Origins of Camp Chief Hector


Chief Hector Crawler after whom the camp is named
Chief Hector Crawler after whom the camp is named

One of the major functions of the Y.M.C.A. after its founding in 1844 was to establish “industrial or railway” Y.M.C.A. ‘s in isolated communities of workers. Canmore had such a ‘Y’. The Canmore Industrial Y.M.C.A., under the directorship of Stan Young, had located an excellent place for a camp, which they started in1926 for boys of their community.

Early YMCA Camp at Bowfort Lake - Canmore Y
Early YMCA Camp at Bowfort Lake – Canmore Y

In the 1920’s the Board of the Calgary Y.M.C.A. wished to develop a permanent location for a residential boys camp. Cecil Brown, General Secretary of the Calgary Y had become friends with Stan Young and had visited Stan’s camp. Cecil Brown thought it an ideal location for the Calgary Y and negotiations were started with the Stoney Indian Band for the original site on Bowfort Lake. Early meetings with the tribe’s elders gave little encouragement, but in a later meeting, Mr. C. J. Ford (later Chief Justice of Alberta) stated that “they hoped to make the white men’s sons better than the white men had been”. This hit a responsive chord, and a lease was obtained for 15 years at $100 per year. This lease was renewed on numerous occasions in later years. Cecil Brown expressed the beginnings well in a speech given sometime after the camp was founded. “The securing of this camp site at Bowfort was more or less of a romance. Situated as it is in the foothills of the Rockies, or as one might say in truth really in the Rockies, it is located on the property of one of the few remaining reserves allocated exclusively to the Redman. Bitter wars were fought all through Canadian history with the original settlers of these plains—the Indians. Stories have been passed down from generation to generation of Redmen regarding the encrouchments of the White Man on his land. This has left an indelible mark of bitterness on the mind of the Indian and even though they have been vanquished in warfare the Redmen have never been actually defeated. Their spirit has never been conquered and it is because of this the Indian looks suspiciously and askance at any proposition that the White Man may put foward regarding the securing of a portion of the small remnant of land that now remains to them. C. J. Ford, and myself, met with these Indians in parley over a period of three years before a lease could be secured from the Stoneys for the beautiful site, on which the ‘y’ Boys’ Camp is now situated. The reason the site was so desirable was because it was so handy with regards to transportation, in addition to which, every facility was at hand that goes to make a desirable all round boys’ camp—playgrounds, woods, swimming, mountain climbing, boating, horseback riding, and other such activities—all located right in the heart of this land of Western Romance.

Finally the lease was signed, sealed and delivered on a fifteen year basis at $100 per year lease money. It might be interesting to mention that the Indians hold a big Potlache every New Years with the money they receive from this lease. At the last council meeting of the braves and chiefs at Morley, when the lease was finally signed, the Y.M.C.A. treated the Indians to tea and tobacco. This was not done, however, until after the lease was signed and also without previous promise to the Indians by way of a bribe. At any rate the treat was received with hearty applause. The majority of the Indians chewed the cigars while the rest of them smoked. The system they employ of steeping tea is to dump the entire pound of tea into a pot. This makes the first four or five brews very effective. However, the tea becomes weaker each time it is boiled until it finally has to be thrown away altogether.

In our Lease negotiations two Indians stood out rather prominently. One was old Chief Hector and the other was Walking Buffalo, known as Jonas Benjamin. Jonas and Hector vied with each other in seeing who could advance the best arguments why the ‘y’ shouldn’t have this Camp site. The peculiar part was that as soon as we could swing the Indians assembled to our way of thinking, our best friends turned out to be these same two Indians, Jonas and Hector.

Jonas was the most reliable chief on the Reserve, as far as the White Men were concerned. He was absolutely straight to a fault, if such could be, and could think in English. This way he could interpret the White Man’s viewpoint. The only way I can explain Hector’s influence, is, that while he is not now the head chief, Jonas said, “if the White Man left, Hector is the real Indian Chief”. Hector is as near a Christian Gentleman as you could expect any Indian to become, but he does love tobacco and tea. (Ralph Patterson said he won’t turn down a side of bacon if you insist, when given to him on the side. ) However he has a noble face and he carries himself like the monarch that he is, and if there is such a thing as “blue blood”, Chief Hector has the best blood of the plains’ Indians in his veins. We named the camp after Hector, Camp Chief Hector.

Considerable thought was given to sleeping accommodation. But finally it was decided that teepees hand sewn by the Indians themselves were not only reasonable to erect, but also conserved the real Romance of the Indian territory in which the camp is situated. A boy or even a man gets considerable kick out of sleeping in a tent, but when you sleep in a teepee with the fire burning in the centre, you get a real THRILL. The first teepee erected was donated by the Calgary ‘Y’s’ Mens Club (the biggest in the world). Chief Walking Buffalo, better known as Jonas Benjamin, not only constructed this teepee but many others, in fact the best ones we had. Jonas also handled all the contract work for hauling logs, cutting brush, building fences, hauling building materials etc. Actually the teepee was built by Jonas’ squaws, Jonas never did a stitch of work in the actual production.

Painted Tipi at Camp Chief Hector 1937
Early Teepee at Camp Circa 1937. Photo by Stan Harding

Jonas visited the camp every day or so—he was so interested in the whole thing. In his own words on the day the citizens officially opened the Camp, he said, “Well, you might as well say I built it all.” While the Riverside boys were in camp (Riverside Y.M.C.A.), Jonas, as far as we know, was on his way to visit the camp. He just got to the Gorge and saw a car coming across the bridge—he tried to turn down the old road but couldn’t make the turn and this was Jonas’ last ride. Camp Chief Hector lost a real friend in Jonas and the Riverside Boys erected a cairn at the Gate on the Highway as a memorial to a real friend. A piece of the floorboard out of Jonas’ car (now lost) was used as a name plate and on it was written, “Chief Walking Buffalo. A real Friend of the BOYs”.

Jonas Benjamin, also know as Lone Walking Buffalo. Circa 1930 from Glenbow Files na-714-18
Jonas Benjamin, also know as Lone Walking Buffalo.
Circa 1930 from Glenbow Files na-714-18

This was in 1930 shortly after the close of the first camping season. Chief Hector Crawler died in 1933 following fatal injuries delivered by a crazed farm animal. He was 82. Chief Hector was a truly majestic man. Medicine Man and Chief, he also gained fame as a guide for the North West Mounted Police and also for Captain John Palliser. A great teller of legends, he created not a few himself. The story is told of how he shot a bear with bow and arrow on the shore of Stoney (now Bowfort) Lake. The bear was only wounded and it swam out into the lake. Hector swam out after it, killed it with a knife and pulled it to shore. It was quite a feat. He was a fine man after whom to name a fine camp. The lease signed (1929), the camp named, it was now ready to begin operations. Unfortunately, world conditions would make this difficult.

In late 1929 there was the “Stock Market Crash”, which triggered the “Great Depression”, and building and fitting out the camp suddenly became much more difficult than expected. Cecil Brown did great work, along with many other members of his Board of Directors, in obtaining help and support from civic-minded individuals and groups. Most important was the contribution of the dining lodge by the Calgary Rotary Club. The lodge was built in 1931 for only $5,000, which today seems incredibly low—but the result was “the most up-to-date dining lodge of any boys’ camp in Canada”. The Rotary Club also donated kitchen equipment and miscellaneous camp equipment from a camp it had previously maintained in the Elbow Valley, just above the site of the Glenmore Dam. As the dam was then being built, the camp site was about to be flooded out. Folding metal camp beds were bought for a token sum of 50¢ each from the City of Calgary—they had been used in a FirstWorld War depot at the Victoria Park Stampede Grounds, and had been in storage ever since. Mattresses at $2.50 each were felt to be too expensive, so “ticks” were manufactured and could be filled with hay or straw each year—total cost for 100 such improvised mattresses was $50.

Despite the hard times, the ‘Y’ Board aimed at obtaining the teepees for accommodation, although this was the most expensive choice. The public responded generously, however, and teepees were donated by Dave Black, H. B. Macdonald, P. D. Sprung, Fred Johnston, The Gyro Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, Lions Club, Y’s Men’s Club, George Ingraham (Ingras teepee), Calgary Herald (Newsacs teepee), Ontario Laundry (Onlondaws), and Sun Life Assurance Co. (Sunascos). Board Minutes show that costs were estimated at about $55 each, although Frank Hall (Boys Work Secretary and first Camp Director) reported that each one involved a $60 bolt of canvas, plus $25 for manufacture. The manufacturing was done by the Indians, and Frank Hall reports watching Jonas Benjamin and his wife making up a 20-foot teepee without using a pattern or template of any kind, and seeing it come out just right. The $25 price for manufacture included providing poles, and erecting them the first year.

Frank Hall, Chief. At Camp Chief Hector 1933
Frank Hall, Chief. At Camp Chief Hector 1933

Calgary Power donated all the wiring work for the camp. The first camp on this site in 1930 was only for two weeks in early August, and had 25 boys accommodated in bell tents and a marquee tent at the north end of the lake, nearest the entrance from the highway. This location was used by the Canmore Y.M.C.A. for many years, with the Calgary “Camp Chief Hector” several hundred yards away on the eastern shore of the lake.


The dining lodge was completed early in 1931, and ceremonially transferred to the ‘y’ by the Rotary Club in June of 1931—the teepees were built in June of 1931, and the first regular 6-week camp was conducted this year. Frank Hall obtained permission from several Indian tribes at the Stampede to use their signs and symbols on the camp’s teepees. For example, the Newsacs teepee (donated by the Calgary Herald), was circled by the Indian symbol for lightning, an association from the speed of news gathering facilities which were corning into being. A further comment on the low costs in the depression is that $100 was allocated for “further deepening of the well, and for erection of a boating and diving wharf, erection of flag pole, and other miscellaneous capital equipment items.” (In 1953, it cost $5,000 just to replace the roof on the dining hall. Another unusual item of “equipment” was the purchase of an Indian headdress for ceremonial purposes. The one Frank Hall used for many years was made by Oscar Otter of the Sarcee tribe, and cost $35. A second headdress was used at the camp as well, but its origins are not known. Chief Hector Crawler only paid one visit to the camp, in the 1931 year, when he was photographed wearing his Band Chief coat. Jacob Twoyoungman and Moses Jimmy John were the Stoney band’s most prominent liaison in the early years.

Moses Jimmy John
Moses Jimmy John (also known as Young Fox) ca. 1930s. Photo from Glenbow na-1241-284

Apparently “Bowfort Lake” was unnamed at the time the camp was located. The Indians were agreeable to using the same name as was known for the creek, although the creek and lake did not meet at any point. The name for Mount Yamnuska was a phonetic spelling of the Indian name as pronounced to Frank Hall by Jacob Twoyoungman. The camp used this name and spelling and the name became widely known and accepted by the general public. The meaning is “Wall of Rock”.

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One thought on “Origins of Camp Chief Hector

  1. Very interesting article. Thank you.

    In the early 60’s our family moved from Winnipeg to Calgary, and I transitioned from Camp Stevens (Lake of the Woods) and a paddle to Camp Chief Hector with hiking boots. Very interesting time as both camper and staffer over the years. Indeed, some of the lessons learned ‘back in the day’ I and many others benefited from for the rest of our lives. Oddly much later, by happenstance, be it in Montreal at University or working in Toronto I ran across other Chief Hector alumni. Which behooves the question … is there such a thing? Over the years I have asked this question of the Y in Calgary, but no answer. Thanks again.

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