"My journey is part of who I am so it's hard to say where it began," says Ellen Van Laar when asked why she decided to open her home and embark on her journey.
Ellen views herself as a guide, writer, artist and musician. She has a retreat centered north of Sault Ste. Marie, on Hwy 17N, approximately 50 miles or 80 kilometers. With a Masters degree in Art and Music from Central Michigan University, she has taught both disciplines to all experience levels. Early in her career she worked in social work, politics and education.
As a child she traveled with her parents and three siblings. Ellen's father taught music but would obtain syllabuses in history, art and music. He would take them to the most important places, where he would lecture to them on the things he had read from the textbooks. Together they camped and hiked through the National Parks and Europe every summer.
In her early adult years she lived in the United States where she raised her children. She became a permanent resident for the second time in Canada in 2003 after purchasing her property on Old Mamainse Harbour in 1997.
I arrived to Ellen's retreat in the late morning and was greeted by her smile and a warm hug. We chatted quite some time before actually going out for a brief outing on some of the nearby trails and along the shoreline.
It became very clear early on that Ellen was passionate about the history of the location. Ellen has made it a mission to study the history of the location from the early Hudson Bay Trading Post days and Copper Mining, to wartime and present. She drew a lot of inspiration from the research of Don Steer among others.
In traversing the area one becomes awestruck with it's beauty. It's easily understandable why the location is perfect for winter ice cave exploring, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, art, solitude, geology, history, gardening, photography, foraging, nature, kayaking and even sailing - all when conditions and seasons permit of course.
Located on most public bulletin boards within the surrounding Provincial Parks and other locations such as Stokely Lodge are flyers Ellen places outlining her contact information and services offered. She likes to discuss with the prospective client what their wants and needs are and tailors a program to them. It could simply be a family wanting to spend closer time together, children in need of focussed educational activity, a special needs person who would benefit from stimulation or enrichment or even a business looking to enhance team building skills. She works with many.
"Sometimes I feel motherly or re-inspired by the nature, history or art. There's a certain degree of vulnerability people express when trying new things. They are often nervous or excited if they haven't gone out on wilderness and lake adventures. They need an opportunity to talk about their fears and questions. Adventures, arts, and fun involves stepping out of their normal patterns." says Van Laar.
Some additional services offered include music and painting lessons inside. There is a cabin on site for reserved rental or day use in addition to two rooms for rent in the main building. Shuttle service to and from the parks has also been offered by arrangement in advance.
When asked what her biggest takeaway from her work at the Arts and Adventure center was, Ellen responded: "I'm doing what I love, relating to nature with all of my senses thru both arts and adventure. I am a guide to help others to do this too."