CAO explains how the hybrid resort-treatment centre will work
By Stephen Petrick
Plans for a new health retreat, which has sparked much curiosity, careful planning and public relations work, due to its offer of “psychedelic” therapies, is coming to fruition.
Canadian company, Dimensions, has revealed designs for its first project, Dimensions Algonquin Highlands, which is now under construction on a 45-acre Maple Lake property previously known as the Mishpacha Resort.
A press release issued April 27 said that the retreat site is being designed by internationally renowned creative studio DesignAgency “to help guests find their rhythm and immerse themselves in the healing benefits of nature.”
Newly constructed facilities will include 17 private cabin suites, a dining lodge and spa facilities.
“Their calming design fits quietly into the landscape and reflects the rural aesthetic developed by preceding generations,” the release read.
Following its release, Dimensions chief executive officer and part-owner Chris Dawson, gave an exclusive interview to the Minden Times, to carefully spell out what Dimensions is, what it is not and what it believes.
The retreat is not a typical vacation resort – although there are some parallels. And, while it provides health services, these services are not (yet) covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, meaning its first customers to visit – expected by July – will pay out of their own pocket for the experience.
Dawson acknowledges that Dimensions is a hybrid tourist resort-health clinic. Its guests will go there to receive healing treatments, which could include the use of psilocybin (otherwise known as magic mushrooms) or cannabis. But different guests will have different reasons for being there.
“Any guest that comes to Dimensions should experience this common element; it’s a retreat that people would love to do for a holiday. It should be in a fun place,” Dawson said.
“Some people will be there to proactively work on their own wellness. Other people will be there because they have a mental illness or a chronic issue that traditional therapies have not helped. Those people may be here to get well again.
“The core purpose of coming might be different for those two people, but the end result should be similar.”
Dimensions was founded in 2021 by Dawson, chief operational officer Andrew Galloway and chairperson David Heden, who wanted to invest in “wellness tourism,” a booming industry. The company also includes a team of clinicians, therapists, and hospitality experts.
Dawson said Dimensions is possible because governments around the world, including in Canada, are showing renewed interest in studying, and in some cases approving, psychedelic and plant-based medicine treatments. Meanwhile, he said, more people are seeing a need to work on their own health, proactively, instead of relying on health systems, which are designed to help people only when health is deteriorating.
While psilocybin is still taboo in Canada and a federal government website, says “the production, sale and possession of magic mushrooms is illegal in Canada” there is a legal loophole that allows for it to be used in some rare cases.
It’s called subsection 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and it allows the Ministry of Health to exempt a person from the rule if it’s for a “scientific or medical purpose, or for a purpose that is otherwise in the public interest.”
Dimensions, aware of this, mentions in its press release that it will offer “healing modalities and plant medicines will include cannabis and cacao, as permitted by the local municipality, as well as psilocybin to guests that have received approval by Health Canada’s Schedule 56 exemptions and Special Access Programs.”
Dawson clarified a retreat like Dimensions is important because it provides people a safe, supervised space to take these medicines, while under the care of therapists. A public relations specialist for Dimensions, Melanie Coates, also added that the business will also have a thorough intake process, to ensure that guests are committed to therapies they sign up for.
“Dimensions is very clearly a company that is not advocating for the legalization of psychedelics for recreational purposes,” Dawson said. “Dimensions is a company devoted to using psychedelics in a therapeutic context.”
Given that Dimensions is launching their business amid a time of shifting attitudes towards drugs, there’s been hiccups along the way.
“There’s no doubt that we need to break down some stereotypes,” Dawson said. “There is resistance to psychedelics and sometimes that comes from a conservative component of society.”
In a 2021 interview with the Echo, Dawson had to clarify that the retreat would not be a drug rehabilitation centre, among swirling rumours. Also, Algonquin Highlands’s planning department, after approving construction thinking the facility was simply a tourism resort (which it was zoned for), issued a stop work order as new details about what would take place at the facility emerged.
Dawson said Dimensions has since applied to the municipality for a zoning variance that would allow for it to offer “psychological services and other wellness activities” and “we won’t add on those incremental services until we have the green light.”
He said he hopes to build a positive relationship with the community and pointed out that the business will likely offer about 50 new local jobs. To find therapists and other highly trained specialists to work at the site, it’s casting a wider net.
Dawson is now excited about welcoming the first guests. He expects to begin offering week-long packages – likely at four-digit dollar rates – in July, as the site’s original building will be functional then. A second main building is expected to be finished next summer and by that time, Dawson expects the retreat to be in full swing and contributing to people’s healing.
That could include people who are going through post-traumatic stress disorder or people who are dealing with other physical or other mental pains.
He said psychedelic therapies “allow people to hit the re-set button on their brain” if they’re in ruminating patterns. “It’s almost like hitting Control-Alt-Delete.”
“Used in the right context you can hit that re-set button and a therapist can work with you to integrate that experience and help you come up with a better behavioural response to the ruminating that might take place. It has a distinctly different effect than traditional medicines,” he said.