The return of warm weather turns many people’s attention to the many beautiful Central Alberta resorts.
One of the most popular local resorts is Pine Lake, situated some 30 kms east of Red Deer.
In ancient times, Pine Lake was one of the favorite camping spots for various bands of First Nations. In 1754, the famous explorer Anthony Henday made his first contact with the Blackfoot First Nation at a very large and impressive encampment at the Lake.
Unfortunately, as the years went by, the area also became the site of raids and battles, usually between the Crees and the Blackfeet.
According to one story, a band of Blackfeet surprised a band of Crees at the Lake and killed everyone in the camp. After the massacre, the First Nations said that the Lake was inhabited by the ghosts of the murdered tribesmen. Hence, the Lake became known as Ghost Pine or Devil’s Pine Lake and for a long time was avoided by traveling natives.
The first settlement began at the Lake in the early 1890s.
The earliest settlers were cattle ranchers, attracted by the abundant grass, good water and rolling countryside. Many of these settlers came out from England, giving the district a distinctive ‘Old Country’ atmosphere.
The first record of Ghost Pine Lake being used as resort dates from July 1892, when Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wells organized a picnic for 20 at the Lake.
Robert Page took several out in what was described by the Calgary Herald as his yacht, but which was actually just a small boat. Some of the men spotted a cinnamon bear, but were unable to catch up to it or to shoot it.
Unfortunately, much of the 1890s were very cold and very dry, which greatly reduced the attractiveness of the Lake for either new settlers or summer tourists.
A very bad prairie fire struck in May 1894 and claimed several homes as well as a great deal of livestock, farm implements and hay for the animals.
The following year, a post office was opened at B.P. Alford’s, but the postal authorities decided that Ghost Pine or Devil’s Pine Lake were either too lengthy or too colourful of names to be used. Hence, the shorter Pine Lake became the official name.
In the late 1890s, the climate began to improve.
With it, the prospects of Pine Lake began to quickly improve as well. What had been brown, dry and cold turned warm, lush and green again. New settlers began to pour into the district.
In 1902-1903, a beautiful wooden church, Holy Trinity Anglican, was constructed on a site overlooking the north end of the Lake. It has become one of the most noted and beloved landmarks of the district.
In the early years of the last century, the tourist facilities at the Lake began to greatly improve.
In 1906, the first Sandy Cove Hotel, a log structure, was built. A new building was constructed in 1911-1912 and its dance hall developed the reputation of having the best dance floor between Calgary and Edmonton.
Moreover, the Pine Lake Stampede was held on the grounds west of the hotel, usually on May 24th (Victoria Day) and became renowned for its horse and chuckwagon races.
Other noted early resorts included one built by Jack Herbert in 1906, which later became known as Rushton’s and eventually Green Acres.
Around the same time, people began building cabins alongside the Lake for their summer holidays.
Later, summer camps for children developed, including Camp Gordon and the B’nai B’rith Camp (now Camp BB Riback).
On Friday, July 14th, 2000, tragedy struck.
A powerful tornado tore across the countryside at Pine Lake, severely damaging farms and devastating the Green Acres campground. Twelve people lost their lives and more than 140 were injured. The disaster ranks as the fourth worst tornado in Canadian history.
The damage has been repaired, although the memories of the tragedy will last for at least a generation.
Fortunately, Pine Lake remains a beautiful resort area with cottages, year-round residences, RV resorts, campgrounds, and a high-quality golf course resort.