Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Algonquin Park Writers’ Retreat – How Perfect! by Barbara Baker

Arowhon Pines Resort resident fox, photo by Barbara Baker

The road was gravel. It twisted through tall, leafy, overhanging trees that created a tunnel-like effect. After the first kilometer, my cell phone binged. I checked. No Service. Really? I tucked it away.

The next eight kilometers took us farther into Algonquin Park and finally ended in a parking lot at the edge of the blue waters of Little Joe Lake. I got out of the car and followed the signs on the walking path through the woods to the lodge.

The initial shock of no cell phone reception was ... shocking. Add no tv, radio, wifi or even a clock. How will any of us writers survive in this archaic environment?

The reality of all that was not accessible wore off within minutes as the beauty and peacefulness of Arrowhon Pines Resort encapsulated me.

I was taken to one of the many log cabins tucked away in the forest. A giant bed with crisp white linens, private bathroom, a stone fireplace, veranda overlooking the water, roomies to share the beauty of the setting and the cabin (though certainly not my room), as well as the ups and downs of our writing projects – how perfect! I only checked my phone two more times to make sure it really had no reception.

Brian Henry, our writing mentor for the retreat, opened the session. Cheerful, quirky, enthusiastic, funny – the list goes on to describe his attributes but he’s probably already blushing so I’ll stop.

A cabin at Arowhon Pines, photo by Barbara Baker
There were a lot of people at the workshop. I counted fifteen but someone switched chairs and I lost track and forgot who was who. Thank goodness there were nametags.

After the “fortune cookie” warm-up exercise, the room was a hub of voices and chatter and excitement. What a variety of storytellers! The energy flowed intravenously through the group and followed me back to my writing corner.

Coming from Calgary, I thought I might get the prize for the furthest distance travelled but since I only had to fly for four hours maybe the people that drove seven hours would get it. But there was no Furthest Distance Travelled prize. We were all winners.

Breaks from the writing sessions and private writing times were spent kayaking, hiking to the 400-year-old medicine tree, early morning coffee on the deck watching the mist rise, following the resident fox for photo ops or just walking without a destination in mind. Pure bliss.

And then there was the food, the amazing food of Arowhon! Add the camaraderie of all those writers in one location and you encounter unstoppable laughter, encouragement, support, understanding, some very tall tales and so many new friendships.

Another highlight of the retreat was the one-on-one mentoring session with Brian to discuss individual projects. Intuitive, enlightening – Brian was full of suggestions and ideas, offered support and encouragement and dished it all out with honesty, in confidence and with sincerity. This man has a thing about helping writers improve their voices and write their stories. How great is that?

When it was over and time to go back to the binging of cell phones and our normal lives, it was very hard to leave the hugs and the companionship of like-minded souls and one of the prettiest places to visit. Thank you Brian Henry for making it all happen!

For information about upcoming writers’ retreats, at both Arowhon Pines in Algonquin Park and the Briars on Lake Simcoe, see here (and scroll down). 
To reserve a spot, email

Barbara at Arowhon Pines
Barbara Wackerle Baker grew up in Banff, Alberta and spends her free time racing up and down the Rockies trying to keep up with an active family of outdoor enthusiasts. Her passions include writing, photography, exploring landscapes and time with her grandchildren (the most beautiful grandchildren ever). 
Three of her stories have found homes in Chicken Soup publications, a dozen others are in short story contest anthologies, and one of her stories won the 2016 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. Currently Barbara is in the editing process of her YA novel titled No Reception.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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