The property which is now Camp Gifford was purchased in the early 1920’s, most likely 1921. At that time the Deer Lake area was undeveloped with the exception of logging roads and a few cabins around the lake.
Camps began at Camp Gifford (then named Camp Cougar) in the mid-1920’s. Camp was not much more than tents and open fires – but the lessons the kids learned were much the same as today. They were taught about nature, learned new skills and learned about their Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Camp was not near to power, water or sewer. There were few stores or amenities within many miles of our location. Bears, cougar, elk, deer…wildlife of all types were at times prominent at Camp Cougar.
In the 1930’s the first cabins were built on the Camp. The camp occupied only a small section of land between Deer Lake Road and Deer Lake itself. Over the next decade more cabins were built, a dining facility was created and camp began to take shape. In the 1930’s the name of Camp was changed from Camp Cougar to Camp Gifford (in honor of Captain Gifford, a Salvation Army minister who was said to have loved children) – one reason for the name change appears to have been that mothers in Spokane were afraid to send their kids to a place called Camp “Cougar”.
Over the next 30 to 40 years the camp grew little by little. Additions were built onto the dining hall, the little cabins that were built were occasionally moved to different locations, a boat house (in fact a few different boathouses) were built, the White House by the beach was built. The next major addition to Camp was in the early 1970’s when a group of A-frames and central bath facility were built across the road from the rest of camp’s buildings. The boy’s moved into the new cabins across the road and camp was now able to accept more campers!
The next major physical improvement to camp came in the 1980’s when another group of A-frames and central bathroom were built a couple hundred yards from the first A-frame village. Camp was now able to accept 120 children or more for all ten weeks of the summer!
In the mid-1990’s the cost of providing ten weeks of summer programming became a larger expense than the Salvation Army Corps (church) in Spokane could bear. A decision was made to open the camp up to retreat groups for rentals, conferences and special occasions. A year round Camp Administrator was hired (in addition to an existing Caretaker) and the work began! During the years of 1995 and 1996 much work was done to physically enable Camp to operate throughout the winter months. Mailings were sent out to local churches and non-profit businesses to generate business. In 1995 only five rental groups made use of Camp – but in recent year 40-50 groups made use of our facility. Not only does this enable us to make use of God’s property at camp to provide life-changing experiences to our rental groups – it also enables us to make on-going improvements in programming and property changes at the camp.
In 1997 some major changes were accomplished with help from a combined State and Federal program called “Americorps” (working through a local state program called “Educational Services District 101”). Major David Bowler (the then Spokane City Coordinator) and Ray Anton (director of the Americorps program) began the challenge of allowing a group of young men and women, some with troubled pasts, to take on a major construction project. Bathrooms were built onto the A-frames (campers no longer needed to go out into the dark to find a restroom) and two new homes were built for permanent staff at camp. The project was a huge success. The new homes are beautiful and the bathrooms were a welcome addition to our staff, campers and weekend guests.
In 1998, with the help and foresight of Major Ben Markham, nearly 120 acres of property abutting Camp Gifford was purchased. Until that time camp had occupied only about 20 acres. The land incorporates hills, a small lake (or large pond – about 30 acres of surface area) and lots of useful space for new, exciting programming. Since the summer following the purchase we have had a growing and developing wilderness camp for teens.
In 2000, with much help from the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary, a new Dining Hall was dedicated at Camp Gifford. It is four or five times the size of the old dining hall and a welcome addition. The old dining hall, although well loved, was sinking into the ground and had pretty much given it’s all to Camp Gifford. Part of the Dining Hall project was also the renovation of the waterfront, with new docks, the removal of the old craft house and canteen and the removal of the old dining hall. In 2000 we also built, with money from the Women’s Auxiliary, a 45′ three-sided climbing tower that we’ve named “Goliath”.
In 2003 a dining hall and composting toilets were built out at our wilderness camp, again paid for by the Women’s Auxiliary. Additionally a new shop was built by our friends at Americorps.
In 2005 we were able to remodel the old shop into two semi-private housing units with a coin-operated laundry on the back. Additionally, with money from the Northwest Divisional Headquarters, we were able to build a new Infirmary and Office to replace the old trailer that previously housed it. In 2010 the Infirmary was upgraded with new furniture and diagnostic equipment through a donation by the Packard Family in memory of Jerry Packard. It is one of the best and well equipped Infirmary’s in the Western Territory.
Over the years the Spokane Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary has provided funds to install: the Pavilion, a mini-golf course, high ropes elements, a complete low-ropes area, paddle boats, canoes, new docks for the waterfront, a dining hall and platform tents for wilderness, a dining hall and bathrooms for wilderness, a remodel of our A-frame bathrooms, countless camperships and many other diverse furnishings and pieces of recreational equipment. We were also able to build a beautiful new camper cabin in 2012 with specific handicap accessible bathrooms and showers. The Women’s Auxiliary has provided camp with an incredible amount of love and we cannot thank these ladies enough for the profound impact that they have had on camp and the lives of the children that attend here every summer. Thank you!