Come Wander
Donna and Cam Dillman

Cam Allen & Donna Dillman

Columnist, entrepreneurs, and owners of Circa 1894 Bed & Breakfast & Day Spa

Lanark, Ontario – Lanark County

A sustainable housing columnist and a green entrepreneur meet on an online dating site – sounds like the beginning of an old joke, doesn’t it? When Cam Allen and Donna Dillman first connected on an internet dating site six years ago, neither could have guessed their romance would not only lead to their own happily-ever-after, but also to the adventure of renovating a former church from 1894 to be a sustainable home and business that today surpasses the Energy Star standards for that of a new home, and to embarking on an entrepreneurial experience that is drawing visitors from near and far to unwind in Lanark County.

The affection the couple have for one another is obvious, and has translated into the passion and quality craftsmanship they put into their business and home each day. Donna and Cam’s innovative renovation of this old church in tiny Watson’s Corners, Lanark County, acted as the spark for both their business and current lifestyle. The couple share what fantastic finds are abundant in Lanark County, and what inspired them to hang their hats in the Township of Lanark Highlands.

What led you to decide to not only renovate a church to become your home, but also to open a bed and breakfast and spa? What was your inspiration?

Donna: Well, Cam is a retired green builder and columnist for Post Media, so obviously sustainable renovation and construction were a priority for him. When we met six years ago, he was already living in a passive solar home, while I was working to lighten my footprint and living in an old church not too far from here, with no indoor plumbing, kitchen, or bathroom. When we bought this church, our initial plan wasn’t to build it as a B&B, but because I had operated a B&B in the past, I was excited at the thought of doing it again. I really wanted to include a spa element, and one day when we were driving through Wakefield, Quebec, I convinced Cam to try Le Nordik Spa. We were only there for an hour and a half before he saw the potential of a new business concept. Since Cam does everything in a big way, what started out as a simple plan to have a single tub and sauna for B&B guests turned into a much bigger plan with three hot tubs, plus a NIR and FAR Infrared and a Finnish sauna, and the Day Spa component evolved from there.

That sounds like a huge undertaking! Can you tell me a little bit about the renovation itself?

Cam: Environmental sustainability and energy efficiency have always been extremely important to us, and I wanted to prove that old buildings could be brought to sustainable levels. This building, a recently operating church, was 119 years old, and an EnerGuide audit revealed that oil heating would cost about $10,000 each year. We started the renovations, using 25 per cent recycled metal studs, and created another building inside the original building. Inside, we used Roxul insulation in the walls, closed cell spray foam in the crawl spaces, three-and-a-half feet of recycled insulation in the attic, over 100 cans of spray foam and three miles of Tuck Tape. We ended up with an EnerGuide rating of 84 without the use a solar panels; a rating that exceeds energy standards for newly constructed homes. We now spend about $700 a year to heat our home.

Wow, with all those efforts, your home must be toasty warm in the winter months! Renovating a century-old building sounds challenging enough, but how did you manage to keep the heritage feel of the original church structure?

Cam: Good question. Maintaining the heritage feel was also important to us, and we kept many of the original finishes, including the original church organ, the stained-glass windows, the hanging ceiling lights and the wainscoting. Recycled, repurposed and reclaimed materials and appliances were used wherever possible. Donna sourced most of these herself, and found the porcelain and stainless Heartland stove that’s the focal point of the kitchen, all the hot tubs and saunas, the spa windows, and most of its doors. Even our shower, tub, washer, and dryer were reclaimed.

You’ve really taken reducing your environmental footprint to the next level! You’ve both chosen to settle in an area that barely shows up on the map (Watson’s Corners). What drew you to set up shop in the Township of Lanark Highlands?

Donna: For me, the Highlands feel like home. I’m from Nova Scotia, and in Lanark Highlands they say you’re either born here, or you’re from away. Well, I wasn’t born here, but I do feel like I belong here because this area really reminds me of Nova Scotia, when it comes to both the terrain and the sense of community.

I could definitely see that! What’s the best thing about living in Lanark Highlands?

Cam: I’d have to say it’s the quality of the people here. They still have a sense of community that’s been lost elsewhere. We know just about everybody in Watson’s Corners! It’s not the impersonal atmosphere that you see in an urban area, that’s the best way to put it; the people here are welcoming. Lanark still has the flavour of an old-time village.

And what would your perfect day of roaming this old-time village, or even Lanark County as a whole, look like?

Cam: I think my perfect day would be wandering the area and spending time meeting artists and crafts people in their place of business. There’s Rita Redner, a potter who lives just outside of Perth, and John Schweighardt, who’s right up the road from us, who has a stonework studio, Living Stones. For me, the perfect day would be exploring and meeting the artists like these who are all around us…and of course, stopping by a local bakery for some fudge (laughs).

Oh yum! The access to so many local products and handmade goods must also play an important role in your sustainable lifestyle. Aside from these products, what is one “hidden gem” in your backyard that visitors would be surprised to discover?

Donna: That’s a tough one. I guess I’d have to go with Purdon Conservation Area. It’s an amazing walk in the spring. There are 32,000 orchids, the biggest colony in Canada, right here in little Lanark Highlands, and just 10 minutes down the road. Even when it’s not in bloom it’s a nice walk along the boardwalk, and it’s fully accessible. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon any time of the year.

Sounds like a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, and all that walking might make you work up an appetite. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be, and where in Ontario’s Highlands can you find it?

Cam: Believe it or not it would be pancakes (laughs). I’m a pancakes fan. I enjoy going to Temples and Wheelers. Their pancake breakfasts are just to die for. I’ve traveled to Vermont, I’ve been to other parts of North America, and there’s something about the syrup here that’s special. If you take three spoonsful of Quebec, Vermont and Lanark County maple syrup, I can tell you which one’s from Lanark County. It’s smoother and much more palatable…there’s a definite difference.

In that case, spring must be a joyous season for you. What is your favourite time of year in Ontario’s Highlands? Why?

Cam: Definitely fall. I love the fall colours in this region. I think there are enough winding back roads around us, with so much foliage along the way, that you can easily fill a day trip. You can stop for lunch, do some shopping, there’s enough smaller places and activities to explore to keep you busy.

Definitely. How and where would you unwind/recharge at the end of that busy day, or even a busy week?

Donna: That’s easy, I’d just walk out my back door to the hot tubs and saunas (laughs). Seriously though, when I want to relax and not worry about cooking dinner, I like to go to East Meets West, in Perth. I like the owner, Ram Mogandas. He’ll come out to the table and chat with you and the food is amazing.

Cam: I just go where she drags me (laughs).

Haha, sounds like a good way to wander with an open mind. What does wandering mean to you?

Donna: For me, wandering is about spending the day exploring, and hearing people’s stories. I’m most interested in stories, and making those connections with other people. That’s what the bed and breakfast is all about, too, making those connections. The visitor I like the most is the one who has something to share.

It sounds like those types of opportunities for personal interactions are a real highlight to living in this community for both of you. Where is the best hotspot to strike up a conversation with a local in Lanark Highlands?

Cam: The Lanark Landing in Lanark Village. From the outside it’s just a little restaurant on the main street, but it really seems to be the local coffee house, where you get to hear all about the local politics, who’s building this house, the local gossip. Conversation for me always tends to circle back to the trades, but there are a lot of different topics tossed around. And the best part about the Landing is they serve great pancakes with local maple syrup!

That sounds like a great spot for meeting locals. Is there one interesting local you’d recommend visitors meet when they travel here?

Donna: Anyone traveling to this area absolutely has to meet Ankarat Dean. She’s amazing. I’ve heard of Ankaret for years and years and years, but recently connected with her while carpooling to an event and it was an amazing ride. Ankaret operates the Lanark Highlands Basketry Museum in McDonald’s Corners, and is also a fixture at MERA (McDonald’s Corners/Elphin Recreation & Arts). She’s approachable, community minded, and you always learn something new when chatting with her. She’s an amazing ambassador for this area.

This area is so special and it sounds like she’s someone who really sees that. How does wandering in Lanark Highlands compare to travel in a bigger city, like Toronto or Ottawa?

Cam: No traffic (laughs). If we get three cars on this road, we’ve got rush hour. Seriously though, the pace of life is so much quicker in the city, and I’m not necessarily convinced that’s good for the soul. In the winter, when I’m coming home and I come around the corner at the top of Fiddler’s Hill, I have that moment where my whole body relaxes. It’s funny what a sense of peace this valley has. I always say it takes me a while to get to Kingston, but it takes me no time to get home.

I think this region definitely captures that feeling of home –whether you’re from here or not. What’s the one thing you recommend wanderers to the region leave behind when they come for a visit?

Donna: Their expectations. Because if you don’t have expectations, you can still be surprised, and open to adventure. That’s what wandering is all about, isn’t it?

Stories

Discover the Benefits of Local Travel

When was the last time you discovered a local landmark or business that you didn’t know was there? In Ontario’s Highlands, we have some amazing spots and experiences that you might be surprised to hear about. For example, did you know the longest canopy boardwalk in the world is located in Haliburton Highlands? Or that […]

Virtual Classes and Workshops You Can Do Right Now

Have you heard the expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”? COVID-19 may have already resulted in a lot of lemonade, but now is not the time to give up. If you’re hunkered down at home, we have just the thing to inspire your mind and expand your horizons (and no, it doesn’t mean […]

Spring Refresh

It’s something we dream of all winter – that magical moment when the sweet spring sun touches our skin for the first time, and the whole world feels bigger and brighter. This is when we peel back the layers we’ve piled on for the winter months and for the first time get a full glimpse […]

9 Sweet Summer Treks

*Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out. These days the warm weather is telling us summer is here and we don’t need to be told twice to get out and embrace the outdoors and the freedom it offers through physical distancing. The best summer hikes not only take us into the wild […]

Mad About Maple

Maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes. Celebrate Canada’s iconic sweetener in all its forms in Ontario’s Highlands.

5 Ideas for a Romantic Valentine’s Day (at home)

*Stay home, stay safe. This article contains experiences you can have at home or that conform with current stay-at-home orders. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, but unfortunately this year brings with it new challenges.  You can’t go out to dinner, you can’t go see a movie, and many of the typical Valentine’s Day […]

Go Cross-Country

Glide over fresh snow on these cross-country ski trails near you.

Thinking of Camping in 2021? Read This.

The ground may be covered by snow right now, but we’re dreaming of the warm weather and the camping season to come in the wild places in Ontario’s Highlands. Camping reservations have recently opened at provincial campgrounds across Ontario and if last year was any indicator spots will book up fast. You can book a […]

Finding Your Wolf Spirit at the Haliburton Wolf Centre

Have you ever had a pivotal moment in your life? One event that stands out to you and makes your path in life clear? My moment came to me in the form of a wolf as black as the night, with golden eyes that seemed to peer into my soul. Not many people can say […]

Winter Stargazing: A Christmas Star, Meteor Shower and Northern Lights

*Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out.  While many of us are tucked up in cozy comfort in the night hours, the intrepid astronomers among us head outdoors to drink in the starry night skies. Stargazing in winter may be a wee bit nippier but it definitely brings the best rewards, […]

Coming Home

Discover the story of Sarain Fox and her journey home to the Ontario’s Highlands, relieving memories of ice fishing and snowmobiling along the way.

12 Gifts of Christmas (Online)

The holiday season is coming, and it’s the season for giving. You might be the type to start planning early, or the kind who is motivated by pressure, not even beginning your shopping until the 11th hour. Whichever you are, we’re here to help get the ideas flowing with a list of online gifts that […]

Light Up the Holidays

*Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out.  When the holiday decorations go up in December the whole world begins to shimmer with magic. Every car ride or stroll is filled with wonder as we drink in the night filled with sparkling holiday lights of all colours. For the next […]

Find Your Hygge Here

*Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out.  You nestle into a soft cocoon of blankets while curled up on the couch, the fire casting its flickering glow onto the faces of friends or family as you share comradery and conversation. You clasp a warm mug in your hands, the […]

Embrace the Norwegian Concept of “Friluftsliv”

Friluftsliv (free-lufts-liv): Free air life *Wander safe, wander local. Check your region’s local health guidelines before heading out.  If you’re worried about being stuck indoors this winter, the Scandinavians may have the solution with this hard to pronounce and consonant-filled word: friluftsliv. Loosely translated, friluftsliv means “free air life,” a concept that was coined by […]

Finding Good Medicine on Thunderbird Mountain

Having a guide can turn an everyday hike into the most amazing adventure. Although I’d hiked on my own in the past, making the hike with Tim Yearington of Bird Mountain Journeys wove together a story that allowed a deeper connection and different outlook on nature and history. It gave me a greater outlook on […]

Tiny Cabins, Yurts, and other Glamping Getaways

So you’ve seen the Instagram posts of friends or family seated around a rustic campfire, enthusing on the beauty of nature and a rugged camping experience, but you’re thinking “That’s totally not for me?” Hey, don’t sweat it, you are not alone. Camping isn’t for everyone, and who says it should be? If everyone were […]

The Artist’s Way

Who says art can only be found in big galleries or urban showrooms? To find fantastic local and Canadian art you need to head to the places that inspire artists to create, and Ontario’s Highlands is among the most beautiful places in Ontario (in our humble opinion). Beyond the inspiration found in the rugged hills […]

Cozy Up to Fall Camping

So you’re not ready for camping season to end? Here’s a tip: It doesn’t! Just because the summer is over doesn’t mean we need to head indoors, when it comes to camping experiences, fall is where it’s at. Fall camping is an entirely different (and some would say better) experience from summer camping –no bugs, […]

The Best Fall Canoeing

Discover these top lakes and rivers in Ontario’s Highlands to discover the beauty of fall colours from a canoe.

Find Your Zen

It’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it? If ever there was a year to test your capacity for resilience, it would be 2020. After such a momentous year, what we all could use right now is a little “me time” – a little pampering, and a little bit of peace and quiet to […]

With Love, to Frontenac County

Now more than ever we are drawn to our community, and the places that help us to unwind and get outdoors. To get away from the crowds and reconnect with our roots. Frontenac County tempts us to sit back, unwind and check into vacation mode, to rediscover a world of countless lakes and a region […]

With Love, to Haliburton Highlands

We are so lucky to come from a place that has it all: phenomenal views, rugged landscapes, abundance of trails, and infinite opportunities for recreation, all enticing you to leave your comfort zone and step into the wild. Here, endless forests meet cool, clear lakes and rivers to create incredible vistas that reach out to […]

With Love, to Lanark County

Lanark County is a land of sweet contrasts, where dense forests of sugar maple border lush, green fields and you’re as likely to come across a cyclist as a farmer on one of the region’s winding roads. Urban and rural unite here to create a region that’s as colourful and varied as the patchwork quilt […]

With Love, to the Ottawa Valley

From the rushing waters of the Petawawa, Madawaska and Ottawa rivers to the unspoiled woodlands of Algonquin Park, the Ottawa Valley is a sultry enchantress, enticing us with adventure. Renowned as a world-class whitewater destination and for the challenges found in its rugged hills and lush dales, the Valley pushes us to do more, live […]

With Love, to Lennox & Addington

Known for its pristine wilderness, incredible views and rugged natural spaces, the majestic beauty of Lennox & Addington speaks to the wanderer inside us all. From the craggy peak of Mazinaw Rock at Bon Echo Provincial Park to the starry skies overhead, there is wonder waiting to be discovered here, a vivid reminder of how our […]

With Love, to Hastings County

The deep lakes and meandering rivers here are ripe with life, both on land and in the water. This land is known as a region rich with minerals, and we haven’t forgotten how our communities were settled by the gold rush, where miners flocked, eager to delve into the earth to unearth its riches. Thick […]

Your Guide to COVID-19 Safe Travel in Ontario’s Highlands

This year the key to exploring is to keep it local; this is the time to explore our own backyards, and the regions close to home that have so much to offer us in the way of exhilarating outdoor experiences, fantastic food and drink, and blissful relaxation. If you’re exploring a new corner of Ontario’s […]

Go Backcountry

You waken slowly in the early morning, the high-pitched warble of birdsong drifting lightly through the trees overhead. The sky is faintly brightening with the coming of dawn, and the natural world is gradually blossoming to life. Around you there is no trace of human activity, no murmurs of voices, clanging of dishes, or whir […]

Live the Yacht Life

Live the lifestyle of the rich and famous – for a week, anyway – with a Le Boat cruising staycation.

Just Show Up

Hit the water and take advantage of these easy kayaking and canoeing opportunities in Ontario’s Highlands.

Exhale and Unwind

Experience a slice of farm life at Dwyer’s Farmhouse in the Ottawa Valley.

Pampering at Home

Pamper yourself with a little self love with this recipe for an at-home spa day from Wind in the Willows Spa in Haliburton, Ontario.

Before the Lake Wakes

Wake up lakeside with a steaming cup of coffee from a roastery in Ontario’s Highlands.

Just Breathe

Discover the beauty of mindfulness and allowing yourself to Just Breathe.

Perfect Picnic Spots Near Ottawa

Discover these perfect picnic spots throughout the Ottawa Valley and Lanark County on your next road trip just outside of Ottawa.

Get Hooked

Expert fishing guide Sebastian Kowalczuk shares his secret fishing spots where you’re guaranteed a good catch.

The Hottest Views

Soak up incredible views and beneficial side effects across Ontario’s Highlands.

Bask in Romance

Add a little romance at one of these nine intimate Ontario retreats.

Daily Dose of Nature

Discover these places in Ontario’s Highlands that allow you to get out into nature, benefiting your mental and physical health.

Mindful Moments in Nature

Live in the moment and tune into yourself at one of these 6 nature spots in Hastings County and Haliburton County.

Golf, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

Discover these 5 golf courses in Ontario’s Highlands, perfect spots for your next golf escape.

Namaste Outside

Breathe the fresh air at outdoor yoga workshops and events near Ottawa, Ontario.

3 Cheers for Mom

Discover ways to give a mom a Mother’s Day to remember, with gift ideas that go above and beyond.

The Church Couple

Meet Donna and Cam Dillman, owners of Circa 1894 B&B in Lanark County.

SUP with that View

Grab your SUP board and take in the beautiful views at these 5 places in Ontario’s Highlands.

An Escape into Nature

Find your connection with nature and each other during a cabin getaway at Deacon Escarpment in Renfrew County.

A Silent Ski Cross Country

Take a break to recharge your spirit and relax your mind while cross country skiing in the snow-covered woods of Silent Lake Provincial Park.

The Serenity Seeker

I’m a Serenity Seeker. I wander at my own pace, searching for a way to unwind and reconnect with myself and with the people who matter most.

Where Am I

Explore the sweet moments and ageless beauty of Perth, Ontario.

Bit by Serenity

An expert traveller’s advice on how seek serenity and embrace a slower pace in Ontario’s Highlands.

Glamping in the Wild

Experience Glamping and reconnect with your loved one at Elements Outdoor Hotel, located in Renfrew County.