The history of the Meridian Camp

About one century ago, the land at the southwest corner of Gull Lake was owned by a man named Brownlow.

Howard Fredeen

About one century ago, the land at the southwest corner of Gull Lake was owned by a man named Brownlow.

During the summer months he provided scenic lake tours to vacationers in his small sailboat, the Seagull. The anchorage for this craft was the point where the 5th meridian intersected the south shore of Gull Lake, a site that became known as Meridian Beach.

In 1927, Rev. Layton, minister of Lacombe’s St. Andrews United Church, purchased 5.5 acres at this site from Harry Brownlow.

Here in company with the United Church minister from Millet he founded what is now recognized as the first church camp ever held in the province of Alberta.

They collected tents and 34 boys in 1928 and proceeded to clear enough space in the bush to erect the tents, borrowing cooking utensils and buying a second hand stove on credit. Mrs. Layton was undoubtedly the cook and somehow she managed to cook under an umbrella for it was a rainy season and a kitchen to shelter the stove was yet to be constructed.

Everyone sat on logs to eat and they escaped from the rain only by retreating to the tents. But the camp was a great success and other youth wanted in. So in 1929 the communities of Lacombe, Bentley, Clive and Ponoka donated $529 to enlarge the camp area and erect a permanent building.

Adjacent land (three acres) was purchased for $240, a building 46 x 22 ft. was erected, utensils and dishes purchased and all of this for a financial outlay of $428.

That sum included only $14 for labour.

This same year also saw girls at the summer camp when Miss Helen Berry brought her CGIT camp here.

This was a turning point in camp attendance with girls outnumbering boys in every year that followed.

A deep well (167 ft.) was bored in 1930, four tents were purchased and attendance was 52 boys and 56 girls.

From 1929 to 1937 Rev. Layton and his wife spent one month every summer (his entire vacation period) conducting and supervising this camp.

On his departure to a new charge in Medicine Hat he gifted his 5.5 acres of this property to St Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe.

The transfer of title recorded the new owner as the United Church of Canada instead of St. Andrew’s United Church.

This error went unnoticed until 1954 when two adjacent properties were gifted to St. Andrews by W. Peterson and consolidation of title recorded all of the Gull Lake property in the name of the United Church of Canada. Recognition and resolution of this error did not take place until 1968.

Meridian Camp as it was known throughout Alberta became the scene of annual summer camps – each one open to all congregations in the Lacombe Presbytery. Planning, staffing and operating these camps was a cooperative effort among all participating churches but because of its location the primary users and the primary contributors of finances and volunteer labour was the congregation of St. Andrew’s.

It was one of the favored sites for annual congregational picnics and was available for use by all youth groups, church, CGIT, Guides and Scouts as well as Presbytery gatherings of adults.

The largest congregation to enjoy this campsite was Gaetz United Church of Red Deer. However, in time they developed their own summer church camp called Kasota on Sylvan Lake and Presbytery understandably chose to concentrate its support on this larger site.

This divided the Sunday school population of the area into the ‘Meridianites’ and the ‘Kasotaites.’

Lacombe, although it was providing through Presbytery substantial financial support and considerable volunteer leadership and physical labor to Kasota, chose to continue to maintain and utilize Meridian.

This dual support continued until the province enacted strict health regulations and the investment required to meet the new standards at two locations proved prohibitive.