Our History

Keys & Old Bible

History of the First Baptist Church of Smoky Lake

Our church history began with a visit! Mrs. Kate Jarema of Smoky Lake was visiting her sister in Edmonton in 1944 when she met Pastor Roman Horban. In response to her invitation, he came to Smoky Lake and held a gospel meeting in a home. That summer Roman and his wife Jean held meetings in the school house in Smoky Lake. Five converts were baptized in White Earth River, including Kate and her brother Tom Halisky.

Later the same year Lucille Shurstanko and Vera Musikoff arrived as missionaries. They did house-to-house visitation and held Vacation Bible Schools from Thorhild to Ashmont under the auspices of the Slavic Gospel Association. Kate's young daughter Stella accepted Christ during this time, and became a missionary in Quito, Ecuador.

Lucille married John Kushnerik in 1945 and the two held meetings in homes and country schools, conducted youth and children's meetings and visited homes and hospitals.

The Kushneriks wanted to build a chapel in Smoky Lake, but because of opposition to the gospel, could not obtain land. In 1947 Kate's husband Joe invited them to build on his property on the south edge of town, which they did.

The next project was a summer Bible camp. They rented property at Hanmore Lake and held the first camp in 1949 in very primitive conditions. Later the congregation was able to purchase the property, and Pioneer Bible Camp has developed into an amazing facility now 70 years old (in 2019).

When the Kushneriks left in 1955, Bill Kapitaniuk ministered for a year, followed by Bill and Mary Danko.  Early in 1961 a member of the church bought a lot in Smoky Lake and transferred the title to the Slavic Gospel Association. Building commenced immediately, with the generous help of believers near and far, and by summer the new church was ready.

Other pastors eventually followed the Dankos. The next step was affiliation with a denomination. This happened in 1978 when the Smoky Lake Evangelical Church, as it had been called, was accepted as an affiliated church with the North American Baptist Conference. That same year the church renamed itself "First Baptist Church" and welcomed its first NAB pastor.

On August 4, 2019 the First Baptist Church of Smoky Lake celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Gospel coming to Smoky Lake, and the 20th anniversary of the ministry of their Pastor Keith Axford and his wife Helen.



  • A research paper by Herb Bachler, former FBCSL pastor, written around 1990
  • Memories of church pioneer Lucille Kushnerik shared in 2014

Author: Sharon Pillips


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