About Us

Picture a quiet place in nature. There is clean air to breathe and a beautiful setting for walking and just relaxing. It’s a safe place where people will be listened to and supported in the midst of a cancer experience. 

Abbey Retreat Centre offers a variety of in-person retreats and online programs that are intended to provide rest and renewal, companionship, and an introduction to evidence-informed practices that help to soothe, strengthen and restore the body, mind, and soul in the midst of a cancer experience. Time in nature, gentle and restorative yoga, massage, creative practices, delicious and nutritious meals, music and group conversation are all elements that make our cancer support transformative. 

Key support people/caregivers are also invited to attend our 4-day retreats. We believe that healing is enhanced for everyone when caregivers are also well-cared for. 

Our Team Members

Director Profiles

Lynda Shephard

Chair
“It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched by cancer in our family or friendship circle and I am no exception.” Lynda is passionate about helping others and Abbey Retreat Centre has a profound way to help people with cancer. Lynda worked in the public service for 35 years in a variety of roles including as a Director of Human Resources. She has effectively used strategic thinking and strong leadership to achieve organizational goals. Lynda’s skills include leadership development, labour relations, financial and operational management. She is an avid reader, lifelong learner and enjoys fishing, swimming, canoeing and martial arts.

Thea Patterson

Secretary
Thea is a Haliburton resident who comes to the Abbey Retreat Centre with a wealth of teaching and curriculum-building experience. In addition to her experience in Canadian schools, Thea was an active volunteer internationally implementing literacy, nutrition, and health programs for children in India and educational HIV/AIDS programmes in Africa. She is a volunteer with several other local community organizations.A cancer diagnosis for her daughter, and later, her husband, profoundly affected her relationship towards this disease. In her words, “both had cancers that were life threatening involving surgery and heavy treatments with debilitating side effects and the caregiver role fell to me. Caring for a loved one with cancer becomes a lifelong task; the fear of recurrence is ever present.”It was the search for wholeness and stability in the midst of living with a cancer diagnosis, that led Thea to help establish the Abbey Retreat Centre. The hope was that participants might find a community of support, understanding and care to nurture and mitigate the discombobulating effects of cancer for both caregiver and cancer participant.

Max Ward

Treasurer
Max lives in the village of Minden and enjoys rural life; swimming, camping, hiking, canoeing, growing a garden, and flying a Cessna 172 (private pilot!). The Reverend Max Ward is an Ordained United Church of Canada Minister. Max volunteers in the community in a number of ways.“As a cancer survivor myself, I know how cancer can really change your life and your perspective on life.  I was diagnosed with skin cancer, Melanoma, in 2005. It rocked my world. Fortunately, it was caught in time. I feel I have been given a second chance at life! I want to help others to experience the care and support I received.  Not everyone comes from a supportive community so that is why I support the programs of the Abbey Retreat Centre. It means the world to me that I can actively help so many other people in my own small way.”

Jennifer Ramsdale

Director

“My experiences with Abbey Retreat Centre helped me find my way back to joy; in turn, I brought my energy and skills back to Abbey Retreat Centre. I have been a participant, a volunteer, a therapist, and now a Board Member with this impactful organization.”

Jennifer’s first profession, as a Massage Therapist, allows her to apply therapeutic skills with empathy and caring through the lens of whole-person care. In 2019, she completed advanced training as a Combined Decongestive Therapist (CDT) to treat lymphedema and provide cancer care. Jennifer’s second career, in education, allows her to work with others to support transformational growth and deep connection in a safe environment.

“There is deep trauma from cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery but an immense opportunity for growth and change. The priority can be to find meaning in how you fill your days. Now I seek out challenges and connections outside of her comfort zone. I find it a great adventure and an honour to be part of the ARC team.”

Shelley van Nood

Director

Shelley is a long time local resident of the Haliburton Highlands. She brings a joyful, welcoming and inspiring energy to the Board of Directors. Shelley’s passion is providing support to residents of the Haliburton Highlands. She facilitates our local initiative program, A Warm Hug From the Highlands.

Georgiena Boyle

Director
Georgiena enjoys rural living and has lived in the Haliburton Highlands for over 40 years. Being a mother, grandmother and retired educator has brought her much joy. She loves the outdoors and long walks to take in what nature so abundantly offers.“Having had 2 cancers that were caught in the early stages, with minimal treatment required, I feel blessed. Cancer has touched many people in my family, and losing a cousin in childhood and father, who was only in his sixties, (after fighting cancer for 17 years) has had a deep impact on my life.”Volunteering, and helping others has always been a part of her life.. She started assisting in the Abbey Retreat Centre kitchen at some of the early retreats and still loves volunteering there at every opportunity. She also feels honoured to be part of the Board and to learn more about how this organization has helped so many.

Paul Handley

Director
Paul has recently joined the board after moving back to his home in the Kawartha Lakes area and was looking for ways to have impact in the community in which he lives. The mission and outcome of the work that the Abbey Retreat Centre performs resonated deeply with him so he was thrilled and humbled when an offer to join the board was extended. Paul currently works for the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Physical and Health Education and has served on 3 separate not for profit boards in the GTA. Paul is looking forward to working with his colleagues, the Abbey Retreat Centre staff, and all stakeholders to bring stability and growth to the incredibly important work that the Abbey Retreat Centre performs in supporting those with cancer and their key/support people/caregivers.

Joy Davey

Director

Joy has been a cottager/resident of Algonquin Highlands for almost 40 years. As a registered psychologist (retired), she spent her professional life teaching at Western University and in private practice.   For 18 years, she and husband Laurie Stibbards owned at a retreat centre in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, becoming familiar with all facets of operating a thriving, successful retreat business. They facilitated programs for people facing major life challenges. It was there she learned the power of a loving community in the process of healing and transformation. In 2007, they returned to their beloved Canada to live in Algonquin Highlands.

In 2015, conversation with John and Thea Patterson about a dream that eventually grew into Abbey Retreat Centre, sparked excitement in Joy that such a loving community might be possible in Haliburton Highlands, bringing support and healing to those whose lives are changed by cancer. Joy has served in many capacities at Abbey Retreat Centre: Board Chair, Chair of Fund Development and Program Facilitator. “It has been a gift and honour to be part of bringing Abbey Retreat Centre into form and shaping the important, life-changing work it does in the world.”

Staff Profiles

Barb Smith-Morrison

Executive Director
Barb has spent a career companioning organizations and individuals through ordinary, difficult and joyous moments and milestones. Having served as a pastor for almost 30 years, Barb brings a commitment to creating safe, warm and welcoming spaces where staff, volunteers, program participants and community members can feel seen, heard, valued and accepted. She has also trained in Spiritual Direction, Healing Circles and Forest Therapy Guiding. Barb is energized by spending time in nature, in solitude, and with family and friends. She enjoys photography, camping and great jokes! “Like most of us, my family has been and continues to be intimately affected by cancer. My connection to the Abbey Retreat Centre has enriched my life.”

Nancy Gosse

Program Coordinator
Always full of ideas and inspirations, Nancy has dedicated her life to listening more deeply, grounding in the beauty that surrounds us in nature, and trusting the intuitive wisdom that resides within. She has grown into her life work as a Spiritual Counselor, Metaphysical Minister, Death Doula and Reiki Master/Teacher.Stepping into her new role as Program Coordinator, Nancy brings a wide range of experience from her past roles as Program Coordinator with SIRCH Community Services, Hospice Coordinator for Haliburton Highlands Health Services, Program Information Officer for the Seniors Programs and Services with the District Municipality of Muskoka, and Volunteer Coordinator for Kawartha Lakes Food Source. An active community volunteer, Nancy has coordinated wellness fairs, and served as co-facilitator of grief and cancer support groups.Having many family members and friends who have been affected by cancer, Nancy holds an appreciation for what Abbey Retreat Centre offers. Nancy has also served as an Abbey Retreat Centre facilitator for just over a year. Feeling truly blessed to be invited into holding loving space with the Abbey Retreat Centre community, she believes that working with Abbey Retreat Centre feels like coming home.

Rebecca Anderson

Communications Coordinator
Rebecca grew up in the Haliburton Highlands and returned after completing an Undergraduate Degree in Social Work and doing some travelling. She is a proud member of the local community based service club, Rotaract Haliburton Highlands. Rebecca has worked for Extendicare as an Activity Aide and for SIRCH Community Services as a Program Coordinator. Rebecca brings a love for organization, communication and bringing the entire Abbey Retreat Centre community together. “Like many others, my family’s life has been touched by cancer. I am motivated by the vision and mission of the Abbey Retreat Centre and am grateful to be doing work that feels impactful, creative and healing. I especially enjoy connecting with participants throughout the registration and evaluation process!”

Maryssa Danilko

Operations Coordinator & Bookkeeper

Being a member of the Abbey Retreat Centre community is important to Maryssa for many reasons. “As someone who has lived through both parents having experienced cancer, I relate on a deep level.  I am grateful that support is also extended to the key support people whose lives have also been affected by cancer. The team at Abbey Retreat Centre has created a safe space in a serene setting which allows people to heal and work through hardships.”

Maryssa brings a passion for Abbey Retreat Centre’s philanthropic vision and mission and is motivated by seeing and hearing the positive impact that Abbey Retreat Centre makes in people’s lives. She brings experience in bookkeeping, facility and business management, community involvement, and extensive engagement in the local music and dance community.

Facilitators

We have a Community of Practice made up of over 20 caring facilitators. Our facilitators bring a variety of skillsets and professional backgrounds such as: Yoga Instructors, Massage Therapists, Psychotherapists, Expressive Arts Practitioners, Forest Therapy Guides, Drumming Circle Hosts, Social Workers, Death Doulas, and many more!

Volunteers

We have a community of volunteers made up of over 100 people. Our generous volunteers are involved with all aspects of our organization: preparing and hosting retreats, tending the building and land, quilting, supporting strategic planning behind the scenes, fundraising, and so much more!

Hear From Our Participants

“Cancer tends to take up all the space, leading to me forgetting about myself. This week was a much-needed reminder that I do matter, our love matters, our joys matter. Thank you for bringing in the space such devoted and talented professionals and volunteers. Thank you for giving us a break, for reminding us that, despite the illness, we can still be, build, and experience.”

"One of the things that I appreciate so much about the Abbey Retreat Centre's facilitators is that they understand that the healing from a cancer diagnosis and treatment is different from, and takes much longer than, the active medical treatment. It is such an incredible gift to be supported by the kind, compassionate, generous, skillful facilitators, to be able to take a big leap along the healing path in a few short days."

"At the very first meeting, the facilitators spoke about "being there for me" and "creating a loving environment." They achieved all of these. I really felt like the facilitators were there for me and I was safely held in a loving environment. Everyone went that extra mile for me. I felt loved and could not have asked for more."

Your donation is DOUBLED for the month December!

All donations up to a total $25,000 will be matched by a generous donor!