Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario

Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario
When I have a spare minute I often find myself browsing listings on Airbnb, falling in love with places both near and far and daydreaming about waking up in a tropical paradise, or perhaps falling asleep to the meditative lapping of ocean tides coming home.

After exploring Northern Ontario this past summer, I became infatuated with the province’s lush forests, bountiful lakes and crisp air. So I was delighted when this past weekend, I had the opportunity to cross one particular oasis off my Airbnb bucket list: an enchanting 700 acre farm in Northern Ontario, approximately four hours from Toronto. My best friend Erika and I left with the intention to arrive home refreshed and reconnected, but we returned with so much more.

When we arrived we set down our bags and took a long, deep breath. Everything felt wonderfully different – the air was cleaner and crisper; and there was a silence that surrounded us. The nighttime quiet was punctuated only by cries of wolves. It wasn’t eerie, but rather therapeutic, restorative.

The secluded farm is owned by the Gibson family, originally from Toronto. They purchased the property five years years ago and haven’t looked back. Javid, one of three children, spent eight years travelling extensively while working as a freelance documentarian before moving to the farm. He says, however, that he has little desire to travel these days—with so much space, an entire lifetime could be spent exploring the property.

Javid and his brother actually built our home for the weekend, a traditional Mongolian-style yurt nestled amongst slender white birch trees, and only steps away from a river that weaves through the property. Its construction took several years with the majority of materials being found on the farm. 

Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario

Each morning we watched the sunrise in silent awe, sitting on the dock overlooking the still water. It was a perfect opportunity to reflect. One day, after a mid-morning nap, we launched a cedar canoe out on the water. We let the current guide us downstream to pass a white sand beach, one of the many hidden treasures on the farm.

We found ourselves on mother nature’s clock – we didn’t check our phones. We rose and practically went to bed with the sun. The yurt wasn’t equipped with power, one of its many rustic charms. At night, candles - as well as the magnificent stars - were our only source of light.

The yurt, however, is equipped with a wood-burning stove, and we spent countless hours curled up with blankets mesmerized by the flames. We caught up on our reading, wrote Christmas cards to our loved ones, painted with water-colours and had a few lessons on the art of knitting. We fueled the fire every couple of hours and took turns waking up at night to place another log on the burning embers—“it’s like we have a baby!” Erika quipped.

The landscape was monochromatic, many different shades of brown wherever you looked. Snow dusted the ground and lightly covered the treetops.

“Ontario in its rawest form,” was how Javid described it. The farm is also home to 14 beautiful horses, 11 of which are rescued. These horses, says Javid, must have “literally died and gone to heaven,” with copious amounts of hay and the freedom to roam the expansive fields. Javid allows the horses a full year to become accustomed to their new environment before beginning to work with them and attempt to establish unbreakable bonds. 

Eventually, the family would like to create a place for those suffering from PTSD, depression and abuse, amongst other traumas, in order that they might come and benefit from the therapeutic nature of the horses. Visitors are able to spend time with the horses, and any donations are forwarded to the horse sanctuary.

Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario
 

The yurt is only the beginning of a much larger plan – Javid and his brother were beginning construction on a traditional sweat lodge the day we left. The family has plans to open a micro-brewery this spring, later followed by a tree house and a large glass shipping crate that will function as another guest house. 

 
Finding Serenity in Northern Ontario

This winter I invite you to slow down and reconnect with past traditions. Whether it’s an escape up north or at home, putting down your phone for a while and making a batch of your favourite Christmas cookies will do you good. Whatever you decide to do, I promise you will come away feeling better than ever.

WORDS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HEATHER PEAT