By Mike Baker
The ownership group of Dimensions Health Centres, who recently completed the purchase of a 40-acre resort on Maple Lake, has poured cold water on suggestions it plans to transform the property into a drug rehabilitation clinic.
Speaking to the Echo on May 28, Christopher Dawson, CEO of Dimensions, said the company will operate the facility as a tourist attraction.
“I guess we view ourselves, first and foremost, as an experiential travel destination. We are focused on health and wellness. That’s the experience we’re trying to deliver. But what we’re focused on is a retreat centre that is immersed in nature,” Dawson said.
A press release distributed last week refers to Dimensions as a “psychedelic treatment company,” who will be offering specific customized retreats designed for clinical benefit in a range of areas including training psychedelic practitioners, hosting small clinical trials, healing traumatic brain injury, addressing compassion fatigue and moral injury among healthcare providers and first responders, responding to COVID-19-related trauma and grief, and shorter stays designed for couples or individuals seeking rejuvenation and reconnection.
The property most recently served as the Mishpacha Resort, a Hasidic Jewish retreat centre. Dimensions took ownership of the property in late February.
While the company only went public with the news it had purchased the site last week, rumours of a deal have been swirling across the community for months. Since early March, the Echo has received four separate inquiries from residents seeking more information about Dimensions and their plans for the Maple Lake property.
When asked to comment on the rumour that Dimensions would be turning the site into a drug rehabilitation clinic, Dawson was firm.
“We definitely are not a drug rehab facility. Not at all. We’re not providing medical services of any kind,” Dawson said. “We view ourselves as being adjacent to that [field] in the sense that we are trying to be in the general mental health and wellness space, but we are not a drug rehab centre. This is not a destination for individuals that need drug treatment.”
He added, “If somebody was to present themselves to Dimensions seeking treatment, we would send them elsewhere.”
Aaron David is a company director with Dimensions, and has been overseeing some of the early renovation projects at the site.
“We’re using the existing footprint of the buildings and giving them a massive refresh. We’re also building some beautiful new cabins where some old cabins existed, and updating the old lodge that was there quite extensively,” David said. “The idea is to modernize everything, but pay homage to traditional designs of the Haliburton region.”
Plans for the property include the construction or restoration of 16 individual cabins, a state-of-the-art spa and an updated lodge, which will boast four or five bedrooms, as well as communal gathering areas.
David confirmed the Dimensions team has been in discussions with staff from the Algonquin Highlands planning department for several months, culminating in the recent issuance of building permits for the site. In an email sent to the Echo on Friday afternoon [May 28], Algonquin Highlands mayor Carol Moffatt said those permits have, at least temporarily, been revoked.
Moffatt suggested the municipality wanted further clarification from Dimensions regarding their intentions for the site.
“Communications between the new property owners and staff involved the property continuing as a tourist establishment, which is its current zoning. Building permits were issued, however, in light of additional information received about the intended use of the property, a ‘Stop Work’ order has been issued until further discussions are held,” Moffatt wrote. “A zoning amendment, which is a participatory public process, may be required.
“While Algonquin Highlands supports growth and development it also has an obligation to uphold its land-use regulations. We look forward to an outcome that’s in the best interest of the community,” she concluded.
Dawson believes these concerns boil down to language used in the press release announcing Dimensions’ purchase of the site that he wishes he could take back. He noted too that he, as well as some other members of his senior administrative team, have extensive experience working in the drug rehabilitation industry, which may be another bone of contention.
He remains confident though that Dimensions will be in a position to open its doors to guests, on a preliminary basis, sometime in 2021.
“We’ll be offering things like yoga, meditation, something called sound baths, which is sound therapy. We’re going to be doing breathing work, which is another therapeutic element of connecting body and mind. There will be massages, a sauna – a lot of spa-like elements,” Dawson noted. “We’re also trying to build an elaborate set of walking trails through the property. It’s really meant to be a retreat where people can disconnect from the city, disconnect from their phone, immerse themselves in nature and try and get a renewed sense of mental and physical health. We very much view ourselves as trying to connect mind and body.”
In total, Dawson expects Dimensions’ initial investment in the Maple Lake property to exceed $10 million. Over the coming months, he expects to hire up to a dozen individuals to help run the soon-to-be 5-star facility once it’s operational. As the business grows, and COVID-19 restrictions loosen, plans to turn the business into a multi-season operation could lead to the creation of 30 further full-time and part-time positions.
“We’re taking this opportunity very seriously. We want to be here for a long, long time. We want to be part of this community,” Dawson said. “This will be our first location. We feel Haliburton [County] is the ideal place for us to set up.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The stop work order put in place by Algonquin Highlands was lifted in early July. According to Dimensions staff, work is ongoing to bring the site online later this year.