As a recovered alcoholic, Ardyth Wilson has helped people who struggled with their sobriety for many years. She has done this by listening to them, counseling and “being there”, and even by offering a place to stay while they waited to get into treatment in Alberta — she and her husband Dan opened their home to many people. A few people turned into many so Ardyth and Dan decided to build a cabin to host more people.
“It was at this time that they decided they needed a ‘bigger house” and began searching,” said Jacqueline Hoffman (Wilson’s daughter). “She found the former Notre Dame convent (near Wilkie, Saskatchewan) and fell in love. It wasn’t always her intention of opening a treatment facility, but rather to simply provide support — it all developed organically. Mom quickly realized the people she had staying needed counselling and formal programming and it developed with the help of other addicts and alcoholics.”
Finding the building was a big first step toward establishing the recovery centre. Extensive renovations and modernizing posed overwhelming challenges. “But she (Wilson) saw a need and rose to the challenge. They went into the venture with some money from the sale of their house —but $50,000 when looking at $1,000,000 in renovations is a leap of faith. The whole venture really was one giant leap of faith,” added Hoffman.
Ardyth is a strong, determined woman, and she would need every ounce of fortitude she possessed to stay on course. Some of the challenges included acquiring qualified staff and attracting them to a rural Saskatchewan location (harsh winters and limited services) and then having enough capital to pay them.
“A number of tradesmen were needed to renovate the building and there were few of them in the area, and again having the capital to pay them.
“There were many many hurdles, but God provided. He sent tradesmen that needed healing and in exchange, offered their services. He provided people to help, who liked the area and were willing to relocate, and He sent clients whose fees raised the money needed for supplies,” said Hoffman.
The owners chose to pay their staff and go without pay cheques for three years — keeping the faith that one day this would all change.
The centre opened in 2008 and was named Leipzig Serenity Retreat. The facility was built in 1927 and was known as Notre Dame convent and has been designated a Municipal Heritage Building. It is situated on six acres near Wilkie, Saskatchewan. After eight years in business, the focus was no longer just on a retreat centre — it was now recovery as well — and so a new name was adopted — Prairie Sky Recovery Centre. To date, 1,200 people have been helped at the centre and our success rate is amazing — 56% compared to most government centres that have a 7-10% success rate. As well the completion of program rate is 90% at Prairie Sky.
“We feel our success is seeing clients who are celebrating their sober birthday nine years after attending our program. We see success when a marriage is repaired, and a family is reunited. We see success in supporting a staff member in recovery, watching them advance in their career when years before they were on death’s door. This year we have been acknowledged with the BBB 2018 Torch Award for Ethics and the Centre is a Finalist for this year’s Priority Focus ABEX award (for business excellence), so that’s very rewarding,” said Hoffman.
The program is designed to help people with addictions – but aside from drugs and alcohol, they also see people who are struggling with gambling, sex, food and mental health issues. They are the largest employer in the area.
“We have 17 full and part time staff who have a mixture of education and experience. We have a Registered Psychotherapist with a master’s in clinical psychology as our Managing Director, along with Registered Social Workers, certified addictions workers, students and peer counsellors. We hire people in healthy recovery in every department – from housekeeping and kitchen to maintenance and Recovery Support staff. (For more information and to view the 15 programs, go to www.prairieskyrecovery.ca)
The centre itself has undergone massive changes:
• Went from 3-4 staff to 17 staff
• Gone from offering 2 programs to well over 15
• Renovated room by room, floor by floor — every nook and cranny — all 54 rooms of the 20,000 sq. ft building have been restored
• Updated the electrical, plumbing and modernized the centre in every way
• Changed the name in 2016 to Prairie Sky Recovery Centre
• Entered accreditation with Accreditation Canada in 2017 to ensure they meet the standards of national treatment facilities
• Launched their Family Based programs
“This year is a growth year and we are hoping to add more community-based programs in the future. We are looking forward to accreditation being finalized and building partnerships with Saskatchewan based organizations. We are looking to develop more mental health programming as well as sober coaching for family and friends. We believe the sky is the limit! Said Hoffman.
You may be wondering how/when Ardyth’s daughter Jacqueline got involved. “I always intended on Jacqueline being my successor as she had shown a love for the centre and the business. She had come to work for me in 2011 and I trained her in every facet of the company. In January of 2016, I was taken by ambulance from the centre to the hospital — when I was woken by staff I was incoherent. They thought I had had a stroke, but it turned out to be viral encephalitis,” said Wilson.
Jacqueline and her family were living in Calgary at that time. When she and her sister Melanie heard about their mother they rushed to Saskatoon, having no idea what to expect.
“Luckily, I had arranged the year before for Jacqueline to be my power of attorney in case anything ever happened. She immediately stepped into act on my behalf — which was good because I was unaware of what was happening.”
Wilson was in the hospital for several months and when she finally came to she asked her sister Sharlene what had happened with the centre and staff. “She assured me Jacqueline had been taking care of things. I was so grateful the doors hadn’t closed.”
It became very clear that Ardyth needed an extended period of time to heal — she was told by the doctor that she could not return to work for a minimum of a year. She stepped down formally as the CEO and retired in October of 2016.
“Jacqueline arranged a big beautiful retirement gala for me! I am proud to say that she has been the CEO since mid-2016 and I couldn’t be happier with her work. She and her family have since moved back to Saskatchewan and the centre is flourishing! We just celebrated our 10th anniversary, fulfilling my dream of having more than just a space to help a fellow alcoholic.”
Author’s Note: Many readers will remember Ardyth, but for those of you who didn’t meet her, she was raised in the Waskada, Napinka, Melita area and was a strong supporter and member of the AA group before leaving the area. Ardyth was married to Larry Townsend and they had two daughters — Melanie and Jacqueline. Although divorced, Ardyth and Larry remain best of friends and Larry has been very helpful with the Centre. The Melita and area communities congratulate Ardyth and Jacqueline and are proud of their accomplishments.
Final note from Jacqueline about her mom Ardyth: She may have started off small, but the Prairie Sky Recovery Centre has grown into the largest employer in the area, creating opportunity for people in recovery to give back and help others grow. She has a whole legion of alumni who call her Mom, who love and respect her for her dedication and the love she has shared. She has taught me and many others to show love, respect and dignity to those who suffer and encouraged a change in the province to end the stigma of addictions. She is a trailblazer, and I hope that she can be celebrated in her home community for her amazing work. While I was young, and she worked many other jobs, it was her service work in AA and helping others that made her most happy – all working up to and leading her to spearhead this amazing place!