For years now, I have regularly driven Highway 35 N on my way to Dorset, Algonquin Provincial Park or Huntsville. I have also spent a great deal of time on the trails in and around the Frost Centre.
Every single time I drive by, or visit, I lament the emptiness of the centre and grounds and comment on its continuing deterioration. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said ‘if only someone would buy that and fix it up.’
For the first time in my years living in Haliburton County that may now be a possibility as the Province of Ontario recently put the property up for sale.
News broke late last week that a for sale sign had finally been installed outside the centre. Infrastructure Ontario, which is the Crown agency responsible for managing provincially-owned infrastructure and real estate, put it up for sale. CBRE Limited Real Estate Brokerage has it posted and the listing can also be found at Realtor.ca
For a lot of people, the sale came as no surprise. For some, it tug at a bandage that has been placed over a 16-year-old wound. Many locals worked at the Frost Centre for years until it was abruptly closed by the Liberals in 2004.
That closure still leaves a bitter taste in many local mouths. Some see the sale as the final blow to Leslie M. Frost’s declaration in 1944 that the school “may be the forerunner of other such establishments in Ontario.”
The closing was difficult. There were protests at the MNR building in Minden and at Queen’s Park. Former MPP Chris Hodgson is credited with doing a lot of heavy lifting to keep it open. But despite the best efforts of him, the Friends of the Frost Centre (which submitted an unsuccessful plan to take it over) and the Frost Centre Institute, which wound up in 2010, it was shuttered.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the province put the sale into effect as far back as 2012, sending a provincial surplus property notification to the County and AH, and in 2013 the province applied to sever the land now up for sale.
In its day, the Frost Centre was a fixture in the community. It linked the community to eco-education long before we worried about things such as Climate Change. Its history is deeply entrenched in the story of Dorset, Algonquin Highlands and Haliburton County.
I often run into people who worked there and have heard about the amazing work that was done. The Highlander has to agree with both Barrie Martin, a former Frost Centre employee and now tourism expert, as well as Moffatt. Martin envisions the Frost Centre continuing as a place of education about natural resources, ecology and climate change. Moffatt wants to ensure that the history is somehow honoured in whatever it becomes.
The buyer will have to be visionary. He, she or them will have to honour the trail system that runs through the land, and the launch to St. Nora’s Island. They will have to embrace the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails office and its hub of activity. They will have to love the land as much as we all do.
We will all be watching anxiously to see how this historic piece of Haliburton County can live on long into the future.