Residents rail against youth camp

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Riverside and Hu Haven residents were up in arms this week about plans to restart the Boysdale Camp.

Residents packed county council chambers last May 22 to voice concerns about the proposed Hope Adventure Centre near the Riverside and Hu Haven subdivisions near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Sturgeon Rivers.

The centre is the new name for the Boysdale youth camp that operated from 1948 to the early 2000s. The non-profit group behind it is renovating the camp site and hopes to get the camp running again.

The group hopes to run a 22-day program to help youths and young adults who are in or aging out of the foster care system get a positive outlook on life, executive director said John-Mark Gal in an interview.

“There are incredible people out there that have come through foster care,” he said.

“They are born into the system, most of them, and they deserve a chance.”

The camp would see youths aged 13 to 24 spend about 10 days at the camp learning about and putting on a theatre production and 10 days doing adventurous activities in Hawaii, Gal said. Unlike the old camp, which only ran in the summer, this one would run year-round.

Gal said the camp would not host young offenders or youths with aggression, serious addictions, or mental disabilities, as the camp was not set up to handle them.

“We are not a group home, and we’re not rehab,” he emphasized.

Youths in the camp would need a referral from Alberta Child and Family Services and a background check if coming from foster care and would have to pass additional screening, Gal said.

The camp will not have guards, but will have about one staff member per three youths, with up to 30 students and 20 staffers on site at any one time.

“They will be with staff at all times unless they’re in their bedrooms,” he said, and won’t be allowed to roam the neighbourhood.

Gal said that in retrospect his group should have called a community meeting to talk about their plans for the camp.

Resident concerns

Speaking to council on behalf of a committee of concerned residents, a passionate Cindy Cook called on county council to issue a stop-work order on the Hope Adventure Centre and call a public meeting to discuss the project.

“The community to this date has not been invited to an open house or a meeting where a two-way conversation could take place,” she said.

Cook said the group planned to significantly change the campsite’s operation from a partial-year youth-based camp to a year-round one with “up to 60 ever-changing adult clients who had previously been living on the streets,” and had proposed a theatre that could host “hundreds” of people that could have implications for traffic and water use.

She said that the group had not been forthcoming with information on the project and that residents have had to rely on the group’s website for details. She also criticized the county for informing just the eight landowners adjacent to the camp about this development, which she acknowledged was accepted practice. There were about 84 families in the region, and about 80 per cent had signed a petition opposing the camp.

In an interview, Cook said she had granddaughters that lived next to the camp and that she was “absolutely” concerned for their physical safety.

“Their clients are 18 to 24 years old,” she said, have aged out of the foster care system and may be living on the streets.

“There’s no information on how they vet these adults,” she said, and no fence around the camp.

Cook said she would be fine with the camp reopening if it was summer-only and for young kids like the old Boysdale Camp.

In council, Gal said that county officials advised the group to direct all project questions to them after the group encountered residents aggressively opposed to the project. Group members spoke on the project at a community meeting hosting by then-mayor Tom Flynn and published an open letter on their plans.

Cook said that the group’s website suggests that the group planned to set up a foster home on this property, which was not covered by the group’s development permit.

While the group does plan to set up a network of foster homes to support clients after the camp, Gal said those homes would not be on this site.

Cook also said that the group had removed trees and damaged the banks of the Sturgeon at the site. Gal said that while the group had removed trees destroyed by fire, Environment Canada had investigated their activities on the site and found no problems.

Need a mediator, says mayor

Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said she and Coun. Dan Derouin had been meeting with people on both sides of the camp issue for months, and hoped to organized a public forum on it and a few related matters with a mediator within three weeks.

She questioned whether the county had grounds to implement a stop-work order, as the land was zoned Institutional, private camps are a discretionary use in that zone, and the group has a permit to run the camp.

“If the land is being used for institutional use, we haven’t really got a right to tell them how to conduct their business,” she said.

“The business has a right to use their property in a way that it’s zoned to be used, but the residents also have a right to ask for strong communication and understanding of what’s going to be going on in their backyard.”

Hope Adventure Centre members are scheduled to speak to council on June 12.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.