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    The Army's Best-Kept Secret

    Tranquility and fond memories await at Jackson's Point Conference Centre. April 23, 2013 by Melissa Yue Wallace
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    Feature
    When Majors Ivan and Audrey Rowsell were appointed to Ontario's Jackson's Point Conference Centre (JPCC) in June 2010, they were thrilled and excited about the challenges and opportunities.

    “In our own home, we enjoy making friends feel comfortable, and having the opportunity to do that on a larger scale is something that has always appealed to us,” says Major Ivan Rowsell.

    Over their more than 30 years of officership, the couple had visited JPCC several times and fell in love with the grounds, situated on the shores of Lake Simcoe and owned and operated by The Salvation Army since 1917. The centre offers 20 cottages, executive suites and guest rooms, ample space for chapel and meetings, 156 acres of open fields and mixed forest, hiking trails, a private beach area and lake.

    “The highlight for me is the glorious sunsets,” says Major Audrey Rowsell. “This place offers the ideal backdrop for rest, relaxation and meditation. Many guests tell us they leave here feeling rejuvenated in their spirit.”

    The Army first purchased property in Jackson's Point to operate summer camps. Over time, the focus expanded to include retreats and conferences.

    “My parents were divisional youth secretaries, so I spent several summers here,” says Rod Hiscock, manager of operations, of his time at the divisional camp adjacent to the conference centre. “They were six of the most fun years of my life.”

    The centre is often booked for church retreats and conferences and hosts music groups, scrapbookers, family reunions, schools and businesses.

    “When new groups come and say, 'I didn't know this place existed. You're the best-kept secret in all of Ontario,' it's great to hear, but it's frustrating and something we want to change,” says Hiscock.

    Major Audrey Rowsell also hopes others will see that JPCC is not just another conference centre.

    “A lot of guests come here because they like the wholesome atmosphere,” she says. “This is a place where people can meet with each other and God.”

     

    Jackson's Point Conference Centre staff offer a warm welcome

    Stories from JPCC guests


    Three families share their experiences

    Michael and Kendra Martone

    With three children, soccer games, church commitments and busy jobs, the Martone family looks forward to leaving their home in Rochester, N.Y., to travel to the quiet environment at JPCC every summer.

    Kendra's grandparents, Lt-Colonels Jim and Grace Sloan, took their children and grandchildren to the camp when they were young.

    “It's become a family tradition,” says Michael, whose own family has been to JPCC for 14 summers. “My wife has many fond memories of growing up there and she knows many families in The Salvation Army that we only see once a year at the centre.”

    The Martones enjoy paddle boating, staying in rustic cabins, having campfires, swimming and fishing.

    “We have competitions to see who can catch the biggest fish,” laughs Michael. “Usually, it's my wife.”

    What Michael finds so significant about their time at JPCC every year is watching his kids grow up through documented photos and videos.

    “We talked to our kids about trying something different and breaking tradition and they were not interested in that,” he says. “They'd rather go to Jackson's than Disney World.”

     

    Majors Robert and Kathleen Klenk

    Last summer at JPCC was especially significant for the Klenk family.

    Ever since their daughter, Eva-Marie Klenk-Asher, was two, the Klenk family from Piqua, Ohio, vacationed at JPCC and have basked in the beauty and safety of its surroundings for the past 18 years. It was in Lake Simcoe that both of their children learned to swim. And the family easily made friends with other recurring JPCC guests.

    “We got to know the staff and officers and all the people who visited,” says Major Robert Klenk. “For the past eight or nine years, we've gone to the centre with the same families and we all stay in the same cottages and it's a great time.”

    That fellowship of friends drew closer together when Eva-Marie passed away in December 2011. The family decided to plant a tree in her honour at the centre and their friends provided support.

    “No matter what else was going on in Eva-Marie's life, this place was her normalcy,” says Major Klenk. “No matter what else we did in the summer or throughout the year, we counted down to our Jackson's Point trip—everything else centred on that.”

     

    Majors Bradley and Susan Donais

    The Donais family is no stranger to JPCC.

    “We've been going there for the last 30 years since our kids were babies and our oldest is now 33,” says Major Bradley Donais, executive director of the Hamilton Community Resource Centre, Ont. “We spend a week or two on holiday there and also go up for officer retreats or if my wife, Susan, and I need a study day to be quiet and reflect.

    “It's the peaceful and quiet atmosphere that continues to draw us back.”

    The centre has been so meaningful to the Donais' that their youngest son, Ryan, and his wife got married there last May.

    “When my son's fiancée was describing what her dream wedding would look like, Ryan said, 'You know what? That's the Jackson's Point Conference Centre!' ”

    laughs Major Donais. “She described it to a tee without having been there before.”

    Some of Major Donais' fondest memories also include officer retreats at the centre that were a time of revival and refreshment. He explains that everyone would naturally gravitate to the centre's cozy lounge and fireplace, networking and sharing experiences.

    “JPCC is a place that we really need to be proud of,” says Major Donais. “It's a gem tucked away in the Georgina area and, for all the years we've been going, we're always treated with a real sense of care.”

     

    Letters from other guests


    We've enjoyed Jackson's Point various times.

    My husband went there with his parents when he was a boy. At the time, it was only for officers and they have great memories.

    We were there for a few years when our children were small and we were stationed close enough to make it viable. At that time, there were children's programs in the morning and it made it very restful for us, as well as a safe and fun environment for the children.

    There were a couple of years in the early 2000s when we went and did a musical worship segment at the beginning of the morning Bible study every day for a week. That was sponsored by the retreat centre. In the last two years, we have flown back from British Columbia to holiday for a week with all our children and grandchildren (who live fairly close to Toronto). Each family has their own cabin and we enjoy the space, the beach and all the little cousins playing together.

    Major Connie Armstrong

     

    Jackson's Point isn't about the accommodations, the openness of the front foyer or the kindness of all the staff that touches you when you spend time there.

    It's God's presence that you feel when you enter.  It's his voice that you hear between the intermittent cracklings of the fire. It's his hand you feel certain is holding yours, when you stroll the halls or admire your favourite Group of Seven print. Jackson's Point isn't a place on a map or a moment in time. It's a gateway to God. If you call to him, it's not the wind barrelling off Lake Simcoe that will echo your call back to you in vain; it is his voice that will answer if you truly listen for it.

    Ultimately, what you get when you go to Jackson's Point is a chance to connect with the Lord on so many different levels that you may find yourself desperately trying to control your awe.

    Sheri-Lynn Gagnon

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