When the Abbey Retreat Centre (ARC) board was working towards holding their first cancer retreat in March of 2017, they recognized they needed some front office help.  

Chair Joy Davey wanted someone to do a little bit of paperwork. Member Barb Bolin suggested Donna McCallum, a former CAO of Dysart et al, who was retired.  

“So, I met with Joy and we just clicked,” McCallum said just before officially stepping down from her role as executive director of ARC at a reception on April 14.

New executive director, Doug Norris was formally introduced.  

McCallum, who started the last week of January 2017, said the one thing she told Davey was, “I don’t want to do meetings and I don’t want to do minutes. Guess what?” 

 She did both, and so much more in her more than two years with ARC, taking her part-time paperwork role to a full-fledged executive-director position.  

In an interview with The Highlander, McCallum said she was pleased Norris had been hired.  

“The job outgrew me. I didn’t want to spend 40 hours or more, and that’s what it was taking. In order for the centre to grow, it needed somebody full-time to take on all the extras.”  She said just taking care of the day-to-day operations of the centre did not afford time to get out into the community and that is something Norris can now do.  

The centre offers free cancer retreats for up to 10 people approximately every  two months. To help support that mission, it has added programming, including a speaker series, yoga, and other events aimed at bringing people to the back of the property, as well as revenue to support the cancer retreats.

They cost about $10,000 a weekend.  McCallum said the vision continues to be around making ARC a wellness hub.

They have also recently applied for charitable status and gotten a New Horizons for Seniors grant for their volunteer program. 

 Norris said he wants to educate people that ARC and Abbey Gardens and its food hub are two separate entities, although they both share the grounds with Haliburton Solar and Wind and Haliburton Highlands Brewing. 

He said another thing he would like to do over the next year or two is boost the profile of the retreat centre.  

“The core work is the cancer retreat. Everything else we do drives towards that. But we have to keep enough traffic in the centre, and revenue-generating traffic,” he said. “So, that’s the key mandate for me in year one and two, just to be out there in the community and helping people to understand more about who we are, even as we’re evolving and figuring out exactly what our work is going to be.”  

He said he thinks it’s great that people are associating Haliburton County with a unique program that promotes how people can thrive with cancer.

He added developing a wellness hub that supports a healthy local community also epitomizes the fight against cancer. 

Norris, a United Church minister, has been a Maple Lake cottager for about 14 years and is finishing up a house here. His wife will join him soon.

McCallum, meanwhile, heads back to retirement.  Norris commented on how McCallum’s flexibility has been part of the success story.

“To step in and respond when the need was ‘just to do a little paperwork.’ To carry it through to where the position was an emerging executive director role with that layer of responsibility. And to carry it that far and her willingness to go from that point A to that point B. And what a privilege for me to step in and pick it up on that platform.” 

 McCallum, who’s parting gift was a bursary for retreat participants, said, “I will always feel this was a special time in my life as part of the team that helped to start the Abbey Retreat Centre;   the board, the retreat team, the support staff, the volunteers … all an important part of the team that have given so generously of their time and made the work I did so much easier.”


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