A Brief History of Surprise Lake Camp
A brief history: If you travel 22 kms east of Edson, Alberta and two kms south on Range Road 153, you will find a little lake (officially known as Sang Lake) that has been the source of many good memories and home to the Surprise Lake Camp. Also For 65 years, Surprise Lake Camp, has operated as a kids summer camp.
The camp was started by several United Church ministers and their congregations back in 1951. They saw a need and the opportunity to give kids, young and old, a spiritual perspective in a natural environment with an emphasis on cooperation, leadership, stewardship and personal growth. It started out with tents and several rustic buildings that served as the cookhouse and lodging for the cooking staff. It was affiliated and adhered to United Church doctrine with it’s Christian Education programming.
Over the years, countless hours of volunteer labor, fund raising, donations and support from local businesses and various UC congregations, have turned the vision of a camp into reality. Where the camp is today has been a result of dedicated people understanding the vision, seeing what was needed and stepping in to do their part. In the many roles to be filled, as staff, board members, cooks, maintenance people, chore boys, councillors, donors and of course, campers, all have contributed in their own way to the ongoing life and history of the camp.
The Surprise Lake Society (SLS): The SLS, a registered non-profit charitable society, was incorporated back in 1951 to obtain a Recreational lease on Sang (Surprise) Lake and to establish and operate a children’s summer camps in a semi-wilderness environment. It worked in conjunction with various area United Church congregations. Countless hours of board meetings, work weekends, fund raising, and often serving as camp staff were the norm for many SLS board members. Their commitment, vision and guidance over the years helped create a facility where lives were changed and life long friends and lasting memories were made. The Surprise Lake Society has and will always be managed by volunteers. As such, volunteers have seasons in their lives where they can be involved. Like many other volunteer organizations, the SLS board changes with the interest and commitment of its members.
In 2017, a number of issues brought the SLS board to a fork in the road. Declining enrolment, a declining funding base, aging facilities, staffing challenges, low volunteer involvement and individual burnout were the reality. The SLS executive had the choice to either close the camp or choose a different direction. It was a unanimous decision to try something new. It was decided to change the overall format from a programmed kids summer camp to a camp rental facility for use by the general public with the emphasis on community, cultural and artistic gatherings.
The new direction for the camp changes the Surprise Lake experience. The shift from a programmed kid’s summer camp to a rental facility eliminates the annual scramble to line up summer staff and all that is involved with that. It allows time and available resources to be more focused on facility enhancement and maintenance. Given that the camp is old but still functioning, we can only start where we are right now.
There has been much positive feedback from alumni and the local community who wish to see Surprise Lake Camp continue. We are anticipating rentals for family gatherings, music concerts and workshops, art and photography outings, as well as some outdoor education and mushroom forays.