A Haliburton-based cancer retreat centre has brought restorative experiences online thanks to an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant.

At a virtual event celebrating the funding April 9, Abbey Retreat Centre (ARC) executive director Barb Smith-Morrison explained how $30,600 in provincial funding helped create ‘Re-Shaping Our Cancer Stories’, a four-week online cancer retreat.

“It helped us work some magic,” Smith-Morrison said.

Smith-Morrison said ARC’s goal is to “strengthen and restore the body, mind and soul in the midst of a cancer experience.” The online program aimed to do the same from hundreds of kilometres away during COVID-19 restrictions.

In a trial run this winter, three facilitators guided 12 participants in two weekly Zoom meetings over four weeks. By the end of April, the program will have run three times.


The sessions include expressive arts therapy, breathwork, self-care strategies, diet and nutrition seminars and an accompanying series of videos.

Each week focuses on processing a different aspect of a cancer journey. Themes range from “discombobulation,” the uncertainty and whirlwind of emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis, to arrival and freedom when discovering new possibilities and worldviews.

“We honestly didn’t know if it was going to work,” said Fay Wilkinson, an expressive arts practitioner and program facilitator. Group sessions involving drawing, writing, interpretation and body movement are difficult to do online, but Wilkinson said they’ve received positive feedback from attendees.

Retreat participant Janet Auty Carlisle said receiving a cancer diagnosis during COVID-19 “was super lonely and super confusing.” She signed up for the online retreat without knowing what to expect.

She said the program “resonated” with what she needed at the time.

“Walking into this was like walking into a room of women I’ve known for years and having tea,” she said.

Smith-Morrison said ARC hopes to continue offering the online retreats for those who cannot travel to Haliburton or are not well enough to participate in-person. ARC currently has a waitlist of nearly 100 people.

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott said she was glad to see ARC’s mission continue online. “It’s such a wonderful healing centre to walk into. When that is taken away and isolation occurs it’s a challenge, especially for those living with a cancer diagnosis”

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