Miriam Patterson led retreat participants in yoga to focus on breathing and stress release. Submitted photo

Abbey Retreat Centre welcomes first visitors  

By Sue Tiffin

Published April 11 2017

In March a group of people living with cancer and their caregivers were able to get away from the world for a weekend in Haliburton County.

The group was welcomed to a pilot program of the Abbey Retreat Centre (ARC) an initiative developed by a group of friends connected to the Abbey Gardens Community Trust hoping to transform the lives of those living with cancer.

Ten people ranging in age from their 50s to their 80s visited from Ottawa Toronto Barrie and the local Haliburton area at the end of March. Those living with cancer had different types of the disease at different stages but joined together to relax with activities including yoga and meditation and therapeutic touch.

“It offers people who are dealing with a very very challenging life situation to have time apart to be quiet to have conversations with other people who are dealing with cancer and to find a quiet place inside themselves from which they can move forward and deal with whatever the cancer journey brings them” said Joy Davey ARC board chair. “We want them to have the opportunity to live as well as they can for whatever time period they have.”

The ARC board aims to bring together people living with cancer and their primary support person to share experiences including challenges and fears of their cancer journey according to Davey.
The March retreat was a pilot project held at Abbey North prior to the launch of the ARC on the property of Abbey Gardens in the fall of 2017.

“We were eager to get started” said Davey. “We’ve been working on this for some time and felt it was important to begin the retreats so we could get a better idea about what components we want to include. We didn’t want to wait until the facility was done.”

The retreat centre will make use of the Hewitt house on Abbey Gardens property. Renovations are expected to happen this summer. Davey noted the easy access to forests and water in Haliburton as being an important detail in creating a welcoming and relaxing retreat location.

Upon its official opening the retreat centre will be the only one of its kind in Ontario. The ARC group has been inspired by cancer retreat centres in Seattle and western Canada and is connected to

Commonweal which established the Cancer Help Program retreat more than 30 years ago.

The pilot project was a huge success according to Davey and comments from participants. “Your team wrapped me in love and care” wrote one. “It was a wonderful opportunity to share fears concerns and wisdom with fellow cancer journeyers” wrote another.

The participants enjoyed food that Davey said is in line with an anti-cancer diet including dark green vegetables fish and chicken and very low refined sugars.

Dr. Peter Papadogianis director of the Patterson Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a member of the board of directors of the ARC was in attendance as well.

“We have known for some time that a more expansive retreat-style program would enhance our approach to mind-body medicine” said Papadogianis. “I believe the ARC will fill a void in cancer care in Ontario. This retreat centre in Haliburton has the potential to become a hub for cancer retreats in Ontario as no other centre of this type exists in the province.”

The ARC has been funded by the Haliburton County Development Corporation and has applied for government funding as well.

“It’s certainly a worthwhile venture” said Davey. “We’re hoping it grows and becomes a well-known facility in eastern Canada and we’re hoping that we can meet regional needs as well. We really want this to be an endeavour that is deeply connected to the community so that Haliburton County sees this as their program.”