Algonquin Highlands council is considering the long-term implications of a re-zoning application from Dimensions Retreats that would see the Maple Lake operation introduce a medical component to its programming.

At a public meeting July 21, township planner Sean O’Callaghan said Dimensions was looking for a permit to add acupuncture services, install a float tank, leading light, sound and group therapy and set up a medical clinic. This was a change from initial plans approved by council last November, which centred around a “destination retreat” for visitors, with yoga, massage and meditation.

O’Callaghan said the application complies with the township’s official plan, but council was hesitant given controversy surrounding the project over the past year.

Dimensions bought the 40-plus acre site in May 2021. In an initial press release, they described it as a “psychedelic treatment company,” focusing on inpatient treatment integrating neuroscience with traditional healing practices. There was concern from the public that the site would be transformed into a drug rehabilitation clinic.

A few months later, CEO Christopher Dawson told local media Dimensions would “not be providing medical services of any kind”, billing themselves as one of Canada’s premiere tourist getaway destinations.

Dawson then told The Highlander in March that, while the company would not be offering drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, there was a long-term plan to introduce a medical component. He said they wanted to expand into psychotherapy and psychedelics, referencing psilocybin – or magic mushrooms – currently illegal in Canada.

Mayor Carol Moffatt expressed concern over the planned “accessory” uses Dimensions outlined in its new application.

“How many uses does there have to be before the overall use is no longer accessory? We started out with accommodation, massage, yoga and woodland frolic and we’ve ventured into medicine and medical practitioning,” Moffatt said.

The new application also called for a small pharmacy space, which Dawson clarified would serve only as storage for prescribed medications brought on-site by visitors, not operate as a dispensary.

“We are definitely not an acute care facility, a hospital, a rehabilitation centre, a treatment centre. We don’t have capacity to do detox for individuals that suffer from addiction,” Dawson said last week. “We are going to primarily focus on [people] that have demonstrated themselves to be treatmentresistant within the context of traditional treatment.”

He referenced a recent decision by Health Canada to legalize psychedelics on a caseby-case basis for people suffering PTSD or relapsed addicts, hoping Dimensions would be able to lean into that segment.

Deputy mayor Liz Danielsen said Dimensions has not been clear about the intent of the facility.

“I do see there are some pretty substantial benefits to Algonquin Highlands and the County. But when I’m looking at this from a pure planning perspective, your report does not give us the information we’re seeking,” she said. Dawson said the company’s total investment would be about $20 million.

Public concern

Carolyn Dartnell, a cottager on Placid Lane, feels there’s been a lack of transparency with residents. She said Dimensions, and its services, are not a good fit for the township or Maple Lake community.

Amber Meirik, a cottager on Maple Lake, is concerned about community safety, given Dawson’s admission he intends to use cannabis as a treatment option and hopes to one day expand into psychedelics

“There would be an elevated risk of unwanted exposure to people under the influence of dangerous drugs,” Meirik said. She also cited concerns over increased traffic, and the impact on lake water quality.

Dartnell urged council to proceed with caution.

“This is the only time council will have influence over this site. Once there is a medical clinic on that site, it will be there forever,” she said.

Next steps

Moffatt didn’t feel entirely comfortable approving the proposal with question marks over the request to include a pharmacy space and usher in various medical services.

“If there doesn’t need to be a pharmacy… get rid of it. I want this to be as concise and accurate as it can be. If there aren’t currently short-or-medium term goals or plans for osteopathy and chiropractic, get rid of it. It almost sounds now like they’re saying they want one of each thing just in case they want to introduce them in the future,” Moffatt said.

Coun. Jennifer Dailloux said AH is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada dealing with an application of this nature so there’s extra pressure to get things right.

“If there is no urgency, maybe it’s a gift that we can take some time on this file, ask some more questions and enable Dimensions to reach out to the community a little bit more… We want to get this right for our community,” she said.