A Christian retreat centre beside the St. Mary River in Fort Steele is up for approval by the Agricultural Land Commission.
Haven of Hope would consist of a lodge, five cabins, a chapel and a caretaker facility on the riverfront property near the junction of the St. Mary and Kootenay Rivers.
Earlier this month, the Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors supported the application for non-farm use of the property, but the ultimate decision lies with the Agricultural Land Commission.
The retreat is a project of the Haven of Hope Society, a Christian non-profit made up of long-time friends who share the vision for a place for “whoever needs a haven of hope, a place to recuperate and rest,” said project developer Ellen MacBean.
The property was previously part of John MacLeod’s ranch, but hasn’t been used as a ranch for many years.
MacBean said Haven of Hope purchased the property in April 2013 after a province-wide search for the right place.
The journey started when MacBean was 11 and read a book about Florence Nightingale.
“I remember thinking, that is what I want to do with my life. It affected me profoundly. I remember reading it and knowing that was my destiny,” she said.
MacBean went on to become a physiotherapist and a hospital chaplain, before she and her husband began work with a prison ministry, matching inmates to caring people on the outside to form lasting friendships. Later, the couple worked in forensic psychiatric institutes, and built halfway homes.
“Haven of Hope is a culmination of having worked with sick and dying people, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, inmates, and being around people in all of their suffering and all of the joy that can also be found in the midst of suffering. That has birthed the desire for a place like this,” said MacBean.
Two years ago, MacBean and her family began searching the province for a location.
“We looked at houses all the way from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan. When we came to Cranbrook, we just knew this was where we were meant to be. And we have not been disappointed, we just love it,” she said.
A year later, the society purchased the property in Fort Steele and began to dream about its future.
They are setting up bee hives on the property and leaving the flood plain to nature so that wildflowers will grow for the bees.
The property will be crisscrossed by walking trails, leading to a chapel built on a hill overlooking the rivers and Fisher Peak. A lake on the property will be used for swimming and kayaking.
“This is very much a place of refuge, if you need time to heal or be still, time to regroup, time to think about your life. It’s a place to come and walk and be quiet and listen,” said MacBean.
“For most people in life, they are distracted. This is a place to stop all that noise and just come and be still.”
Plans for the retreat centre are still being determined. In the meantime, the society waits for word from the Agricultural Land Commission.