Friday, 23 March 2018 11:14

Camp Shagabec celebrating 80th year in 2018

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A summer camp in in the scenic Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park has been providing campers with memorable experiences since before the Second World War.


Camp Shagabec will be celebrating its 80th year in 2018 with another full season of camping experiences and a special birthday party on July 21.

Lethbridge resident Dave Fletcher is a long-time camp volunteer and board member from a family with many memories about the camp.

“My own children are fourth generation Shagabecers and there’s quite a few kids now that come to camp that are fourth generation,” he said. “It’s pretty neat. I know for myself, seeing the people that I went with camp with now, I quite often see them coming to drop their kids off. Every summer we get more messages from other alumni saying I’m so excited, my kids are finally at the age where they can go to Shagabec. So it’s a neat little cycle you start to see after a while.”

This First United Church camp’s location in the Centre Block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park gives it a special atmosphere that campers will not forget easily.

“You could take all these buildings and you could put them somewhere else, but I think you would lose a huge amount of the heart of the camp, because being in the park itself is so special,” he said. “It’s neat seeing a lot of these city kids that might never have done camping with their families all of a sudden completely immersed in nature and just watching them and their imaginations take off with what the natural world has to offer them.”

The camp has never missed a season since it started in 1938. It is still largely run and organized by volunteers, which Fletcher believes is an important reason for its ongoing success.

“It’s really just been a labour of love for a number of people throughout the generations,” he said.

The camp’s mission is to be a place where campers feel welcome and accepted, and where they can experience God in creation and community.

“I think Shagabec has found a model that works very well where we do have a handful of summer staff that are there all summer to keep the consistency and to have the leadership,” he explained. “Then all the rest of the people are volunteers.”

He coordinated the leadership training and his wife is the volunteer coordinator with the big responsibility of finding all the volunteers.

“She has to find 150 volunteers each year to make the camp run and every year it’s a miracle,” he said. “It all comes together. It’s amazing how she stresses for a little while with not finding enough people and then all of a sudden the people show up. It’s pretty good.”

Every summer over 500 campers will experience Camp Shagabec. There are seven weeks of age-specific camps for youth from five to 18 years old during July and August.

“The camp is open for rentals in the springtime as well,” he noted. “We have a lot of school groups or girl guide groups or different community groups that will rent the camp out in the springtime. So it sees some pretty good traffic over the course of a summer.”

Campers come from various communities and demographical changes over the years have caused a shift to youth from larger urban centres.

“It used to be all the small towns around the park that will fill the camp, but obviously a lot of the small towns are shrinking in size and there’s not as many young kids in the small towns,” he explained. “So our biggest draw right now is Swift Current, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, but we see a number of kids coming from Calgary, some from B.C., believe it or not, and then every summer we do have a camper that comes in all the way from Halifax. Her dad went there as a kid and every summer she comes out to see grandma and grandpa and to go to camp.”

Fletcher has been collecting information about the camp’s history. It started in 1938 when a Swift Current United Church youth group decided to have a retreat in the Cypress Hills. It was then known as the United Church Youth Camp. After the start of the Second World War in September 1939 the future of the camp appeared to be uncertain.

“There was a really big discussion about what do we do,” he said. “Do we bother running a camp when there’s a war on, and the discussion ended up with it’s more important now than ever to have summer camps and to give kids the opportunity to be kids and to not be thinking about war. Obviously not every year is faced with the same situation, but certainly there’s challenges in every generation, whether to find volunteers or to find campers, but the camp just keeps going on and on and it’s more popular now than ever.”

In 1941 the camp leaders decided to give the camp a new name. The campers used the first letter from the following communities where they came from to construct the name Shagabec – Assiniboia, Bracken, Braddock, Buttress, Cabri, Claydon, Consul, Eastend, Govenlock, Hazenmore, and Swift Current.

There were initially no buildings or washroom facilities, but over the years the camp infrastructure developed to provide campers with the necessary amenities. The first structure was an outhouse that was built in the summer of 1945 and thereafter a kitchen was added. After the war a decommissioned Army barracks was moved from Maple Creek to become a multipurpose camp building.

A capital campaign was launched at the start of Camp Shagabec’s 75th year to replace the old barracks with a new multi-function facility, which was constructed in time for the 2014 season. There are currently 13 camper cabins and five paid staff cabins.

“We’re continuing to build,” he said. “We’re going to build two more cabins this summer and just try to keep our occupancy up as high was we can so we can ensure as many people can come to camp who want to come to camp.”

There are also bathroom renovations that must be done and they want to build a new all-weather craft centre that will replace the current outdoor craft centre.

“It always seems like there’s more to build, but I guess in reality it’s a much better problem to have projects we have to get completed rather than having to be thinking about closing our doors,” he said. “So we have a problem right now with over capacity rather than under capacity, which is a good problem to have.”

Registration for the 2018 camp season started on Feb. 1 and some camps were already full within the first week. By early March three of the senior camps and one junior camp were already full, but registration is still open for one senior and three junior camps.

“It becomes such a ritual for kids over the course of the summer and this is their chance to see all their camp friends,” he said. “They just don’t want to miss it. So they’ve got a mark in their calendar and they make sure that they get their spot before they all fill up.”

The camp season will start with the Care Camp on May 19, when volunteers will get together to clean the camp and to open the doors for the new season. Camp Shagabec’s 80th birthday party takes place on July 21 from 1-4 p.m.

“We’re very excited to welcome back a lot of Shagabec alumni and their families to come to camp for a little birthday party,” Fletcher said. “We’re going to have a little social set up, we’ll do a history of Shagabec presentation, and we’ll do tours of the camp. It should be pretty good. I always like when we get the alumni come in to camp and let them see how the camp has changed over the years and to get their impression about all the changes.”

For more information about Camp Shagabec, to register for a camp or to make a donation, visit the camp’s website at

Read 789 times Last modified on Friday, 23 March 2018 11:18
Matthew Liebenberg


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