“Thank you for another life-changing stay. My last stay back in 2018 was one I’ll never forget. I stepped outside my comfort zone, challenged not only my beliefs, but the beliefs and fears of others. I came to the forest a terrified young man, and discovered its beauty and safety. It’s something one needs to witness for themselves. No matter how many pictures and videos I take in an attempt to capture the beauty of my surroundings, it’s never enough. I’ve never felt so safe and at ease. With all that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to witness the darkness and forget the beauty of the world.
I am once again reminded of its beauty.”
– Freija Guest, June 2020
Can we use the regenerative power of nature to heal ourselves, our environment and the economy? Don’t we all wish we could recover from the harm our collective lifestyle has done to the natural world? Could we somehow restore local habitats, encourage old-growth forests, rebuild great marshes, and create conditions for life to flourish in our backyards? Can exploring the world outside our homes feel good again?
Leading tourism organizations in countries like New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Ireland are attempting to do just that. Measure the impact of travel and tourism against the well-being of the country as a whole, including human health, nature and local communities, alongside economic growth in a ‘circular economy’. Regenerative tourism is founded on the concept of sustainable travel and goes a step beyond, focusing on restoring natural environments and then building on the ability to live in a new relationship with our planet.
Two urban immigrant kids, Ghazal and Valentine, met in Toronto in 2006. We were married in 2007, and instead of an elaborate wedding and honeymoon, we rented a cottage in Grey County where we fell in love with the nature of Kinghurst Forest. At the time we were both busy with our careers, and took every weekend or vacation we could to travel and explore every corner of the province and our world.
On our many adventures we were lucky to visit successful environmental projects in destinations like Ecuador, Namibia, Iceland, Italy, China and others. We saw an opportunity to bring similar experiences to our own backyard in Canada.
In 2016, after an exhaustive four-year search, we were very lucky to become stewards of a 100-acre woodlot adjacent to Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve, just down the road from our honeymoon cottage. One of the few remaining old-growth forests in Ontario, Kinghurst Forest is a unique and virtually unknown gem.
Endless trails on varying terrain in Kinghurst Forest offer plentiful opportunities for birdwatching, hiking and seeing some of the most striking trees and vernal pools in the province. Designated as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), it is a special place that offers a rare glimpse into Ontario’s natural past – and its future potential. Kinghurst Forest is located on the traditional territory of Anishinaabe. In 1836, the Chippewas and Ottawas of the Anishinaabe people of Canada surrendered their Sauking territory as a result of a treaty signed in their name and were relocated to the part of their territory North of Owen Sound.
Here, we founded Freija, a Canadian adventure company specializing in personalized retreats and unique experiences with emphasis on science education and nature conservation. Our goal was to create a business that reconnects people with the natural world of Ontario through unique personal experiences.
The eco-friendly amenities at Freija provide a comfortable base to explore the old growth forest for adventurers of all skill levels. Most of the building materials in our amenities and decor are salvaged, upcycled or locally sourced and produced. The Forest Loft is decorated with fallen trees, Amish mill off-cuts and a hay hoist chandelier. All of the food and human waste at Freija is composted with the help of waterless Separett composting toilets. Our campsites are comfortable and all of the camping amenities and structures are impermanent.
Each stay or experience at Freija directly contributes to community projects in Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve. Working closely with volunteers of Saugeen Nature, we have identified several focus areas for our educational experiences and conservation projects: pollinators, amphibians, birds, old-growth restoration, invasive species control and the impact of climate change.
Pollinators are a cornerstone of natural ecosystems and Kinghurst Forest is home to a variety of native pollinators, including bees, bats (Hoary bat, Eastern red bat, Silver-haired bat) and hummingbirds (Ruby-throated hummingbird). They are all threatened by habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and climate change. Our popular beekeeping experience is a great opportunity to inspect the hives with a group and learn about non-native honey bees and native pollinators (including over 400 native bee species in Ontario alone). We also provide tips on re-introducing the native meadow habitat, building and installing bat boxes, protecting quality dead standing and cavity trees, as well as introducing habitat species and landscape features for native bees.
All turtle species in Ontario are also at risk and the biggest threats to their survival are habitat loss and roads that interrupt their natural territories. Kinghurst Forest and Freija ponds are home to both Painted and Snapping turtles, which can often be found basking in the sun on our pond logs during the warm months. We help protect the turtles by rewilding the pond habitat, maintaining gravel breeding grounds, protecting nesting sites, monitoring water quality and recording observations. Our guests love basking alongside them on the beach!
Kinghurst Forest is also home to many resident and migratory bird species such as Blue Jay, Cardinal, Turkey Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, and Wood Peewee. We help protect the bird species by:
- Tracking and monitoring those at risk
- Providing nest boxes to compensate for lack of cavity trees in new growth areas (close to 100 installed so far),
- Establishing nesting sites on the ponds for fowl species
- Surveying and protecting quality nesting sites in cavity trees
- Restoring the native meadow habitat.
Since 2016 we have seeded over 6 million native wildflowers in the meadows at Freija.
Many of the trees in Kinghurst Forest are 250 to 300 years old, tower over 30 meters high, and show the vertical stratification characteristic of a true, old-growth forest. With a conservation-focused MFTIP forest management plan in place, we are helping:
- Expand the old growth area by converting red pine plantation area (5 acres) to native white pine and maple
- Convert forestry clearings to oak savannah
- Remove non-native and poor performing species planted in poor soils (Scotts Pine, Apple)
- Protect existing hardwoods and encouraging a healthy forest by monitoring mass
- Control for invasive species such as Colt’s-Foot, Mouse-eared Hawkweed and others
- Maintain recreational trails in the heart of Kinghurst Forest by volunteering our time and equipment to Ontario Nature.
Anyone can renew their connection with nature by planning a visit to Freija and the adjacent Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve.
Having hosted thousands of guests from all over the world, we have seen firsthand the positive life-changing impact these forest experiences have on people (and their pets!). We hope that reconnecting people with the great natural wonders in our backyards will bring about greater change needed to help the planet.
You can learn more about Kinghurst Forest or book your stay and experience at Freija at freija.ca