Thunder Bay service clubs, province strike deal for Wilderness Discovery Resort

The Ontario government and a collective of service organizations in Thunder Bay, Ont. have reached an agreement in principle that will secure a plot of land on Lake Shebandowan for use as a unique retreat for people with disabilities.

Agreement would see a new non-profit corporation formed to manage the resort

A deal in principle has been reached that would mean a future for the Lake Shebandowan Wilderness Discovery Resort. (Facebook)

The Ontario government and a collective of service organizations in Thunder Bay, Ont. have reached an agreement in principle that will secure a plot of land on Lake Shebandowan for use as a unique retreat for people with disabilities for at least the next 20 years.

The Wilderness Discovery camp has been facing an uncertain future since HAGI Community Services for Independence let its lease expire on the land in 2015.

Since then, Bob Hookham, the current president of the Fort William Rotary Club has been spearheading efforts to secure, from the province, the lakefront plot where the accessible resort is located.

"For us, this is a huge win," Hookham told CBC News on Friday.

"When I say 'win' I don't want anybody to think that this was a battle or a fight, it was a journey that we've had to go through for 22 months," Hookham continued, adding that the process was a learning experience for him, coming from the business world.
Andrew Tims and his son Connor, 13, return from from fishing, while friend Tracy Hurlbert looks on. The photo was taken at Wilderness Discovery Resort on Lake Shebandowan. (Supplied)

The tentative deal would see the land transferred to a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to managing the facility for 20 years, with conditions. If those conditions are satisfied over that period, the group will own the property outright.

"It's like buying a house with a mortgage on it," Hookham said, adding that he expects the conditions will be around things like maintaining the property and keeping it for its intended use. The collective will pay "minimal dollars" for the transfer, he said, adding that number still has to be finalized.

The management corporation will be made up of Thunder Bay rotary and kinsmen clubs as well as HAGI, which is under new management.

'We've got a long-term solution'

The announcement was made in front of a packed room at Thunder Bay's Valhalla Inn on Friday, with many people who have supported the camp in attendance.

Most of the negotiations to get to this point have gone through the office of Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro. He was on-hand to make Friday's announcement.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro says many people worked very hard to get this deal done. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"It's just a fantastic story," he told CBC News Friday afternoon. "A lot of people have worked very hard to get to this day."

A lot of people have worked very hard to get to this day- Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro

"We've got a long-term solution and this will be no longer a concern for anybody," Mauro said.

Hookham said the Thunder Bay groups will sit down on Monday with representatives from the infrastructure and community and social services ministries. Once the deal is finalized and the not-for-profit corporation registered, work to bring the property back up to standard will start.

That work could total $350,000 to $400,000 he said, adding that money could come from a variety of sources, including Rotary International as well as the groups' own fundraising efforts and, possibly, government programs.

Hookham added that, at this point, a grand re-opening is scheduled for April, 2018.

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