History & Legend
Various events and people that made Canadian history contributed to our local Albertan heritage, have had strong association with this site, the lake, and the surrounding Lac la Nonne area.
Until the 1800's, the area was mainly a vast expanse of wilderness, and served as the hunting and fishing grounds for the Cree and Stoney Native peoples. Due to the importance of the Athabasca River on the early fur trade, several forts were established along the route, and Lac la Nonne became an important link between the Athabasca River and Fort Edmonton. The Hudson Bay Company established a trading post just to the north of the lake to service travelers along this trade route. Fur farms were commonly found along the route to serve the trading company. The dilapidated ruins of one such farm on this site are the reminders of this early booming economy.
Early Christian Oblate missionaries visited the area and Father Abert Lacombe and Father H Leduc were among the early missionaries to frequent the area. In 1870 Father Favard, who was later killed at Frog Lake during the Riel rebellion, was appointed resident priest for the area and built a little log cabin at the site of the present church, Our Lady of Lourdes. On Easter Sunday 1878, Cree chief Katchikawesham, of the Lac la Nonne mission, was baptised and became known by his Christian name, Alexander Arcand. Earlier in 1876, he had just signed the treaty number 6 which resulted in the establishment of a new reserve, number 134, now situated along the eastern shore of the Sandy Lake.
During the 1890's the mission experienced the excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush, as would-be prospectors, lured by the call of gold in the Klondike, tracked their way through this area and were reminded of the harsh reality of the North.
A signpost on the trail not too far from this site read:
Due North - Dawson City - starvation and death
Due South - Home Sweet Home and a warm bed
Many heeded the sign and chose to abandon their trek and to take up residence in the Lac la Nonne area, resorting to farming and clearing of this lake region.
The charm and excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush through this area remains etched within the very boundaries of Camp Encounter, as a continuous section of this historic trail crosses the length of this site. Off this once beaten path, a rock outcrop overgrown with bush is the only relic of a grotto of Our Lady that once stood here and was later destroyed by lightning.
On February 16th, 1906, the government of Canada granted 49 acres of this mission property to the St. Albert Roman Catholic Episcopate, and later in 1912 another 40 acres was given to the church, subject to the condition that this additional land be used for a church and cemetery only. Later in 1956 an additional 7.5 acres at the south end was deeded to the church.
A permanent church was built and the cemetery became the resting place for many of the early Alberta pioneers and adventures. A French writer named George Bugnet - 1879 who has written about this area, is buried here. The parcels of land were later assigned to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, and remained significant in the lives of many within the Archdiocese. The area was mainly used for Catechism classes and family camping up until the early 1960's.
Through the 1960’s and 70’s usage of the Camp was limited. However, a renewed interest emerged as the value of the site for affording youth a unique Christian experience in a natural environmental setting was realized. In 1980, at the request of the Most Rev. Joseph MacNeil, Archbishop of Edmonton, the Camp Encounter Society was formed. The Society successfully developed and operated Camp Encounter for the next 23 years. In 2013 a more formal relationship with The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton was formed. A symposium on Youth Evangelization and several other reviews and recommendations affirmed the importance of Camps in the Archdiocese. The Most Rev. Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton, asked that the Camp connect more directly to the Archdiocese through the Office of Youth Evangelization. This allowed for additional support and resources to the Camp and a more intentional connection of the Camp to the mission of Evangelization in the Archdiocese and its parishes and schools.
From those early days to the present, the lives of many people have been impacted by a visit to this site. It continues to be a place to Encounter Christ, Encounter Community and Encounter Creation.
Adapted from the Camp Encounter Planning and Engineering Study, September 1989 - Weed Lobo Architects Limited