By Jim Poling Sr.
It’s official. The “For Sale” sign is up at the Frost Centre on Highway 35 just south of Dorset.
Workers were out early last Saturday morning assembling a huge sign offering the 40-acre historic site as available to buy. The property is listed by the CRBE (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis) Group, a worldwide commercial real estate company.
A check of various CBRE websites did not reveal any listing details, like price and conditions, but perhaps they are still being drawn up.
The Frost Centre lands, and presumably its dozen or more empty and rotting buildings, apparently have been for sale for the last decade. But this is the first time, apparently, that the property has been listed with a real estate company that will work actively to find a buyer.
I say apparently because the Ontario government never has told taxpayers, who have paid hundreds of thousands of hard-earned tax dollars to keep the empty places heated and lighted while its exterior rots, much about what is happening.
For example, as a working journalist I asked Laurie Scott’s office twice over the last two months for information on what is happening with the Frost Centre lands. I have never had the courtesy of a reply.
Also, a friend who is a taxpayer on St. Nora Lake where the centre is located, has asked Scott’s office for information. No reply.
Scott is MPP for the area, as well as the cabinet minister responsible for dealing with the Frost Centre.
A major worry of many people is what a new owner will do with the Frost Centre. They worry that it might become another party palace resort (hello Trump International!) destroying yet another natural and heritage resource.
There is no need for weeping and gnashing of teeth over what might happen to the hiking and canoe/kayak trails on the Frost lands. Carol Moffatt, mayor of Algonquin Highlands Township, tells me the township has a long-term agreement with the province that allows it to operate its trails system.
The overall Frost Centre area is huge, covering roughly 26,000 hectares stretching far east and northeast toward Algonquin Park. The 40 acres up for sale were severed from the larger package some years back and cover the area surrounding the buildings on Highway 35.
The province apparently is trying to do something to protect heritage and natural resource aspects of the Frost Centre. Again, “apparently” because the government has not told us what those protections might be and how it intends to see that they are accepted and observed by any buyer.
Exchanges of property can include heritage and conservation easements, which legally bind a new owner to maintain and protect the heritage and conservation aspects of the property.
Mayor Moffatt said she believes there are heritage easements on parts of some of the buildings, but does not have the details.
That is interesting because it could mean that the easements would prevent a buyer from bulldozing all the buildings to put up a sky-piercing resort and marina.
However, there are ways around easements. For instance, a building with a heritage-protected fireplace used to warm Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, could be demolished if the fireplace was left standing and incorporated into the new building. It could be incorporated into a barroom or a pantry and still satisfy the easement.
So, the 40-acre Frost Centre site on St. Nora Lake might undergo dramatic change, but at least Algonquin Highlands’ terrific trail and camping system will continue. It has been increasingly popular this year as more people seek distance during the Covid pandemic.
The tragedy of the Frost Centre is that it likely never again will be what it once was for the people of Ontario – a natural resources centre offering education and experience in understanding nature and how we should live as a part of it.
Leslie Frost, the Ontario premier for whom the Frost Centre was named, felt strongly about the importance of education in understanding and protecting our natural environment.
“The government believes that the best approach to the conservation and administration of our natural resources is to be found in education,” he once said.
Good words, unfortunately not taken to heart by his successors.