Stoney Lake celebrates 25th anniversary
The Stoney Lake Pioneer Park and Campground reached a milestone last weekend, celebrating its 25th anniversary on Sept. 1.
Guests and dignitaries made their way to the lakeside park and enjoyed cake at the gazebo, while enjoying the warm weather. The park was quite busy at the time, and the festivities piqued the attention of a number of hungry patrons at the park.
County of St. Paul Reeve Steve Upham and Coun. Dwight Dach were in attendance, presiding over the celebrations and serving the cake.
“This is a celebration of the park, which shows how hard work can improve the community. It’s a tribute to what can be done when you work hard and work together toward a common goal,” said Upham in a speech before the cutting of the cake.
“It’s wonderful, beautiful, and well-used by people all over,” said Dach, adding “It’s a good thing we have people . . . who can see what people will need. Everyone involved, the community, elected officials, and people who helped are great, and were seeing ahead of their own time with that project.”
Another important individual among those celebrating was Russ Kowtun, a former employee for the County of St. Paul, and one of the volunteers who spearheaded the idea of creating the Stoney Lake park. He also worked on creating the park.
Kowtun’s knowledge on the history and creation of Stoney Lake park is encyclopedic, and he didn’t hesitate to share a generous amount of that historical knowledge.
“There’s lots of history behind the whole idea,” says Kowtun. In the 1980s, there was a municipal recreation program that would give out grants as high as $100,000 for the purpose of developing parks, he explains.
Kowtun says there was a need for public parks with access to lakeshore property at the time. He was the county’s assessor at the time, and knew of three pieces of land that would be ideally suited for the creation of such parks. The three pieces of land were Lac Bellevue, Westcove, and Stoney Lake.
“The most important thing was that the land was available. Being the county assessor, I knew where these locations were, and everything kind of clicked. I was the right guy who knew the right guys.”
Kowtun and the others who worked on the park used the grant money to build parks that were, and are still, open to the public.
“This entire area was muskeg when we started. We had to get local people with equipment and trucks to develop this whole beach area,” he recalls, adding, “Fortunately, with my background in corrections, I was able to arrange to have a lot of the work on the park done by inmates. That was cheap labour, and it helped get things done. The stagecoach over in the park was made by inmates.”
Upham said the celebration event was a “great event.”
“It’s a wonderful way to pay tribute to the community involvement, and volunteerism. All of the effort went into this is valued because Stoney Lake is one of the jewels of the county,” said the reeve.
A Look Back
Excerpt taken from the June 29, 1988 edition of the Elk Point Lakeland Review
Wooded hillsides once trod by the moccasins of Stoney Indians, and later by the boots of General Strange’s soldiers during the Northwest Rebellion will now know the sneakered feet of campers, picnickers and holiday-makers, as the Stoney Lake Municipal Recreation Area, known as Stoney Lake Pioneer Park, opened to the public last Friday, June 24.
MLA John Drobot, who was raised on a homestead near the new park, told visitors to the official opening ceremonies that the scenic lake, 27 kilometres southeast of St. paul, was first mentioned by historians in 1760, when it was given the name Stoney Lake after the Indians who fished its waters and those of the creeks which feed it, and traded the smoked fish at the forts along the North Saskatchewan River. In 1840, a smallpox epidemic killed vast numbers of their tribe as they camped on the west side of the lake, where the first homesteaders found hundreds of graves, when they arrived in the early 1900s.
During the Northwest Rebellion, General Strange was ordered to march to Lac La Biche with a column of troops, to protect that outpost from possible attack. En route, they were reportedly camped on the same hillsides where the new campsite is located, when messengers came to tell them the rebellion was over. ‘That’s history, folks, and we’re part of it,’ Drobot said.
The area was opened for homesteading in 1909. One of the earliest settlers, Pete Pierson, who built his home half a mile from the park site, wrote home to a newspaper in Sweden, telling of the beauties of the new land, and precipitating a large influx of Swedish settlers. Other nationalities along with Americans, followed.
In the early days, picnics at the other end of the lake became a summer tradition. The first rodeo was held in 1924, across the creek from the present rodeo grounds.
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