A dollar and a dream can go a long way in Queens

Published on March 19, 2017

Scott Costen is our new columnist for the Queens County Advance.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know much about Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga and spiritual leader to a small but devoted group of international followers.

Shri Mataji was born in India in 1923 to a Hindu father and a Christian mother. She combined elements of these two religions (and other faith practices) to create an eclectic spiritual movement that focuses on yoga, meditation and a state of personal awareness called “self-realization.”

The life, work and teachings of this woman, who died in 2011, have taken on new relevance in Queens County. That’s because she is the inspiration behind plans to turn the former school in Mill Village into an international boarding school.

A local group called the DEVI International Boarding School Society is currently seeking registration with the province and plans to operate the school as a non-profit organization.

“The name DEVI is an acronym of the principles the school stands for: Dignity, Education, Values and Integration,” the group said in a news release. “The school will be remodelled to house approximately 40 students from grades 6 to 10, who will follow the Nova Scotia curriculum.”

Region of Queens Municipality has agreed to sell the property and building to the group for $1, a far cry from its estimated value of $45,000. But it’s actually a sound agreement for both parties.

Vacant since 2014, the school was the subject of a request for proposals that came up empty. Taxpayers, meanwhile, have been on the hook for $10,000 annually in upkeep costs with no end in sight. The sale to the DEVI group will relieve us of this burden and give new life to a building that was otherwise destined to meet the wrecking ball.

The project will contribute to the local economy, not only during the renovation phase, but once the school is operational as well.

There will also be a small but real benefit in terms of much-needed new residents. Several families connected with the project are planning to relocate to Queens County. In fact, some have already engaged local realtors and begun looking at homes in the area.

The DEVI people benefit by getting a head start with an existing building for the price of a Loonie and a signature.

School society members Marcel and Mary Kuhn, who lived in Mill Village for 10 years before moving to Liverpool, have been planning and researching the project for more than two years. They looked at locations outside of Canada but are excited to be pursuing their dream here.

“Queens County is so welcoming and warm,” says Mary, a substitute teacher with the South Shore Regional School Board. “And Mill Village itself is so peaceful and beautiful.”

Fundraising efforts to finance the renovations will be done internationally, not locally, say the Kuhns. As a non-profit organization, the boarding school society intends to keep tuitions affordable and salaries modest.

Attracting students doesn’t appear to be an issue, either. “We’ve had interest from 30 countries,” said Marcel.

Boarding schools based on the teachings of Shri Mataji can be found in a number of countries. Complaints about them – from both parents and former students – appear to be few and far between. (Which is more than can be said of some religious and spiritual schools.)

Students engage in yoga and meditation, outdoor activities and recreation, and conventional courses dictated by local curriculum.

Ultimately, the sale of the old school for a dollar makes sense.

The DEVI folks get a chance to pursue their dreams of peace and enlightenment and the region saves money, welcomes new residents and gets a small economic boost.


Scott Costen is a freelance writer and editor based in Liverpool. He can be reached at scottcosten@yahoo.ca.