/Worrying about the Frost Centre

Worrying about the Frost Centre

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

I’m getting dark, worried feelings about the Frost Centre on Highway 35 just south of Dorset.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) bought the 40-acre site and its 21 buildings from the Ontario government just over two years ago. The union paid $3.2 million and planned to use it as a training-recreation site for its members.

At the time of the purchase union executives said they had “a duty to preserve the property’s integrity” and to reinvigorate the Centre.

“We’ve got a huge opportunity but also a real duty here,” union treasurer Eddy Almeida said at the time.

The Centre has sat empty and unused since and now is the focus of legal actions. Some OPSEU executives who handled the purchase no longer are in charge and are being sued by the union.

Also, a contractor hired by the union to do repairs at the Centre is suing OPSEU and is seeking $2.5 million in damages.

Now the union has appointed “a project team to consider options for the Frost Centre.”

I’m worrying about what the “options” might be.

OPSEU has a mess on its hands. It spent $3.2 million and got nothing for it over two years except more expenses. It has had to heat the main buildings, provide maintenance, keep some areas lighted, plow the entrance drives, plus pay lawyers handling the law suits.

What worries me is that the union’s project review team will recommend a quick and least painful way out of the mess. Find a low-offer buyer, recover part of your losses and get on with your real purpose, which is looking out for the interests of your 180,000 members.

A low-offer sale likely would be to a capital-driven organization looking to make money building cottage-homes along the Centre’s 2,800 feet of St. Nora Lake shoreline. The Ontario government rejected one such bid when it sold the property to OPSEU.

Another possibility is that the package will be sold to a company that would turn the site into a major resort complex.

St. Nora is suffering, like many other local lakes, from warming and human activity. Another couple dozen cottage-homes along a shoreline that has been preserved for decades will worsen the situation.

Kushog Lake, which connects to St. Nora Lake also would be affected.

The Frost Centre began as a ranger station in 1921. In 1944 the Ontario government and the University of Toronto forestry faculty partnered to create a place for training government personnel and university students. It became the Ontario Forest Technical Training School, then an outdoor education centre dedicated to environmental and resource management education.

For more than 100 years the Frost Centre has been all about the environment and education. 

I recall vividly the times when busloads of children were brought to the Frost facilities to be taken on hikes, visit the historic old saw mill, and see a sugar bush operation. Later they have a meal of pancakes and fresh maple syrup. A lot of these were city kids with little understanding of the real outdoors.

OPSEU owns the Frost Centre and presumably has the right to do with it whatever it chooses. 

The population of Haliburton Highlands is growing fast, and will grow even faster in coming years. There will be a need for more cottage-homes opportunities, more commercial activity. 

But my hope is that the union will do the right thing and recognize the Frost Centre’s history and the value in retaining the site as a place to learn about and better understand nature.

I also hope that OPSEU will remember its early statements about having a duty to preserve the property’s integrity and to work closely with the people of Haliburton County.

Various county individuals and groups made their feelings known to the government when it decided to close, then sell the Frost Centre. I hope they will do the same with OPSEU and its review committee.

The Frost Centre is a difficult and complex situation. I hope a lot of people will become involved in helping OPSEU find an acceptable solution.