The History of
Ness Lake Bible Camp
"It was on the first day of May in 1953 that Henry Unrau, Superintendent of the Canadian Sunday School Mission in British Columbia, made his way over a narrow trapper's trail that hugged the shore of Ness Lake, twenty one miles northwest of Prince George. He skirted small patches of wet snow, climbed over huge tree trunks, which had fallen across the paths, and stood watching the rotten ice crumbling and sinking beneath the surface of the lake. Small patches of blue water were showing beneath the blue sky above. The wind stirred the branches of the tall spruce and Douglas firs on the shore behind him and he knew that in a few days the lacey branches of the silver birches would be showing delicate green."
Excerpt from “The Miracle Bible Camp at Ness Lake” Written by Nellie R Campbell, published in the 1954 July Edition of “Family Herald and Weekly Star”
Homesteaders George and Nellie Campbell moved from Saskatchewan to Ness Lake, British Columbia in 1929. They acquired seven acres of land on the north side of the lake for trapping purposes in addition to the 80 acres where they were homesteading on the east side of the lake. They had a vision to build a Bible camp on that property, and they began praying for it to become a reality. A Prairie Bible Institute student named Edith Johnson had been staying with the Campbells while running Daily Vacation Bible School on the weekends at the local school. When she heard their dream of opening a non-denominational Bible camp on that seven acres, she immediately wrote to the BC Director of the Canadian Sunday School Mission, Henry Unrau. With the addition of a camp on Ness Lake, CSSM would now have a children’s Bible camp in every province. Soon, five young men, all students at Prairie Bible Institute, arrived to clear the land and construct the first buildings. 50$ in a coffee tin was all the money they had, and Henry Unrau told the young men that they could divide anything that was left at the end of the summer as payment. Several evenings a week and on Sundays, after they had finished the day’s work, they would put on services in the local schools to provide the adults the opportunity to hear the Gospel as well as their children. Philippians 2:14 “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” was hung on the wall as a reminder that through the hard work and the mosquitos, they needed to work together in peace, as Christ commanded. There was no road from town, so building supplies were carried over the lake in a barge they built from donated lumber.
The First years
Finally, on August 3rd 1953, 46 boys and girls arrived on the barge for the first 8 day camp. Over the next month, 99 campers experienced Ness Lake Bible Camp for the first time. The only permanent building was the kitchen, so chapel was held in the dining tent. The campers also slept in tents, and would wash the dishes that they brought from home after meals.
The next year, in June of 1954, Wilfred Leboe gave a D8 Caterpillar, and Herb Fitchner provided the manpower required to build a 2 and a 1/2 mile road into the camp. Cabins were also built that year, so campers no longer needed to stay in tents. In the winter of 1956, 4 to 6 feet of snow fell on the rural camp, causing the dining hall roof to collapse. When the snow melted, a larger kitchen and dining hall were built in time for campers to arrive the next year. 300 campers were able to attend that summer. By 1957, 899 kids had been reached through the ministry of NLBC.
Around 1974, a new log chapel had been built on the site of the original trapping cabin George and Nellie Campbell had built on the property. After NLBC outgrew it, it was moved in 2004 to the upper parking lot and converted into the Welcome Centre. Two suites were added below, and offices were built in. Now it’s one of the first things you see when you drive onto the site.
The beach is a highlight for many campers, and the piers built in the 1950s have since been replaced with docks. In order to create a larger, more usable beach, over 220 truckloads of dirt were moved and replaced with sand in 2000. Now it boasts a gaga ball pit, a beach volleyball court, an inflatable water playground, and a picnic shelter.
Many buildings were added over the next several years. More accommodations for staff, a chapel, cabins, and eventually the gym were built in the late 1960s. It became a gathering place in the community, and also hosted an impressive bat colony in the attic. With skateboard ramps and trampolines, it was an exciting addition to the camp. At 10pm, New Year’s Eve 2011, the community was shocked when the gym burned down. Seven months later, a new gym was built, with even more amenities and conveniences. With a climbing wall, offices, more bathrooms, a stage, a conference room, and storage, it’s proven invaluable.
When NLBC outgrew the dining hall that had been built in the 1950s, they started construction on a new dining hall in the winter of 1974. The layout of the kitchen and dining room changed when they added a wall to separate the dining room and the kitchen. An automated dishwasher and walk-in freezer were installed in the 2010s, and increased NLBC’s capacity for guest groups and summer camps.
Staff members John Saunders and Ernie Gonzales had a passion for canoeing out-trips, and were inspired to create canoeing trips for campers in the 1970s. They would take campers down rivers, and portage around mountains to set up camp on the other side. Quesnel Lake, Mount Robson, and Fang Mountain were popular destinations. Later, from 1996-1998, volunteers Rod and Leanne Schellenberg began the Adventure Camps. They would take campers up mountains, across streams, and go where few had been before. It was a test of strength, endurance, and reliance on God. In 2005, WilderNESS was established to fill the gap left by the Adventure Camps. WilderNESS is a small satellite camp on the shores of Little Ness Lake. It can entertain up to 40 campers, and gives them an experience in nature different from the main camp.
Longstanding directors Al Reimer and Paul Bailey have made many contributions throughout the years. Al Reimer was a director from 1988-1998, and he developed many new programs, and rentals became a larger source of income under his leadership. He also developed the LIT program (changed to Jr Cabin Leaders in 2022), for teens to learn how to become cabin leaders, and to learn how to work with children. Paul Bailey was the director from 2001-2011, and under his leadership many improvements were made to the property, such as building a new shop, constructing the Waterfront Lodge, and finishing the Founder’s Cottage. He also created the Work Crew program, which teaches teens the meaning of servant leadership through washing dishes, doing outdoor maintenance, and cleaning bathrooms. In 2022, Work Crew was changed to the Leader-In-Training program, to better reflect the intention of the changing program.
God has taken 7 acres of bush, a dream, $50 in a coffee tin, and many willing and generous hands, and he has done something that totally defies human wisdom. He has built a ministry that has impacted thousands of lives over the past 70 years.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!