Remember music therapist Ed ‘Special Ed’ Roman? Here he is with two students trying out our new bass guitar, acoustic guitar, and amps, recently purchased thanks to a generous donation in support of our creative arts programming!  These are a great addition to the weekly music therapy groups, individual music instruction, and now, the student band!

How a ‘beautiful soul' helped save a troubled teen

Congratulations to Jackie Pye on this outstanding article in the Toronto Star today.  It is well deserved, does honour to all of us at Pine River, and reflects the kind of compassion and caring of all of you who work with our students and their families. You save lives every day!!!

Read article here.

Pine River Student Run for Terry Fox

The Students at the Pine River Institute will be participating in the Terry Fox National School Run Day on September 30th.  Thursday morning all Pine River students will be walking or running to commemorate Terry’s Marathon of Hope and to raise funds for cancer research.  For those interested in making a donation to support the students’ fundraising you can do so on-line by following this link: Click here to donate to Pine River Institute’s Terry Fox Run! 

A warm welcome to our new therapist and team leader, Carl Dalton! Carl grew up just 50 kilometers from PRI and has recently returned from studying in Halifax, NS.  He has been working with children and youth who have struggled with homelessness, substance abuse, anxiety, disability, and mental health disorders in a variety of urban and rural settings for 15 years.  Carl specializes in group therapy for young people, and uses a strength-based, narrative approach to help young people and their families discover and re-discover skills and solutions that will bring about desired outcomes. As often as he can Carl tries to combine his unique skills in outdoor experiential education and the performing arts to engage young people. Carl considers himself a life long learner. Currently his research interests are in the areas of the socialization of adolescents, resiliency models, and ethics in social work practice. You can find more info about our staff team here

We have had scorching temperatures all week here, and what better way to beat the heat than with a trip to Scotts Falls…

CEO Karen Minden awarded the Order of Canada

“Hello all:

It is with great respect, that I announce that Karen Minden, our CEO, was awarded the “Order of Canada” yesterday. The “Order of Canada” is Canada’s highest civilian honour and is awarded annually for outstanding achievement and service in various fields of human endeavour.

In the brief biographical notes about Karen, on the Governor General of Canada’s website, it specifically mentions her work in adolescent treatment and her founding of Pine River Institute.

This is a tremendous honour and clearly well deserved. On behalf of all the staff, I would like to congratulate Karen for this recognition and thank her for her unwavering commitment to adolescents and their families.”

John Fallis

Executive Director


A Day in the life…

Some snapshots from the day-to-day on campus

IECA Conference and Campus visits

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference was held in Toronto for the first time this May, and we were so excited to welcome everyone to our neighbourhood!  In addition to attending the conference sessions, we:

  • Hosted morning yoga classes for conference participants right in the hotel.  Janice Skinner taught these early morning classes, and Lululemon donated the yoga mats which are now on campus for student and family use. (BIG THANKS to LULULEMON!)
  • Pine River clinical director Dr. Victoria Creighton, and Montana Academy clinical director Dr. John McKinnon co-led a conference breakout session, Transition to Adulthood:  Concepts, Issues, Strategies: New science is altering our understanding of adolescence.  This has profound implications for parents, educators, and professionals to help youth set healthy patterns that will carry them into adulthood.  This session provides a conceptual framework for understanding the maturation process of adolescents into adulthood, what supports they need to successfully make this transition, and what to do when things go wrong.  What are the best strategies for educators and parents to help teens and young adults grow into more capable decision-makers?

Before and after the conference, we hosted several educational consultants at the school for a tour and visit with our students and staff.  These consultants work with families to find the right program and often support a family through treatment, transition, and aftercare.  They do great work, and they left with a small token of our appreciation - the much coveted ‘Pine River Gold’ maple syrup!

Dr. John McKinnon’s family and staff workshop at Pine River

We were thrilled to have Dr. John Mckinnon and Rosemary McKinnon of Montana Academy with us for a week in May.  On the last day of their visit, Dr. Mckinnon led a workshop on campus for families, students and staff on concepts from his book An Unchanged Mind, as well as his experience working with teens, particularly as co-founder and clinical director of Montana Academy.  The feedback from everyone who attended was so positive, and we all benefited from their participation in our day-to-day at the school.

Thank you John and Rosemary!

Another reason to love Lululemon...

A special thanks to Lululemon for their support!  Pine River offered Morning Yoga to attendees of the IECA Conference in Toronto in May, and we are so grateful for Lululemon’s support of this event.  The yoga mats that they generously donated are now at the school for our student and family yoga groups.  Thanks to the Bloor Street store for their enthusiastic response!

On May 10th Pine River and the Hospital for Sick Children co-hosted a collaborative Roundtable on effective care for teens struggling with mental health and addiction. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, researchers, and policy makers representing several  agencies - Hincks Dellcrest, CHEO, York University, and Integra to name a few - participated in a day of discussion, brainstorming, and presentations.  Here’s a peak at the agenda from the day:

Framing the Challenge
Dr. Bruce Ferguson
Head, Community Health Systems Resource Group, Hospital for Sick Children

“An Unchanged Mind,” The Montana Academy model

Dr. John McKinnon, MD, Clinical Director and Founder, Montana Academy

The Pine River Institute model

Dr. Victoria Creighton, Clinical Director, Pine River Institute

Outcome Evaluation Framework
Samantha Yamada, M.Ed, M.Sc, PhD (Candidate), Vanier Scholar

Developmental and Systemic Approached, and Introducing Innovation
Dr. Isabela Granic ,Health Systems Research Scientist, Community Health Systems Resource Group, Hospital for Sick Children
Dr. Debra Pepler, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University and Senior Associate Scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children

Addressing the Challenges of ‘uptake’ on Outcome Evaluation

Dr. Ian Manion, Executive Director, The Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO

It was exciting to formally launch what we hope will be ongoing collaboration among these  brilliant and committed people and organizations.

We are well into the warm weather and our campus is in bloom!

This is a great resource!

“ is a non-profit initiative providing information about mental health services and resources to Canadians of all ages. We provide online anonymous, confidential information, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

We help families and professionals with the Where, When and What of mental health�

1) Where to go for local mental health help,
2) When local mental health events are happening and
3) What: information about various mental health topics and conditions.”

The Skunk Whisperers

We don’t always get to acknowledge the everyday heroics at Pine River, but we were able to catch this particular act of bravery on film.  The students have been taking care of a coop-full of egg laying chickens on the school grounds since last year.  Apparently these poor chickens are regularly visited by unwelcome skunks, one of which required rescuing (eviction?) from the coop.  Staff John Killen and Brendon McGrann, armed with broom and hose, managed to safely escort the stinker into a crate, a truck, and finally the woods at the far end of the property - all without getting sprayed.  We figured this warranted an official “Skunk Whisperer” award, presented at lunch that day by CEO Karen Minden.

Expressive Arts Therapy

On Monday, Nov  9th, PRI students visited Expressive Arts Therapist Sharon Benson in Orangeville.  Sharon Benson is a fully trained and experienced Expressive Arts Therapist and Personal Life Coach and has been a huge supporter of PRI for several years now. (

“Expressive Arts Therapy is a psychotherapeutic model that employs the arts (music, drama, poetry, dance, visual and tactile arts) to promote awareness, change, and recovery through the act of creating. By creating images, sound and/or movement, clients can open pathways from their inner beings to their outer world, allowing real insights and resources to emerge.”

Students had an opportunity to participate in Expressive Arts activities and to learn about career opportunities in this field.

Living Library

Last week PRI students attended a “Living Library” event at the Orangeville Public Library. At a Living Library the “books” are people who have had unique life experience.  Students had a chance to connect one-on-one with people how have overcome challenges, faced oppression or for some reason are subjected to stereotyping and prejudices.

From the Living Library website:

What do we hope to accomplish?

Dufferin readers will be able to borrow a living book; through a personal contact we can break down barriers, see the human in the ‘other’ and realize that a stereotype never does justice to a person.

This is an opportunity for intercultural learning and personal development that brings people closer together in mutual and careful respect for the human dignity of the individual.

The heart and soul of this project are the volunteer Living Books, members of diverse groups in our local community.

Here is a list of the ” Living Books” available on Thursday, October 22 at the Living Library

  • Imam
  • Gay Woman
  • Muslim
  • New Immigrant (Filipino)
  • Gay Female Police Officer
  • A Non-Conformist Teen - Beyond the Freak
  • I’m not a Zombie
  • Starry Starry Sight - Living with a visual impairment
  • Visible Minority - High Achiever
  • Woman of Courage - Woman of Color
  • Black Man
  • Foster Parent - Loving Embraces
  • Being a Teen with Aspergers
  • Stay at home Father
  • Disabled but still Able
  • Living with a physical Disability and Loving it!
  • Gay Man
  • Communicates mostly without words
  • Living with Down Syndrome
  • A Book about a Lesbian

Getting to know...


Anne Thomson

Position: Teacher

Anne has been teaching at PRI for just over two years now.  When she was initially hired in 2007 Pine River had recently become an inspected private school with the Ministry of Education.  Says Anne, “it was exhilarating to be involved in such a young academic program and be a part of its growth.” Anne and her fellow teachers have worked hard to offer Pine River students a broad range of educational opportunities. 

Before Pine River Anne was an Instructor and Trip Lead with Project D.A.R.E/Wendigo Lake Expeditions, leading wilderness trips for young men in custody.  Project DARE is a residential wilderness-therapy program for at-risk youth. The acronym D.A.R.E. stands for Development through Adventure, Responsibility and Education.  She has also been involved in education and outreach work with various social justice and environmental NGOs in Ontario and the Maritimes.

How did Anne know she wanted to work with troubled teens? 

“While living in rural New Brunswick working for a sustainability education centre I spent my evenings volunteering with a youth group for troubled teens.  When my job there was coming to an end I reflected on my career path and questioned what I wanted to pursue next.  I thought to myself ,”I want to do youth group full-time!”

She completed a BEd. in Outdoor Experiential Education at Lakehead University and went to teacher’s college. 

“(I had) no intention of working in a conventional classroom; I knew I wanted to work in an alternative setting…It is very important to me that my work reflect my social values and teaching at Pine River certainly fits the bill!  It truly is a privilege to be a part of such an innovative and meaningful initiative.

The rewarding moments in this line of work are endless.  I have celebrated with students as they earn more credits than they ever dreamed possible.  I have shared the elation of students who finally have a strong sense of what path they want to pursue in life.  I have seen several students put on a cap and gown and accept their high school diploma, and have received letters from former students that are now in College or University.   In addition to these large-scale rewarding moments there are also the day-to-day rewards of seeing students increase their academic confidence, peer-tutor one another or discover a joy of learning.”

When she’s not with the students at Pine River, Anne spends her time hiking, canoe tripping, cross-country skiing, and seeing live music.  She is also active in community initiatives that support issues of food security and social justice.

And coming up at the end of October, Anne will be presenting on Pine River’s academic program and its interconnectedness with the therapeutic process at the Association for Experiential Education’s 37th Annual International Conference in Montreal.   (Conference details at

We are thrilled to have Anne on our team – she is an incredible teacher, mentor, and colleague.  A big thanks for all you do!

Fall photos from the Outdoor Leadership Experience

End of the Rainbow… A beautiful early morning rainbow at Pine River.  Thanks to John Killen for capturing the moment!