In 1937 Mr. and Mrs. William B. Johnstone, members of the Church of Christ meeting at Omagh since 1851, a small village near Milton, Ontario, conceived the idea of inviting young people from the city to spend a short vacation on their farm, so as to provide Christian companionship for their own children; to help youth come to know God as Creator of all things and Father of all men; to help develop a faith in the Bible as the word of God; and to develop standards of right and wrong, based on Christian values.

They arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Alex Stewart to assist, and Mr. Stewart, minister for the Church of Christ then meeting on Bathurst St. near College St. in Toronto, Ontario, taught the Bible classes. Miss Grace Johnstone taught a class in singing. The students numbered 25 that year. They ranged in age from early teens to late 20's. Girls were housed in the large farm home; boys in a nearby building. Young people from Omagh came each day by car, bringing with them their visiting city cousins. This brought the total student body up to 38. There were seven baptisms. Meals were cooked in the "summer kitchen" and served at one large table in the spacious kitchen. Classes were taught in a large building near the house. School began at 9:00 a.m. with chapel, followed by classes running to 11:30 a.m. and resuming again at 1:30 p.m. through to 3:30 p.m. Memory work was a daily class, and of the utmost importance. Chapters of the Bible were memorized.

Sunday services at the church building at Omagh were a highlight. Afternoon services were held at the school. Visitors and students ate their noon meal, provided by the Omagh ladies, on the lawn in the shade of the house. Dessert most often, and considered a real treat, was home-made ice cream. Mr. Harold Walker from the Sanford Avenue congregation in Hamilton made the ice cream and it came packed in dry ice.

Evening services were held three nights a week at the Omagh church building - which was a very unique building. Each row of seats was one step higher than the previous one. The congregation "looked down" on the speaker. Of course, the favourite seat in the building was the highest one - and so coming early had its advantages. Visitors were many.

Tuesday evening was sports night, when many rousing baseball games were played. Thursday evening was concert night. This brought many happy scenes to view; a hilarious group on the lawn watching some skit, or listening to a song.

Saturday afternoon was a good time for hiking down the Sixteen Mile Creek. Supper was cooked outside.

The croquet lawn was never idle a moment after classes. Oh yes, and swimming; many good splashes were enjoyed in the creek.

The school lasted three weeks.

Into the forties

By the time the summer of 1938 had rolled around, the attendance had risen to 58. A large double garage was built. Boys slept in the second storey and classes were held on the ground floor, in addition to the original classrooms. Mr. Lloyd Snure from the Church of Christ meeting on Sanford Avenue, Hamilton was added to the teaching staff. He taught singing and Old Testament History. Interest in the school remained high in the years to follow. Attendance grew. Ministers from other congregations came to assist with the teaching and the preaching on Sunday and week-night services, and many fine ladies came to help Mrs. Johnstone with the cooking.

1942 was the year of the tents. Attendance had climbed to 86, plus the staff.

In 1943 the brethren at Omagh expressed the feeling that the responsibility for the work should be shared by others. The problem of how best to share the responsibilities was solved by making use of the provisions of the Companies Act of the Province of Ontario. The school was constituted as a corporation without share capital and the membership fee set at one dollar per year for all who were interested in becoming members of it. Obviously all these members could not meet often enough to decide the detailed business of the corporation; therefore, a board of directors was appointed annually to attend to the business and operation of the school, and to be accountable to the members at the annual meeting.

The school was incorporated on July 25, 1943. The first board of directors were:

    Mr. Jardine McKerlie, Toronto

    Mr. A.L. Whitelaw, Toronto

    Mr. M. McFadden, Omagh

    Mr. C.H. Gay, St. Catharines

    Mr. C.G. McPhee, Beamsville

building blocks of camp omagh

In September 1943, in response to a request by the Meaford congregation, Messrs. A.L. Whitelaw, Jardine McKerlie and Raymond Crumbliss visited that congregation for the purpose of giving information about the Omagh Bible School. Similar action was taken to visit other Ontario congregations.

The first Annual Meeting of members was held October 23, 1943 in the Church of Christ meeting house on Sanford Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario. The chairman in his introductory remarks stated the purpose of the meeting was to forward the organization and the work of the Omagh Bible School, and concluded by stating that there were 189 members in the corporation.

Mr. Jardine McKerlie was elected first President of the school. Four committees were appointed to act in an advisory capacity to the directors as follows:

    Vacation school program committee

    Teachers Committee

    Property and Accommodation Committee

    Catering Committee.

In the 40's the building began. The first building erected in 1943 was a boy's dormitory the following year the dormitory was moved to a new location - into a beautiful wooded part of the Johnstone farm, near to the "fifth line road", and overlooking the "Sixteen Mile Creek". Timbers were cut, the building raised and made ready for the long haul. Tractors and bulldozers pulled the building some 300 yards to its present location. This existing building named "Johnstone Hall" was then used as a dining hall, and early in June, under the direction of Messrs L. Wallace, St. Catharines; C. Lumley, Beamsville; and E. Perry, Tintern, a kitchen was built adjoining the dining hall, as well as one classroom, "Stewart Study and veranda. Four dormitories, each to house 20 students and six small sectional buildings to house teachers, cooks, a hospital and an office, were also erected that year. These three carpenters lived with the Johnstone family for the month of June. Additional volunteer help came on Saturdays. On one Saturday it was noted that there were seventy-five workers. Mr. Jardine McKerlie was able to purchase from Northern Ontario, dressed lumber in carload lots for about $30.00 per M, plus $5.00 freight. A "lumber camp" stove was purchased for the kitchen. This was a very large wood burning stove that was to serve well for years to come. All of the cooking and baking was done on this stove. There were some difficulties re rationed goods, but wartime restrictions were borne with fortitude. Young people were needed for work, and so the age of the students became younger.

The curriculum in 1944 was as follows:

    - 10-12 yrs. Old Testament Character Study; God's Library and how to use it; and object lessons.

    - 13-15 yrs. Three Ages of Religious History; Parables of Jesus; Christian Evidences.

    - 16 yrs. and up. Studies in the Life of Christ; Lessons on the church; Christian Evidences.

    - All ages had Bible drill, memory work and singing.

The number of directors was increased from 5 to 7. Dr. Eleanor Robinson was asked to serve as Medical Director.

"modern" amenities

On March 6, 1945, according to provincial legislation, the school obtained its first license for Health Inspection. Since that summer, there is a yearly inspection. Mr. C.G. McPhee became principal, and continued for several years to follow. Labour Day Weekend was initiated in 1945. Forty attended.

In 1947 plans for the new staff building were decided upon and Mr. Loney Wallace organized the work and erection of this building, named in 1949 "McKerlie House".

On July 20 1947 a Grand Rally of all past and present members, friends and students of the school was held.

At an annual meeting in 1948, the following message was delivered by Mr. Loney Wallace, President of the Board:

"A Godless age needs Christian young people to combat their tactics, and the parents in the church must fortify themselves and their families against the evil teachings abroad in the world. Too long have we taken the attitude that we, being few, can do nothing, but we must plan and work, and envision still greater work in the future, to build up a knowledge of good. Giving our time, money, wholehearted interest, and work, to Omagh Bible School, is an investment for God that will bring rich Heavenly interest".

In 1948 Hydro was installed. This gave a more modern atmosphere, but, for the city child, the old coal oil lanterns had been an experience, and a look into the past that many enjoyed. There had been no radios, no telephones, only the quiet country living - but then not so quiet at times. Voices could be heard in the stillness of the night from across the grounds. Also in 1948, a sports program was initiated.

In 1949, an extension telephone from the Johnstone farm was installed.

Into the fifties and sixties

In 1950, there was a polio outbreak, and Omagh was not to escape it. Sunday visitors came, but on that second to last Sunday afternoon they came to find they could only line the fence. Omagh was under quarantine. Dr. Eleanor Robinson handled the polio outbreak in a very efficient manner.

Up to now, water for the school was pumped from wells. Early in the 50's an extra water supply was pumped from the creek. It was also in the early 50's that students were allowed to "sleep in" until 7:30 a.m. In earlier years the rising bell was sounded each morning at 7 a.m. with breakfast at 8 a.m.

Teacher training classes were introduced in 1956. There were approximately 22 attending classes daily, while visitors from various congregations attended nightly. In 1957 this special week was changed to a "Training For Service Series", to give a wider range program. Lessons included: Teacher Training; Training for elders and deacons; evangelism; and personal evangelism - cottage meetings. The program continued as a Christian Fellowship Week.

In the 60's the swimming pool became a reality, after many years of planning. The pool opened in 1961. During this same year the wood-burning stove was replaced with a gas stove. The use of counselors was to replace the monitor in each dorm, and while crafts were not completely new, they were now part of the planned program. "Camp Omagh" lasted 6 weeks. Indian Folk Lore was introduced and Friday night became a very important climax to each week. Teen Week became very popular.

In the 70's a Girls' Week had a small beginning but later was changed to a week-end retreat and has become very well attended. A trampoline was installed to allow increased activities for the campers. It has proven to be a favourite for the young people. Volleyball and football are also popular sports. But the game of all games is "Capture the Flag". Swimming instruction was given daily. Bus outings to Bronte Provincial Park were enjoyed.

A Picnic and Fun Day marked the 40th Anniversary of Omagh. Many friends gathered to reminisce. "Goldie" the wonder horse was the special attraction.

The modern era

In the 70's more building. In 1978 Mr. Fred Whittington from the Church of Christ in Bramalea, Ontario, designed and built a new washroom office complex, with showers and running hot water. A grand opening, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony, fundraising, picnic and fun day, starring "Goldie" the Wonder Horse was held on July 15, 1978.

We are now entering the 80's. A week of Family Fellowship, just a little different from those in the 50's was introduced. Tents and campers sprung up everywhere on the grounds. Families enjoyed a week of fun and fellowship.

The directors of Omagh now number 11. Many, many fine dedicated Christians have worked so hard over these 40 odd years for Omagh. It is impossible to mention names for fear of missing some. They have served as President of the Corporation, Directors, Secretaries, Principal of the School, Teachers, Monitors, Cooks, Medical Director, Nurse, Camp Director, Sports Director, Counsellors, Lifeguard, Craft Director, Maintenance Workers and Auditors.

The students? Without them we would have nothing. Many came to know God as Creator of all things. Many developed a deep faith in the Bible as the Word of God. Many heard the gospel for the first time. Many were baptized. Many became preachers of the gospel serving here in Canada and in the mission field. Many lasting friendships were formed, and yes, many Christian marriages. That dream so many years ago has, and still is, being fulfilled.