By Joanie Veitch |
It was an introductory Spanish class at Saint Mary’s University, and the professor wanted students to work on their conversational skills. Up until that January day in 2004, Ben Connolly and Julie Bohemier had always sat on opposite sides of the classroom.
That day, they got paired up. “It was basically like a first date, the questions we were asking one another,” Julie says. “That was it. That day changed everything.”
Three years later Ben and Julie were married. Today, they own and operate a naturopathic clinic in Upper Tantallon, a business they started themselves in the area where they live with their two young children, and their dog Loki.
Long before they met at Saint Mary’s, Ben and Julie each knew they wanted careers that aligned with their values, something that would make a difference in the world.
After watching surgery on his fractured hand, following a skating accident, 11-year-old Ben set his sights on becoming a doctor. It was that goal that lead the Shelburne, NS native to Saint Mary’s for a Bachelor of Science degree. In his third year, however, Ben started to have doubts about his career path. As part of his studies, he did a co-op work term at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. “I became disillusioned with the medical system while I was there. It was so political and so unlike how I had thought it would be.”
Even in the last few years, we are seeing much more collaboration with traditional medicine and integrative approaches. It’s an exciting field to be in.
Julie, meanwhile, had grown up in Lawrencetown, and impressed by the success and evolution of her father’s safety training company, Survival Systems Ltd., dreamed of one day becoming an entrepreneur as well. This led directly to taking the business program at Saint Mary’s. Partway through, she also had a change of heart and switched from the business program to pursue psychology “with a business twist.”
When she graduated in 2006, Ben was still plugging away, working as a lab assistant at Capital Health and studying to write his MCATs (Medical College Admission Test). But, a conversation with a family friend about naturopathic medicine got Ben thinking about an alternative path.
“The more I looked at the evidence-based therapies and information, the more I liked it,” says Ben, adding that he was very drawn to the way naturopathic medicine addresses the root cause of illness.
After their wedding in 2007, Ben and Julie moved to Toronto so Ben could pursue further studies in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and Julie could study massage. In their spare time, the idea of opening their own clinic began to take form.
“All the while Ben was in school we would talk about it—what we wanted, what we didn’t— and by the time we were ready to move back, we had it all planned out,” says Julie.
By this time it was 2011, and the couple created their company name, Cornerstone Naturopathic, and began renting space until they could afford to build something of their own.
Two and a half years later, that dream came true. In October 2014, their new 7,000 square-foot clinic in Upper Tantallon opened its doors. Custom-built with LED lighting, a geothermal heating, cooling and hot water system, and solar panels, the clinic is designed to be as green and energy efficient as possible.
For Ben and Julie, it’s more than just the realization of a shared vision—it’s a built expression of the couple’s ethos. Live and work with purpose.
Since moving into their new space, they have been able to expand the business significantly, with four full-time naturopathic doctors, a personal fitness trainer, a holistic nutritional consultant, and a certified colon therapist. Ben works as the lead naturopath while Julie manages the clinic.
The business continues to evolve, with a satellite clinic in Yarmouth and the possibility of a third clinic in northern Nova Scotia. This past fall, the Connollys started a residency program, making Cornerstone the first clinic east of Toronto to offer an educational residency to new graduates of naturopathic medicine.
“The field of naturopathic medicine is changing,” Ben says. “Even in the last few years, we are seeing much more collaboration with traditional medicine and integrative approaches. It’s an exciting field to be in.”
Ben and Julie are both members of the Saint Mary’s University alumni association and enjoy attending alumni events whenever they can. At one such event a few years back they saw their Spanish professor and were able to tell her how that class had changed the course of their lives.
“I’m still a terrible Spanish speaker, but I’m so glad I took that class,” Ben laughs, sitting in his office at Cornerstone Naturopathic clinic and gazing over at Julie.
It’s clear from her expression she feels the same.