/Whither goes the Frost Centre?

Whither goes the Frost Centre?

From Shaman’s Rock

by Jim Poling Sr.

It was roughly one year ago that I wrote about the dark, worried feelings I had about the Frost Centre on St. Nora Lake just south of Dorset. Today, those feelings are darker and more worried.

The historic site, bought by the troubled Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) from the province three years ago, was put up for sale again last week. The union paid $3.2 million for the property and is asking $3.49 million.

When it bought the property, the union said it planned to reinvigorate the 40-acre site and its 21 buildings “to serve our members and the broader community at large.”

The Frost Centre was opened in 1921 as a training centre for Ontario’s forest rangers. In the 1970s the government used it as a staff training centre and a place to be used by school groups, wildlife organizations and eco-tourism groups.

The government closed the centre in 2004 but leased it to a private group as a summer camp and environment programming site. That lasted three years and the land and buildings have sat unused since.

The main concern now is what a new buyer will do with the place. OPSEU commissioned a planning study last year which raises the possibility of selling off parts of the property for cottage lots, which would increase traffic in and around the lake.

I have a conflict of interest here. I live on St. Nora Lake and will be affected by whatever is done with the Frost Centre. However, that’s life and something to deal with personally. My main worry is how a sale will affect the heritage and history of the Frost Centre property.

OPSEU made some flowery statements about the property when it first took possession of it. It seemed committed to revitalizing the place and to protecting its heritage and history.

“We know the centre’s impressive history . . . ,“ Eddy Almeida  vice-president and treasurer at the time. He said that preserving the integrity of the site is of “utmost importance” to the union. 

“The property is an absolute gem,” said then union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

How committed the union is to this gem of heritage and history today remains to be seen. There is some concern that the union will simply dump the site to any buyer without any thought to what they plan to do with it. This is just loose talk and nothing is certain until a sale is made.

There are various restrictions on what can be done with the property. The old towerman’s cabin on the site is designated a heritage site. Also, a Heritage Conservation Easement Agreement (HCEA) outlines what can and cannot be done to the various other buildings.

A 2020 provincial policy statement says the “ecological function and biodiversity of natural heritage systems, should be maintained, restored or, where

possible, improved.”

These restrictions complicate making major changes to the property but money and good lawyers can get pretty much anything done.

If I had several million bucks, I’d buy the property and turn it into a lakeside park celebrating the history of the Frost Centre and Haliburton County. However, I don’t have several million bucks.

The provincial government does. It should buy the place back and develop a plan for how to best use it.

We live in a time of growing concern about Nature collapsing under the weight of overdevelopment. We are seeing climate change beginning to alter our world.

What better way to use this heritage property than as an educational site that helps us to understand the natural world and how to live in it without destroying it? 

The province’s sale of the Frost Centre in 2021 was an unintelligent decision that ignored the importance of local history and heritage and put local people out of work. 

OPSEU’s decision to sell gives the province an opportunity to reverse a bad decision.

Three million dollars is nothing to big government, but it will buy another chance to stop more for-profit development and help to create more thinking about how we should be living in our disappearing natural world.