Run, walk, paddle or bike to support the Abbey Retreat Centre

By Darren Lum

Taking a step, a pedal or a stroke in the next several weeks for the upcoming Haliburton Highlands Challenge will mean a life altering opportunity for clients of the Abbey Retreat Centre.
Held from July to September, the Challenge is a fundraiser that raises important funds to help the centre, which provides healing spaces and a community for people living with cancer and for the people supporting them.
From the centre’s website: “Located in the Haliburton Highlands on a beautiful property surrounded by forests and ponds, we provide a variety of in-person and online retreats and programs that offer rest and renewal, companionship, meaningful discussions, healthy and delicious food, and an introduction to evidence-informed practices that tend body, mind, and soul while living with cancer (for example: time in nature, restorative yoga, massage, expressive arts, music, and group conversation). Our retreats and programs serve those in the Haliburton area as well as people across Ontario.”

The Centre’s co-director Barb Smith Morrison said the centre provides a wellness retreat where people who have endured cancer can find solace.
“And so we really work hard at creating a safe space for people to explore their story, because it’s healing to tell it is, healing to be witnessed, and deeply listened to and validated,” she said
The fundraiser makes what the centre does possible.
“So, the [challenge] is really to raise funds to helps us increase our programming because of the need for what we do is really being recognized. And what we also recognize during COVID is offering online programming,” she said.
The online offer, she said, enables an opportunity to help those who are living outside the Highlands and cannot come here such as those who are too ill to attend the programming offered at the centre.
The programming being free is an important aspect for people who have already incurred a great deal of expenses with cancer, Morrison said.

She adds there is value in being able to offer all the same activities of care for the cancer clients as well as their caregivers. This can include a massage, expressive arts, and yoga. There is a recognition of how cancer also changes the lives of the caregivers and “healing bridges” are created.
The feedback from caregiver participants is gratitude.
“And they say to us, ‘No one’s ever asked me how I am in the midst of this so they have their own settings where caregivers talk with one another that are safe and free from judgment. And they just say it’s so healing to say some things that they maybe can’t say to the person who’s living with cancer,” she said.
The value and how healing the centre is for people is evident by the growing number of people on the waiting list. For each session there are about nine people.

Later this week, the centre will host its Haliburton Highlands Challenge kick-off celebration from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 26 at the Abbey Retreat Centre, located at 1150 Garden Gate in Haliburton.
Besides walking, running and bicycling, participants are encouraged to do any activity and to raise awareness of the centre, which is possible from information shared by the centre with those who choose to donate to the cause. This can be done individually or as a team. The fundraiser’s encouragement of activity provides health benefits of moving our bodies in whatever ways we are able while supporting the vision and mission of Abbey Retreat Centre.
For more information see the website:

The community concept related to the centre’s existence is made clear to participants.
“It’s a direct response that we tell everybody who comes to a retreat or an online program this has been made possible because there’s a whole community of people who are holding you and are donating, whether it’s volunteer time or money to make these programs possible,” she said.