormitory, which was another part of the old army barracks structure brought onto the camp grounds in 1948/49, had started to deteriorate to an unusable state, and was replaced in the late 1990’s by 3 new insulated cabins. Additionally, various other buildings were added to the camp property, including a tuck shop / storage facility (which was an old mobile kitchen) donated to the camp in 1987, and a metal storage shed for storing sports equipment.

Outside of the actual summer camping season, the work of the camp was expanding as well. Yearly camp promotional banquets have always been a high priority for the camp. The main purpose of the banquets (and other promotional events such as the LSBC Open House, which is held on the camp grounds on the first Sunday of June) is to inform the churches of past blessings and the various activities of the camp program, as well as of the proposed program for the upcoming season. At these banquets, there has always been an opportunity to solicit financial help from the supporters who have adopted LSBC as their own, and these supporters have been so faithful over the years.

The Testimony of the Camp

Has camp been worthwhile? Has it produced any fruit? Yes, camp has been very rewarding. It has been a place where children, young people and adults have been given the opportunity to give their hearts to the Lord for the first time, and where others have re-dedicated their lives to Him. One former youth camper was once asked why their family came to Family Camp, and the answer came back: “As young people we had been blessed at camp, made our decisions for the Lord and now we want the same for our family.”

Other words of testimony for the camp include: “Camp is your reaping time. It may cost a goodly sum to run a camp, but the rewards are eternal. A farmer buys an expensive combine and uses it for two weeks to reap his harvest. So it is with camp.”

And another compliment for the high standard of the work at Living Springs: “As you continue to line up with the Lord, you will have the assurance of God’s blessed promises.”

Much of the writing of this history of the camp has been focused on the physical aspects of the physical camp property. There is so much more that could be said about lives having been changed through young children (and adults) having given their hearts to the Lord. This is what our camp is all about. We believe that there will be many people in Heaven as a result of what God has done down at Living Springs Bible Camp.