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Popular Eden Mills spiritual retreat on brink of being shut down

The future is uncertain for Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre as a zoning inspection found the decades old operation wasn't in compliance with the property's service
Sisters Alberta Nye, left, and Gloria Nye have been the operators of the Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre for almost 25 years and live at a cabin on the property.

EDEN MILLS – A rural space that has served as a getaway for spiritual growth for nearly 40 years is facing an uncertain future after the property was found not to be properly zoned. 

The Township of Guelph/Eramosa has ordered six of seven buildings at the Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre at 8178 Indian Trail to come down as the land hosting the buildings is zoned agricultural which doesn’t allow for the dwellings. 

This isn’t something that was known to sisters Alberta and Gloria Nye who have been operating the centre, which is owned by a charity, for about 24 years.

The Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre was started 39 years ago by Valerie Bannert, a Catholic nun not associated with any particular order. 

The goal of it is to provide a space for theological learning, spiritual development and maintain the centre as a place for quiet contemplation and nature appreciation. 

The site has hosted a range of events like writer’s retreats, weddings, baptism, the Guelph Outdoor School and just a place for spiritual reflection in general in the property’s nearly 16-acre forest and along the riverfront.

The Nyes got a surprise one day in June 2019 when they received a zoning notice after an inspection. 

The zoning notice ordered the centre to, “decommission and vacate the following dwellings: Kateri Cabin, Snapping Turtle, The Blue Heron, Dragon Fly, so they are no longer considered dwelling units pursuant to Section 3 of the Township’s Zoning By-Law.”

The order further said this includes removing all kitchen facilities, sanitary facilities and sleeping accommodations as well as capping water and waste pipes. A further building referred to as the Gaia House has also been ordered to have one secondary unit removed and to decommission a “tree house.”  

“We’ve been running for 40 years with no difficulties with the township whatsoever, paying taxes all those years, keeping our nose clean doing all those things,” Alberta said in an interview at the centre. 

The sisters want to make it clear that they hold no ill will towards the township. They said they understand employees who they said have been very courteous and helpful but are ultimately just doing their jobs. 

They were also given multiple extensions, helped by a global pandemic, but time is running out and they have a deadline of Jan. 31 to comply. 

And they are trying to comply, with two buildings taken out of commission and three others they acknowledge will have to go too. 

However, they’re concerned about what will happen to the centre’s operations if the Dragon Fly cabin is taken out of operation, as the two of them live there. 

They have been told that a rezoning is not possible.

“If that building has to go, I don’t know, I don’t know the viability of the charity because we need to be here and need to be on the land to be able to do what we’re doing,” Alberta said. 

The centre has meant a lot to the Nyes and visitors as an important place for spirituality of all faiths. The sisters have collected a pile of support letters since the first zoning order back in 2019.

“Gloria and Alberta perform an irreplaceable service to our community by providing this rustic retreat centre so close to home. No need to drive for ours to reach a place of such beauty and quiet,” wrote Melinda Burns in one of the letters. “It is a true treasure and deserves to be commended and supported for as many years as possible.” 

“There are very few places in Southern Ontario that have the kind of natural environment that is supportive and conducive to people letting go of old ways of being and coming into a brand new perspective,” wrote Russell Scott, a spiritual mentor. 

“There’s no other space quite like it in the area and its loss would be felt by the dozens of writers who have found in it a nearby oasis from the busyness of life where they can focus on their craft,” wrote Jeremy Luke Hill, managing director of Vocamus Press.

But despite the kind words from supporters, there’s only one option remaining to save their cabin. 

The sisters explained the only recourse they have is to prove that the building existed prior to 1956 as a residence then the building can be grandfathered in as legally non-conforming. 

“That’s all we can hope for … we’re getting an affidavit from the son of the man who used to own the place and apparently his nanny is still alive,” Alberta said. “We’re hoping but there’s no guarantee.”

The Nyes hope to find others who are familiar with the property who can also attest to how long the cabin has been there. 

Ultimately, even if all buildings went away the sisters feel the energy of it would remain. 

“It would still be a spiritual place,” Gloria said. “It’s a privilege to live here.”

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Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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