A church and windmill aren’t what one expects to see at a campground, but Diamond Willow campground on north shore has both. Both have been in the campground since the 1970s.
Stevy Johnson and her late husband Herb built the campground in the 1970s. Stevy just turned 89 (although her age was mistakenly reported in The Leader as 90).
They had moved to Slave Lake in the 1960s, she says, “because everything was booming.”
“We worked like little beavers there,” she says. Construction included building roads, a house, campsites, and a windmill.
“He (Herb) was going to generate his own power,” says Stevy about the windmill. Although it never did produce any power, and now the wings are gone.
Close by the windmill is a small white church complete with a steeple.
“My husband decided it would be nice to have a church in a campground,” says Stevy.
One of the Johnsons’ daughters and other people were married in the church at Diamond Willow.
In the last 12 years, about a half a dozen people have been married in the church, says Norm Seatter, one of the current owners. In the summer, there are occasional church services. The church is open and available for use.
Stevy’s mother-in-law lived to be in her 90s. She used to pray in the church each day. One day, Stevy found her asleep on a pew.
Diamond Willow only has seasonal rentals. It is on the northern edge of the eastern shore of Lesser Slave Lake. This region from Devonshire beach up to the Hamlet of Marten Beach is often referred to as north shore. Diamond Willow is about 30 kilometres north of Slave Lake off Highway 88 between the Marten River Campground in the provincial park and Marten Beach.
Before the church was moved to the campground, it was St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Slave Lake. It was used from 1933 to 1974 in both Old Town Slave Lake and where the Servus Credit Union now stands, in downtown Slave Lake.
Antoinette Vance moved to Slave Lake in 1954 to teach for at least two years. She still lives here, and has been a long time attendee at ‘St. Pete’s.’
The church building was built in 1933 in Old Town Slave Lake at the mouth of the Lesser Slave River (past the Home Hardware), she says. As early as 1913, the parish priest from High Prairie would hold Anglican services in Slave Lake, but this was the first church. While the church isn’t on old maps of the town, some old timers have told her it was across the river, in what is now Roland on the River campground.
When Old Town flooded in 1935, all of the buildings were moved to Slave Lake’s current location.
The story Vance was told was that the flooding was so bad, that they waited until the lake froze to move the church. It was then chopped out of the ice, dragged to Dog Island, and across the lake to where it now stands. This was because the Lesser Slave River was to dangerous too cross with the church.
St. Peter’s received its first full-time priest in 1958, says Vance. Before that it was led by deaconesses (female lay leaders), summer students, and the High Prairie priest leading communion once a month.
The church also owned a parish hall and a rectory (priest’s home) on the block between the church and the Legion. However, in 1974, the Town of Slave Lake wanted to buy the land.
Vance says, “at the time, we sold the church to Stevy Johnson for a dollar, with the agreement it would be put on a cement foundation, there’d be heat available, and it’d be open for anyone to use.”
The Johnsons also bought the parish hall. St. Peters moved the rectory to its current location on 7 St. SE near Roland Michener Secondary School.
At the time, this was the edge of town, says Vance. The school was there, but nothing else. While the new church was built, St. Peter’s met in the Catholic Church.
It was during this period when the church changed from an Anglican to an Ecumenical church, says Vance. This started with the United Church congregation asking to share services, as they didn’t have a leader. Within a year, the Lutheran group also joined. It was one of the first churches to join the three denominations into an ecumenical church. At the time, this was a new idea. It remains one of only a few with Anglican, United, and Lutheran services. Most are two of the three.
“It’s been really great,” says Vance. “Each one of us would be too small” to survive as three individual churches.