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The magic touch

Ste. Anne’s mandatory therapeutic treatment helps clients find Zen

By Brooke Smith

In June 1981, Jim Corcoran’s parents purchased Ste. Anne’s, a dilapidated private home from the Blaffer Estate. Corcoran moved in, oversaw a two-year major renovation, and then moved to Toronto in 1983.
When he moved back to Ste. Anne’s in September 1990, it was then a seven-room bed and breakfast that his mother had started in 1985. He gradually converted three more rooms to guest accommodations and started to provide lunch and dinner to guests. At that point, it became Ste. Anne’s Country Inn.
The reticent owner and general manager of Ste. Anne’s Spa says it wasn’t easy for him in those days to engage with guests, most of whom were coming from Toronto and high-pressure jobs. The guests’ energy was different than his own, he says. So, more often than not, he would hide out in his room and be available to guests only if they needed him.
However, during the ’90s, beauty and wellness guru Ray Civello introduced spa services to its guests. Corcoran’ssister—working then working then as a massage therapist for Civello—and Civello’s niece would go to Ste. Anne’s on the weekends to offer massage therapy or facials for the guests.
“I didn’t see any harm in that,” says Corcoran. “But I had no real depth of knowledge about the spa industry or the healing benefits of massage therapy.”
However, he did notice something. The guests who opted for those hands-on treatments, he says, “became very different people by the time Saturday night rolled around. I actually started to look forward to engaging with those guests once we started offering an evening meal on Saturday nights.”
Looking back, Corcoran says, “I don’t know at what point I realized this, but I’ve come to believe the soft tissue manipulation or positive human touch and energy has a way of switching our body into some kind of a restorative mode.”
He’s right. One study of the effects of a 45-minute facial massage on “32 healthy women” indicates that the treatment “refreshed” participants by “reducing their psychological distress.”
While Ste. Anne’s initially offered spa services voluntarily, this soon changed. Corcoran says he took a bit of a “business gamble,” by increasing their rates and mandating that guests have some kind of spa treatment.
While Corcoran admits the mandatory treatment sounds “punitive and authoritarian,” he says it was a “self-preservation strategy” for him and for those who worked at the inn in those nascent years. “People coming from the city and high-intensity work life can be quite tough to deal with.
“Our transition, and the process involved, from a country inn offering spa services to a destination spa includes our guests in that we, for lack of a better word, force them to have a spa treatment, which ultimately causes them to go into this restorative mode. There are very few places that people think of as spas in Canada that actually force you to have spa treatments. You can book a room at the Shangri-la [hotel] in downtown Toronto, but never get off the elevator on the spa floor.”
Interestingly, many global destination spas around the world are using the same model as Ste. Anne’s.
“The spa component, the human touch, is built into the package, and most people can’t avoid to use that part of the package,” he says.
However, Corcoran admits that they still have the odd person who won’t have any kind of treatment.
“They say, ‘I’m not into that. My wife’s going to have all my treatements,” he explains. “I just shake my head knowing that that’s the guy who’s not going to leave here fulfilled.”
But while the treatment is mandated, clients can choose from any therapeutic treatment on the menu. Each, however, includes one common element.
“All our treatments involve some form of human touch,” he says. “You can’t book a treatment here that’s just a soak in a bubbly tub of water.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ste. Anne’s wellness offerings were “fairly vanilla”: yoga, meditation, stretching. But during lockdowns, the spa was struggling to find activities for guests to do when some of the spa services were restricted. Several of the current options available, such as offering more meditation, sound baths, walking outside, are a result of the pandemic.
Many of these wellness sessions are done with a group, says Corcoran, but are designed to introduce guests to a practice they can then engage in on their own.
Of course, when guests receive their treatments during their stay is entirely up to them. Ste. Anne’s, however, makes its own suggestion.
“We are very firm in our belief that having a spa treatment as early in your stay as possible is important to get into that Zen mode. Then you decide to use the [rest of the] time you have to go on a walk, or just chill with a book or fall asleep in a hammock—activities you wouldn’t normally find the time to do.”
And that’s the point. Outside of the mandated spa treatment, the only other “regimented” part of guests’ stay is mealtimes. There are four: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner.
Ste. Anne’s understands the importance of restorative treatments and relaxation. After all, it welcomes over 40,000 guests a year—most, of course, are women.
“It’s about 90% female,” says Corcoran. “Most men prefer to have a coronary when they retire.”
Joking aside, Corcoran sees those men who do attend Ste. Anne’s as “enlightened”—those who have seen what their wives are doing, and the associated benefits, tried it out and have gotten hooked.”
Live long and unwind

Here’s a sampling of wellness offerings at Ste. Anne’s.

Chakra Activation: This 30-minute meditation focuses on the seven main chakras in the body.

Fire Meditation: Indulge in this outdoor meditation class of 45 minutes focusing on the Manipura (third) chakra to stimulate deep relaxation.

Forest Meditation: A 45-minute slow walk immersion through the forests on the Ste. Anne’s property to “commune with nature.”

Garden Tour: In this informal tour, led by the curators of Ste. Anne’s gardens, guests may walk through a number of the property’s gardens, including the meditative labyrinth, and the rose, perennial, or kitchen gardens.

Journal Meditation: Guests can enjoy a guided journaling wellness class to connect with their inner voices and explore their thoughts and feelings.

Sound Bath Meditation: This 45-minute class may use Tibetan singing bowls, quartz bowls, and bells to guide guests through physical vibrations and frequencies.

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