Our Lady of Victory Camp (OLVC) began in 1946 with the generous donation of 8 acres of land by Andrew and Anne Guillemaud “up to the lake’s edge”. This modest gift of land has now become almost ¼ section of largely treed land as Gull Lake has receded over the years, making it a spacious and beautiful retreat for the many youth and volunteers who attend camp each summer.
The camp was originally founded by Fathers Patrick Rooney and Joseph Murphy to provide summer catechism instruction for youngsters. These programs were facilitated by Sisters and others from the Lacombe, Bentley, Sylvan and Rimbey areas. As Catholic religious education became more widely available throughout rural Alberta, the use of the camp for this original purpose declined.
By the late ‘60’s, the camp’s facilities were rarely used. During one cold winter, the roof of the dining hall collapsed, and the Knights of Columbus of Red Deer generously stepped up with most of the money and labor for the new hall. To this day the camp is generously supported by the various Knight of Columbus councils, Catholic Women’s leagues and parishes of the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
In 1976, OLVC was renewed as a center for the spiritual development of Alberta's Catholic youth, with the leadership structure of camp being now “led by youth, for youth.”
Teaching young adults to be the ones to give the instruction worked brilliantly. As parents struggle to keep our kids excited about their faith, attending Mass etc., it is their peers, those closer to them in age, who begin to play an important role in young people’s lives. Children naturally look up to older teens and young adults. The messages and traditions that Catholic parents hope to pass on to their children are effectively reinforced by having young adults and older teens who are excited about their faith lead the sessions and activities.
Camp was fashioned to be a progression towards the formation of youth leaders. Children 9-13 start the program as campers building community and learning more about their faith. As counselors (14yrs+), young people learn to lead small groups, being responsible for the campers in their cabin and camp “family,” helping them throughout the week and really getting to know them well (further building community). During the winter young adults (grade 12 and older) train to plan the summer program, give talks, run recreational activities and are challenged to actively develop a close relationship with God. It isn't good enough to give up a few weeks of their summer to help inspire and educate the youth; the message has to be genuine. If they are going to give talks about the importance of Mass they are expected to be attending Mass weekly, be committed to their relationship with God and living their Catholic faith.
At the encouragement of Archbishop Joseph McNeil, a board of directors was formed as a collaboration of representatives from the deanery, the Archdiocese, Knights of Columbus, patrons and alumni who worked together to plan and provide for the future of OLVC, with operations run by Directors and Associate Directors in support of the original philosophy.
In 2002 the camp made two exciting changes. It hired a core team of six to be at camp to lead all six weeks of the summer program. As tuition fees in universities and colleges continued to climb it became more and more difficult and affordable for young to take the time off in the summer to serve God and run the programs at Camp. With the help of the core team fundraising $1000.00 each and through generous donation, we were able to begin offering 6-8 positions each summer. This gave consistency to the program and guarantees 5-7 Team per week. The positions are supported by the twenty or so volunteer team members who help with weeks as they are able. The leadership also returned to being one director who began working part-time year round.
Camp continued to grow, and with the addition of program improvements such as the year-round core team program, it became apparent that more time was needed than what could be expected for volunteer directors. Having an employed director gave consistency and attention to the ongoing needs and promotion of Camp.
This leadership model continues today, with the support of a program director who works part-time September to April, and full-time for the summer months. The program director helps with team training and plans OLVC events throughout the year from spring school retreats to the summer program.
In 2013, a more formal relationship with The Archdiocese of Edmonton was formed after a symposium on Youth Evangelization and several reviews and recommendations highlighted the importance of Camps. Archbishop Richard Smith connected the camp directly to the Archdiocese via the Office of Youth Evangelization. This allows additional support and resources to the Camp’s mission and staff, more intentionally connecting the Camp to evangelization in the parishes, schools and throughout the Archdiocese.
In 2017, the Archdiocese had Praesidium Inc. audit the camp. A team of auditors completed their evaluation and accredited the camp for commitment to Safer Environments. This accreditation is renewed every three years to ensure that the highest standards in abuse prevention are met.
Many upgrades have replaced the small grainary-style cabins that housed the first campers. The old cabins continued to decay while camp attendance continued to increase, so in 1986 a new heated dorm with full shower and washroom facilities was built, providing room for 66. The dorm was named ‘Warren’s Abode’ in honor of a former counselor at the camp.
In 1996 a new meeting hall was built in which to hold talks, activities and Mass. The new hall was named Tony’s Place after a long time volunteer at the camp, Tony Marcinek. In 2000, a second major dorm, Jubilee Hall was completed with accommodations, washrooms, showers, and a small meeting space for 84 campers and counselors. Then in 2014, we completed the construction of a new girl's overflow dormitory which allowed us to reclaim the meeting room in Jubilee Hall and House of Decisions for indoor activity spaces for rainy days. Bishop Bittman blessed and dedicated the new cabin, Hope's Haven.
Other improvements such as a paved basketball court, new play grounds, archery range, and obstacle course have improved the recreation components of the camp. With the help of ongoing donations, more happens each year!
Although many people have been involved in leading camp from 1948 to the present and the facility itself looks very different, much has remained the same. The support of the local people, parishes and organizations remains. The model of ‘youth leading youth’ is alive and well, and Our Lady of Victory Camp continues to be a valuable tool in the formation of leaders in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.