Float, Canada! Our Tank and Native Salt…
We finally took this trip international! Explaining Float Tour to the border guards was a little bit of a challenge (especially through the language barrier), but – after some creative hand gestures and finding synonyms for “sensory” and “deprivation” – we made it through.
Something we noticed immediately after we crossed the border is that the distance between float centers is much greater on this side. Part of this comes down to simple population density. Canada’s major cities are much further apart. There are also different barriers to entry in the Canadian float world. The national standard for insurance makes alternative wellness a much tougher sell in many areas. The Canadian Float Collective, whose members we’ll meet a little farther down the road, is working with medical professionals and government agencies to get floating covered in every province.
Population: ~1.65 million
Number of float centers: 2
Known for: Consistently petitioning to secede from Canada, speaking French in a cool accent.
Our first stop is Montréal – a truly multicultural city. French is the official language here, but 56% of its population are fluent in both French and English, making it the largest bilingual population of any city in Canada.
Montréal is a melting pot of European and American societies, and as such is widely considered the “cultural capitol” of Canada. With significant historical landmarks: the Place de Arts, Notre-Dame, and la Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, the city has become a beacon of artistry.
A key component to Montréal’s history is its relationship in U.S. prohibition back in the 20s. As a sin city with a rousing nightlife, many people crossed the border to enjoy a few drinks without having to deal with mob run speakeasies in the US. Even though the speakeasies are long gone, that tradition has carried on to this day, and some of the greatest bars and clubs in the world can be found here.
Number of tanks: 6
Years in operation: 32
Tactical Takeaway: Innovation is the pathway to success. Never stop inventing new ways to reach your goal.
Other services: Massage, Pulsar, NeuroSpa, LPG Treatments, lipomassage, facial endermolift
Ovarium is both the largest and oldest float center we’ve visited on Tour. It’s one of the few centers that has operated since the 80s. Bernard Meloche started the company in 1982, expanding to a second location in just two years. He even had the opportunity to personally meet with Dr. John C. Lilly at the Esalen Institute in California, where they discussed floating along with the future of modern wellness.
The building itself was originally a bank built in 1919. Bernard purchased it in 1999 to expand his already thriving spa. With large, gothic stone columns thrusting up to the top of the three story structure and massive windows all along its side, it could easily be mistaken for a cathedral.
Bernard – a longtime fan of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock – has always believed strongly in enhancing relaxation with technology. Through this, he found floating and its myriad benefits, as well as other technological advancements in augmented reality and experimental modalities. This has led to him sponsoring technologies like the Neurospa and the Pulsar, two services that he helps distribute to other float centers and clients.
Ovarium houses six float rooms, 12 massage rooms, nearly as many Neurospa stations, and multiple Pulsar light therapy rooms. The staff roster has roughly 90 people, enough for two full company baseball teams (4.5 hockey teams in metric). After being around for 35 years, Bernard is focusing on transitioning the day-to-day operations to his managers while he focuses on his own projects.
While other float centers faded away, Ovarium soldiered on. His other services were successful enough to weather the decline the industry experienced throughout the 90s. In that time, he attended every conference, summit and meeting he could to bring the industry greater attention.
Bernard has been a long time friend and was a gracious host. He even insisted on lending us a NeuroSpa pad for our drive to help ease the tension of long hours behind the wheel. Thank you, Bernard! It was invaluable.
Our head in the clouds…
Number of tanks: 1
Years in operation: 1
Tactical Takeaway: Take the best parts of the services and places you like. Leave the rest.
Other services: Massage, Cryotherapy, facial care, body care
Open since December, Spa Cloud wants to be the largest spa in Montréal. Rennet, the owner, is currently converting an entire floor above his space to house two full sized swimming pools. The neighborhood is young and vibrant, and his spa sits next to modern art galleries and hip clubs. Spa Cloud fits in nicely, a loft space accessible through a freight elevator, it has the ambiance of a hidden resort nestled inside the heart of the city.
Rennet created Spa Cloud based on ethical and sustainable practices. He believes strongly in a business’ personal responsibility to take care of the environment, and he only partners with other companies that have a focus on sustainability. For his part, the spa packages and beauty supplies that they provide are all 100% organic – made simply from herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Population: ~1.24 million in the surrounding area
Number of float centers: 2
Known for: Capital of Canada, most educated city in Canada, highest standard of living in the country
Ryan Butts didn’t start out trying to open a float center. He graduated from Cape Breton University with two degrees while working as a personal trainer. He knew that he wanted to start his own business, but was uncertain how that would take shape. He wanted to do something different, create something that would have a meaningful impact on people. He came across floating through good ol’ Joe Rogan, but had never tried it himself and had to visit Ovarium in Montréal to do so. The experience coalesced in a tumultuous epiphany that melded his overwhelming desire for “something different” into Ottawa’s very first float center.
Ever since starting Tank Action Ryan has been experiencing a unique barrier to entry for his clientele: roughly 25% of the population of the city works for the government, all of whom have comprehensive insurance coverage and are unlikely to try any service that isn’t under their umbrella of care. It’s fairly understandable, when acupuncture and massage are available for a minimal copay, it’s difficult to justify paying full price to try a relatively unknown relaxation service like floating. Far from giving up the fight, Ryan is personally petitioning the government to look at flotation as a preventative therapy and treat it the same as other alternative wellness practices.
Even through all this, Ryan has seen business grow since he has opened. So much so, in fact, that he just recently expanded to a third float room that he purchased from Pro Float. It was so new that Graham was one of the first people to try it out when we visited.
ISÖ was started by Jasson and Mika – longtime friends and former college roommates. Prior to opening the center, Mika was a financial analyst and Jasson – a real estate agent. They went into business together after feeling like their lives needed a new direction. Mika’s career had plateaued, and what’s more, it wasn’t as satisfying as it had been in the past. Jasson – the more adventurous of the two – eagerly agreed when when Mika proposed starting a company. He wasn’t concerned on the specifics. As quickly as that, their partnership was formed! As Mika puts it, it’s a much healthier way to go through a midlife crisis. Instead of buying sports cars, they’ve opened a float center.
While they’ve definitely noticed the hurdles of getting first time floaters in the tanks due to insurance, they don’t think it’s much different than any other market. There are plenty of successful float centers in the U.S. and Canada in areas that don’t have floating covered by insurance, so why should that impact the industry here more than anywhere else? They’re confident that as long as they share a superior experience with people they’ll find people to float.
Even being relatively new, they’ve had excellent success in cultivating fun ways to help spread word-of-mouth about floating. They use their space to showcase local artists in their center, building community and attracting new people. The artwork on display when we visited was magnificent: huge multimedia pieces that covered entire walls throughout the space and were truly captivating, enhancing both the pre-float and post-float ambiance of the lounge.
They are currently exclusively using the i-sopod float tank from Floatworks out of England, and Peter Bell (one of the Floatworks crew, and a past conference speaker) personally flew out for 10 days to help them install the tanks. Mika and Jasson were so impressed at that level of care from a manufacturer; it made them feel comfortable in their decision to go with their pods.
Not a float center in the traditional sense, Spa Nordik was kind enough to give us a tour of their 5-star retreat. The resort is a destination location for people across the world seeking out the ultimate experience in relaxation. We included them on Float Tour for one very specific reason: their massive subterranean salt water pool in the heart of their resort (while we did have the chance to see the pool, we weren’t able to take any photos due to privacy concerns for their guests).
Their float pool is quite a bit different from a tank. First of all, it’s filled with sea salt, not epsom salt, and it’s only kept at about 1.17 specific gravity. It’s lit with candles resting within pillars all throughout the room, and it floats up to 30 people at the same time. The entrance to the room takes you down a winding flight of stairs, but even at the top, you’re immediately blasted with hot air since it’s kept close to 90 degrees fahrenheit (~32 celsius). The pool, and the resort itself, were a wonderful otherworldly trip that was exactly what it claimed to be: an extremely luxurious and relaxing experience.
Further into the Canadian Wilds…
What a great first leg of our Canadian Adventures. The industry is at a very different stage of development than in the United States. While we’re not seeing colossal mega-centers being built out here, the places we’ve visited are still experiencing regular growth over time. Parts of the industry so far seem comparable to the United States just a few years ago: it’s still somewhat of a niche experience that hasn’t found broad appeal just yet.
From here we go into Toronto, a city tied a bit more closely to American culture and which definitely takes a different perspective on floating. It has more float centers than Montréal and Ottawa combined, which should offer a much broader perspective on Canadian float life.
Until issue #17…