Settling Frost Centre ghosts
By Jim Poling
Each Halloween I perch on a rockcut across from the Frost Centre, watching for the ghosts to appear.
They always do.
I see their excited faces as they step down from arriving school buses. I hear their laughter echoing in the dormitory hallways. I feel their presence as they hike the trail to the old ranger cabin.
The ghosts are my memories. Unsettled memories of when kids came to the Frost Centre to learn about nature and experience the health and joy of the outdoors.
One of my favourite memories is the Spirit Walk staged one Halloween week in 2002 by Frost Centre staff and others.
We walked the darkened grounds beside St. Nora Lake, unexpectedly meeting ghosts from the past carrying lanterns and dressed in the fashions of their times. There was a dynamiter who had worked on Highway 35 construction in the 1930s. And a log driver for lumber baron J. R. Booth in the 1800s. And a settler come to Haliburton County to build a life in the bush.
Each talked about the events of their times. It was a fascinating evening and we learned much about the lives of the people and the history of the area.
Another special memory is of following children through the Frost Centre’s sawmill and sugar bush area behind Sand Lake. The kids saw how logs were milled into building boards, then how maple trees were tapped and the sap cooked to become maple syrup spooned onto fresh snow for them to eat.
These were paid attendance events put on by staff and Frost Centre friends who understood the importance to children, and adults, of learning our history and heritage.
All that ended July 9, 2004 when the McGuinty government closed the Frost Centre. David Ramsay, then natural resources minister, said education was not a core service for his ministry. The money spent on the Frost Centre operation could be better used improving health care, he said.
The government then proceeded to squander millions of taxpayer dollars in the outrageous EHealth and Ornge air ambulance spending scandals. The money lost in these mismanagement epics could have funded 10 Frost Centres for many years.
Meanwhile 35 people lost their Frost Centre jobs and the local economy lost an estimated $700,000 a year. We all lost a priceless resource for learning about and understanding nature at a time when environmental disasters threaten our planet’s existence.
Ramsay said the Frost Centre presented a great opportunity for private development. The government could sell it to private enterprise for developing into a resort.
The last thing Ontario needed was another struggling resort. Eleven years have passed since the closure. The Frost Centre sits empty and rotting, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for heat, electricity, maintenance and security.
I’m told that vandals have done a number on the demonstration sawmill and the sugar shack. I haven’t been there myself because of the No Trespassing signs.
Someone is using the old police and conservation officer gun range behind Sand Lake. Every weekend there are explosions of gunfire from there. Some of it sounds like heavy calibre, automatic gunfire. On two weekend occasions there have been explosions loud enough to be dynamite or hand grenades.
There’s no use wailing any longer about the Frost Centre closing. It is history and more weeping and gnashing of teeth will not change it.
It is time for a new approach. The Frost Centre should be dismantled. Local people should be given contracts to take down the 21 buildings and reclaim and recycle any useful parts. It is a project that should be managed by local government and local organizations. Certainly not by the Queen’s Park elite.
Take down the buildings. Plant more majestic white pines. Create a roadside park beside the lake. Or an expanded wilderness canoe/camping launch site.
Perhaps build a small museum, or at least a historical cairn, that will help people remember and honour the important history and contributions of the Frost Centre and its surrounding area.
Maybe then the ghosts of the Frost Centre will be settled.