In the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, the story of our camps begins in the time before we were an Archdiocese. In 1906, the first 40 acres of the land that would become Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, the parish cemetery, and Camp Encounter were granted to the Diocese of St. Albert. Further south, in 1946, 8 acres of lakeside farmland – what would become Our Lady of Victory Camp – was donated by Andre & Anne Guillemand “as a place that would provide summer recreation for children.” In their early years, both sites were alive with Catechism classes and camping, but by the late 1960’s, neither site was seeing a lot of use. Under the leadership of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, Our Lady of Victory Camp and Camp Encounter were renewed in 1976 and 1980 respectively as centers for the spiritual development of Alberta’s Catholic youth.
Over the next four decades, countless young people spent time at the camps. For many years, this was done under the direction of volunteer boards who oversaw the development of both the sites and programs. In 2013, after a symposium on Youth Evangelization and several reviews and recommendations highlighted the importance of Camps, a more formal relationship with the diocese was established. Archbishop Richard Smith connected the camp directly to the Archdiocese via the Office of Youth Evangelization. This was to allow additional support and resources to the Camp’s mission and staff by more intentionally connecting the Camp to the mission of evangelization throughout the Archdiocese.
An assessment of facilities at both camps in 2017 brought to light some serious concerns about the buildings and infrastructure on both sites. Wanting to ensure that future investments be done carefully, deliberately, and responsibly, the Archdiocese launched a stakeholder review in January 2018. This review included a one-year pause on camp programming in 2019. A business plan was developed during this time, with plans to invest $5.4 million dollars in both camps over the next ten years. OLVC was set to reopen in 2020 while major work was being done at Camp Encounter. Camp Encounter would re-open in 2022, and major work at OLVC would follow. Projects included new Mess Halls, gathering spaces, and accommodations for both camps, as well as expanded programming.
But as we all know, in March 2020 Covid-19 arrived in Canada. The Church was forced to make hard decisions as the pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Public Masses were suspended, staff was laid off, and many of our programs – including the planned re-opening of OLVC – were canceled. As the remaining staff at the Archdiocese represented a skeleton crew of what used to be there, the planned redevelopment of the camps never happened. What was meant to be a one-year “pause” quickly became three summers away from camp, and the plans to redevelop the camp were set aside as, alongside the rest of the world, the Church faced the many impacts of Covid-19.
In February 2022, Fr. Marc Cramer and Mike Landry approached the Archdiocese asking for permission to offer three weeks of camp for the upcoming summer. Registration opened on May 13th, and the 2022 Catholic Youth Camps welcomed 135 young people to the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton’s Camp Oselia. This led to an announcement on December 14, 2022, that we would be re-launching Our Lady of Victory Camp in 2023, while also sharing that Camp Encounter would remain permanently closed as a youth camp.
As the adventure of camp ministry in the Archdiocese of Edmonton continues at OLVC, we ask for your prayers and your support (financial and volunteer) to create a place where, for years to come, young people can Encounter Christ, Encounter Community, and Encounter Creation.