. . .This story appeared in the February 7, 2018 issue of the Interlake Enterprise . . .By Teresa Carey
The Rural Municipality of Armstrong, a land of swamps and fields, had begun an undertaking last year to amend a zoning bylaw to add a definition for “Nature Retreat and/or Spiritual Centre” as a conditional use in some land zoned Agricultural.
This was in response to a proposed project by Jamie Goulet, part owner of a pristine parcel land located in Armstrong. The parcel, a well treed property that had not been lived on for more than a century, borders the RM of Gimli between Rd 111N and 112N.
Goulet, who had run a women’s spiritual retreat in the St. Laurent area for 18 years, had approached the municipality about 18 months ago about building an off-the-grid aboriginal women’s healing retreat, Clan Mothers Turtle Lodge, on that site. According to her, the reeve and council were very supportive of the project from the beginning.
“They said, we need things like this. We’ll help you in any way we can. They even had us fill out a conditional application,” said Goulet.
The aim was to start the project in the summer or fall of 2018.
The municipality enlisted the help of the Community and Regional Planning Branch in Selkirk to come up with a definition to fit the project, which would then be added into the bylaw so that an application as a spiritual retreat centre could be made.
As part of the protocol, neighbours within a three mile radius had to be informed of the proposed zoning amendment. On Nov. 20 of last year a public hearing took place at the Inwood Memorial Hall. The hearing was about changing the zoning bylaw to include the conditional use.
“Once it was brought to the public, that’s when it all went to pot,” said Goulet. “The residents that came out, almost all of them I believe, were from the Gimli side. They said horrible, aggressive things. It was very unpleasant.”
“It got so out of hand and nobody stopped it. It was supposed to be about that bylaw but it just became an attack on the project. It was very accusatory, lots of racial undertones. I was shocked. I’ve never been subjected to anything like that,” she said.
Some of the concerns put forward were about those of traffic control, security, and whether men would try to gain access to the women-only property. Other concerns were regarding the length of time the women would be staying at the retreat, the potential for garbage in the ditches and excess traffic generated by having a spiritual retreat there. Additional concerns were about whether tax payers dollars going toward the centre and the need for a road to be put in. One resident expressed worry regarding any chemicals being used at the retreat and the effects on his animals and his hunting.
Presenters in favour of the amendment included representatives of McGowan Russell Group Inc., the consulting firm hired by Goulet, who explained the conceptual plan of the project, the location of the parking area, buildings, and construction details of the 24 cabins and yurts which would be built.
Two Armstrong residents were present in support of the amendment. They felt the retreat would bring employment to the region, and help increase the tax base. They cited the positive aspects of having a healing centre.
May Loise Campbell, an Aboriginal Elder, also spoke in favour, citing the need for women’s healing.
In addition, one Gimli resident submitted a letter of support stating that the proposed project was an “economic, cultural, environmental, creative and tourism opportunity will support the area by increasing the tax base and creating jobs for the RM of Armstrong and Interlake are program.”
Shortly before Christmas, Goulet received word from the RM of Armstrong that the bylaw did not pass second reading. The vote was 2 for and 3 against.
“Your project would have benefited many people and would have been a great asset to have in Armstrong. I think it basically came down to the location,” wrote Corlie Larsen, Chief Administrative Officer for the RM of Armstrong.
In a recent telephone interview, Larsen stated that there was “just too much opposition, and it didn’t have a developed road.”
Larsen said that she, personally, would have like to have seen the project move forward and added that the outcome seemed “typical”.
“Any time someone tries to start something new people always seem to be opposed. They come with petitions. I don’t know why,” Larsen said.
Carol Lavallee Ward 2 councillor s was one councillor who had voted in favour of the amendment.
“I just thought the RM of Armstrong would have benefitted. I think it would have grown to be a huge benefit to people. It was felt that there were people in Armstrong that didn’t come and give presentations, but who were opposed. If there hadn’t been opposition, it probably would have passed,” she said.
Adam Krochenski Ward 4 councillor who had voted against it said he had mixed feelings about it.
“I think it was a good idea, but maybe the wrong location. I got a lot of phone calls. There was a little bit of support but mostly opposition. Some people thought it would bring a lot of traffic to the area,” he said.