Finding a New Site – How Camp Chief Hector Moved to Chilver Lake

By Gary Luthy

Gary was Senior Staff and Camp Chief Hector Director during the period described. 

It was 1930 or so when the Calgary YMCA negotiated the lease for the Bowfort Lake site for a summer camp. Chief Hector Crawler was instrumental in assisting the Y in this mission as he suggested that a camping experience would make the white man’s son better than his father. Leases for reservation land were managed by the Indian Affairs Department of the Federal Government and were typically issued for a maximum of 25 years. Every 10 or 15 years the Y would renegotiate the lease to insure that it was renewed and that the camp on the Stoney reserve would remain available to kids from Calgary.

In the mid sixties the Stoneys launched a study to determine ways of increasing employment and improving economic conditions on the reserve. A key part of the resulting plan was to be the development of conference centre to be located on Bowfort Lake at the site of Camp Chief Hector. In 1968, the Stoney Tribal Council under Chief John Snow notified the YMCA board that they would not renew the lease for the site and that they would like to repatriate the facility after the 1972 season. The Stoneys did offer to assist in relocating the site to a different part of the reserve.

Calgary Herald

June 22, 1971
Indians Reclaim Site
Camp Chief Hector Faces Extinction
by Kim Lockhart (Herald Staff Writer)

People still believed in the League of Nations in 1931, the year the YMCA found a boys’ camp on the shores of Lake Beaufort (sic) 50 miles west of Calgary.

The camp was called Camp Chief Hector in honour of the Stoney Indian chief who agree that year to lease indian land to the YMCA in the hope that “the white man’s sons will grow up to be better than their fathers.” Chief Hector died many years ago. Now, after 41 year, the camp which bears his name also faces extinction.

Last week, the YMCA formally agreed to the Stoney tribe’s wishes to reclaim the 40-acre site following the 1972 summer program. The Indians intend to build a tourist recreational centre on the land.

The YMCA is already considering two or three sites for a new camp.


“There’ll be a lot of nostalgic people when they hear the camp is closing.”YMCA director Jimmy Gray said Saturday during a father-son weekend at the camp.

“I don’t know how many thousand of boys have gone to Camp Chief Hector through the years, but there’s quite a fraternity in Calgary and Edmonton.

The Camp caters to youngsters aged 10 tdo 16 with games and instruction in such sports as hiking, camping, canoeing and swimming – activities that the city’s asphalt and building make all but impossible when at home.

It’s on the doorstep of the mountains one mile from the Banff Coach Road.

“I hope they don’t have to move the camp.” said Jeff Scott, 12, who was at Camp Chief Hector for the third time Saturday. “With the overnight hikes and the camping trips you really get to know the land here.”

Other agreed, but by and large the children were more interested Saturday in the affairs of the moment, such as whether to vote for a hike to a canyon waterfall or a mock flag battle in the open field.

Nostalgia over the camp’s closing is mostly an adult emotion, and in August 1972 the grownup feeling will be served.

The camp’s very last Grand Council will be an open affair and everyone with Camp Chief Hector memories either as young camper or supervisor will be invited to draw a place around the traditional fire.

It’ll be business as usual at the camp this summer thought. Once again the YMCA will be holding three two-week camping sessions for 375 youngsters from the city. Details are available through the YMCA offices.

So the search was on for a new site. Over the next few years, a number of potential sites were explored. Richard Harding and I did the visits to these locations. On the Stoney reserve, Rabbit Lake north of Morley was investigated but turned out to be inappropriate. A recreation reserve on Westover Lake in the Sibbald Flats area was checked and would have been suitable but lacked the immediate closeness to the Rockies. (This site was later secured by the Calgary Girl Gudies for a camp.) Trips were made to the Ghost Wilderness area and the White Goat Wilderness west of Nordegg. There were several good sites in those areas but it was a long distance from Calgary. A rowboat from camp mounted with a 25 hp motor was used to check the Hidden Lake area south of Upper Kananaskis Lake. It was decided that Hidden Lake should remain hidden. Time was running out when the summer of 1971 rolled around.

In early August of 1971, Hector staff organized a dance and, needing some girls for the event, invited staff from other camps and dude ranches in the area. One of the groups invited was the Diamond Cross Guest Ranch staff. The Diamond Cross was located on the Trans Canada Highway west of the Rafter Six ranch and the Kananaskis River. The owner of the ranch was Al Nordland, a transplanted tennis instructor from the east coast of the US. On that fateful summer night, Al drove his small group of staff to CCH for the dance. After his arrival and delivery of staff to the dance, I invited Al into the Hector Lodge kitchen for a cup of coffee. The conversation wandered that night; discussion about Prime Minister Trudeau, about the Ali-Frasier fight, and the Apollo XIV moon landing and the upcoming Provincial election and the possibility of the Social Credit being defeating by the Peter Lougheed, Conservatives.

Finally, the conversation turned to the dilemma the Y was in concerning finding a new campsite. Al’s eyes lit up… he just happened to be considering the sale of the Diamond Cross. He described the 1000-acre site and explained that it was located on Chilver Lake, a small lake similar to Bowfort Lake. Before the night was over, a commitment was made to visit the Diamond Cross.

Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
Chilver looking looking West

On the morning following, I phoned YMCA General Secretary Bill Bentley and described the potential site. Jim Gray, chairman of the Camp Advisory Council, was notified and a visit was scheduled for the next day. It was a beautiful warm summer day when we visited the Diamond Cross. Al showed us the lodge, the duplex camper cabins, the covered swimming pool and the horse corrals.  As Jim, Bill and I toured the site, Al waxed eloquently about the site and its potential. As we stood on a hill looking over a small body of water Al noted, “here was no-slouch slough”. Even without Al’s impassioned rhetoric, we were convinced that the 1000 acres of mountain moraine under the shadow of Baldy Mountain, looking across at familiar Yamnuska, would be a great new location for Camp Chief Hector.

L to R … Lorne Baxter (Calgary YMCA President), Jim Gray (Camp Committee), Ken Gray, Peter Lougheed (Premier), Clarence Copithorne (MLA), Farley. photo by Gary Luthy
Chilver Lake from Mount Baldy, Circa 1976. The green roof of the pool enclosure can be seen, centre-left and the new road isrunning across the centre of the site. Al Nordlund’s, No Slouch Slough, can be seen centre-right.

Jim Gray led the process to obtain the site for the Y. Because most of the 1000 acres were under lease from the Province, negotiations were entered with the government that would allow transfer of the lease to the Y. Discussions with Al Nordlund were undertaken to set a price. Ultimately, the YMCA bought the land, buildings, furnishings, horses and good will for about $110,000. The province agreed to renew the lease on the lands and allow the Y to develop a camp and outdoor education centre with the exception that a portion of the lease north of Chilver would eventually revert to Bow Valley Park. The whole process took place quickly and in the fall of 1971 the site was secured. I took possession of the site for the YMCA a few weeks later. Immediately, the Y became responsible for feeding 25 horses and managing a second residential camp facility.

Planning Doc for the new site

During the fall of ’71, planning commenced for the new site with an expectation that it would be available for use for the summer of 1973.  It was determined that Hector would become a coed camp. In order to prepare for this eventuality, CCH Girls was planned for the Diamond Cross site for 1972 while CCH would continue to operate on the old site at Bowfort. Creating the girls camp would allow for the development of a client base and a girls camp staff group prior to the joining of the two camps the following year. Susan Jablonski, a phys-ed teacher at St, Mary’s High School in Calgary, was hired to direct Hector Girls. At the same time, plans were made to host the “Last Grand Council” at old Hector in August 1972.

Patti-Jean Spink, CCH Girls Horse Director, with campers, 1972

Harrison Associates of Ames, Iowa, a camp-planning consultant, was hired to develop a concept plan for the new facility. After discussion with Y Camp staff, the Camp Advisory Council and the YMCA Board, and the consultant, a three-prong plan was proposed. The concept called for three centres of activity on the new site. The residential camp, Camp Chief Hector, would be located at the east end of the site, an outdoor education centre (Yamnuska Centre) which would encompass the the main service facilities would be located around the existing the Diamond Cross facilities and a “western theme” RV and tenting family camp would be developed at the western end of the facility (the western theme was proposed by Harrison). With this concept approved by the Y Board, Calgary architect Boucock and Associates were hired to do detailed planning and develop building and infrastructure plans. The YMCA Board also began the plans for a capital campaign to raise money for the new camping and outdoor centre and to hold discussion with the new Conservative government about provincial support.

Campaign Material for fund-raising for the new camp and South YMCA facilities circa 1972

Nineteen seventy-two was an exciting time to be at camp.  The girls’ camp was operational and fully subscribed. Staff training was integrated, the new site fully explored and program planning was underway. At the old site, the boys camp staff brought the musical “O Coyote” to the “stage” of the lodge and toured it to CCH Girls, and Pete Gardner and Brian Donnelly created a new camp song, “Who’s Got the Spirit of Hector”. By spring of 1972, plans and invitations for the Last Grand Council at Bowfort Lake were in place but the significant amount of planning for the new facilities and the need for a fund-raising campaign put ground breaking for the new facilities at the Diamond cross site behind schedule.  (Construction did not actually commence until the fall of ’73) It was decided to ask the Stoney Tribal Council for an extension of the lease on the Bowfort site until the end of the summer 1973. Hector for boys would be operated on the old site for one more year and the Hector Girls would continue at the Diamond Cross for a second year. The Last Grand Council proceeded on schedule in 1972. Old campers and staff from far and wide traveled to Bowfort Lake for a great meal on the flats, lots of story telling and an emotional and colourful Grand Council. The Calgary Herald reported on the Council the following day.

CCH Directors lead a sing-song at the Last Grand Council Event in August 1972. (L to R) Ray Fairburn, Gerry Cragg, Bill Halliday, Ray Atkinson, Gary Luthy
Camper Cabins from old site arriving at the new site August 1973

Camp for 1973 proceeded with a little sadness in the air as the complete move to the new site was confirmed for August. The second year of CCH Girls allowed for the girls’ staff to develop into a cohesive and confident group. The concern felt by some of the CCH camp staff for the development of a coed program was put aside as training and cooperation amongst the staffs developed further over that second summer. Post Camp ’73 saw the actual physical move of the camp equipment and of some buildings from old site to new. Tipis, lodge equipment, canoes, and riding tack were all moved to the new site and stored in the lodge. The four camper cabins were jacked up by Shaw Building Movers and were relocated to the Diamond Cross site. By the end of August 1973, the old site was turned back to the Stoneys. In the fall of 1973 ground breaking for the new site took place and a new era for Y camping began under Baldy Mountain on Chilver Lake.

Ground breaking for the new Camp, fall 1973. L to R: Don Novinger (YMCA President) and Clarence Copithorne (MLA for Banff-Cochrane). Site of Bowfort Lodge Facility

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