Attack with love

Lindsay MacPhee. Photo: Aaron McKenzie Fraser

The Floatation Centre’s Lindsay MacPhee proves doing good is good business

Before you even walk through the Floatation Centre (TFC) doors, you sense something different awaits. The rainbow flags, inspirational quotes, and anti-racist messages that greet you at the front door confirm the centre’s reputation as a safe, inclusive space is not just well-earned. It’s intentional. 

Stepping inside the centre, which just marked six years in business, you find a cozy, welcoming space. A bright teal accent wall behind the front desk casts a cheery aura and highlights the counter’s honey-stained wood. 

Colourful Tibetan prayer flags hang across a hallway to the right of the desk. To the left, a place to leave your shoes, and a waiting area and retail space that features a large palette sofa and a selection of local goods for purchase. Another hall leads to more of the centre, including the back office. That’s where I meet the centre’s founder, Lindsay MacPhee.

MacPhee radiates happiness. That may sound trite, but it’s true. It’s almost like she vibrates at a higher frequency. Yet, despite that natural buzz, she still exudes an even calm that leaves you completely at ease. 

“She’s nothing but a bundle of good energy and love,” says Mase Keeping, a massage therapist who works out of the centre one day a week. Obviously, as a boss, she’s awesome. But as a person, she’s amazing.”

Queer girl in a rural world
MacPhee started life in rural Nova Scotia.

Until about 13 or 14, she lived with her parents and younger sister in a tiny community called MacPhees Corner in Hants County. At that time three branches of her family called the corner home, but the name is pure coincidence as far as she knows. 

In her early teens, MacPhee’s parents divorced. While her dad stayed in the corner, her mom relocated to Shubenacadie. MacPhee and her sister spent the years that followed moving between them in two-week rotations. 

While many teens struggle when parents divorce, MacPhee wound up with “two awesome sets of parents,” she smiles. “I’m very lucky. My mom (who does the centre’s accounting) is my best friend.”

MacPhee loved the adventures her country home offered during her earliest years, but as she grew, the isolation, rural lifestyle, and small-town mentality made her feel caged. 

Although she wasn’t out at the time, MacPhee (who is pansexual) knew she wasn’t straight either. The disconnection between her lived experience and internal reality hit her. 

“I couldn’t wait to leave,” recalls MacPhee. “Now, living in the city. I miss the rural. The slowness of it,” she adds. “And the comforts of home.” 

A different world 
After high school, MacPhee enrolled in engineering at Saint Mary’s University. In 2004, she graduated with a 4.1 GPA and headed to the University of British Columbia for a degree in chemical engineering with an environmental focus. 

During that time in B.C., MacPhee married. A few years later, when the marriage ended, she avoided the knee-jerk reaction to return to Nova Scotia right away, wanting to make a go of it independently. 

But, during her last year on the West Coast, everything that could go wrong did. A best friend’s father passed away, then MacPhee’s aunt and cousin followed. She finally decided to drive home from Vancouver with her best friend. But one month before they were planning to leave, a health issue claimed his life, too. 

MacPhee even lost the engineering job she’d arranged for Nova Scotia. Luckily, she had a good relationship with the company, and they intervened with employment insurance. So, she had a little breathing room to figure out her next move. 

Lightbulb moment 
Just before MacPhee left Vancouver in 2013, a friend surprised her with a birthday float (a therapeutic session of drifting in an isolation tank free from external stimuli, intended to relax body and mind). Fast forward a few weeks, and she’s in Halifax without a job. Lying in bed one morning, she thought, “I just need to find a place to float.” 

When she looked online, the closest tanks were in Montreal. 

“And it was just a total fucking lightbulb moment.” 

Armed with an idea, MacPhee got to work, using her engineering skills to dig into the science of floatation. To some, climbing in a tank of saltwater for 75 minutes of sensory deprivation might sound a bit “woo-woo,” but nearly 70 years of research documents the wide range of benefits floating offers. 

Floating can ease chronic pain, improve circulation, reduce stress, improve mental and physical performance, boost mood, and enhance overall wellbeing. And that’s only some of the potential gains. 

Feeling good about her plan to bring floating to Halifax, MacPhee applied to the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education & Development’s Self-Employment Program, a program open to EI recipients to help participants get a business off the ground. Although MacPhee’s first application was unsuccessful, her second made the cut, and TFC opened in 2015. 

MacPhee's tattoo reflects her personal philosophy. Photo: Aaron McKenzie Fraser
MacPhee’s tattoo reflects her personal philosophy. Photo: Aaron McKenzie Fraser

Whole love
Growing up near Indian Brook, the inequalities between her own life and the lives of Indigenous friends provided some of the lessons that led MacPhee to weave social justice into her business priorities. Others came from her close relationship with her sister, who opened her eyes to a lot.

In the past, MacPhee was more vocal about environmental issues than anything else. But, since opening TFC, she’s seen the barriers keeping some people from the benefits services like hers. So, she decided to approach business by ignoring rules that say there’s no place for compassion in the bottom line.

From the beginning, MacPhee let that compassion light the way, choosing to pay staff above the minimum wage. And anyone who works 25 hours a week is considered full-time, which means they qualify for benefits, with the centre paying half the premium. In the six years since, MacPhee raised wages consistently. Now everyone makes at least $15 per hour. While that’s not as high as she would like, it’s more than many businesses of her type offer.

“My mom would probably say that I am a bit self-sacrificing,” says MacPhee, adding her motto is “attack with love … These are the things that are important.” 

The phrase, which lives on her forearm as a brightly coloured reminder, is from the song “Whole Love” by Wilco. 

The philosophy takes many forms at The Floatation Centre. 

MacPhee’s committed to supporting folks whose mental health, safety, and wellness aren’t supported in traditional clinical settings by offering half-price floats to self-identified Black and Indigenous clients. 

For Canada Day, Taylor Milne, one of TFC’s float hosts and a future massage therapist, came to MacPhee with a proposition. Never one to celebrate, Milne offered to open the centre and work for free if TFC would donate all proceeds to the Grassroots Grandmothers Circle, a First Nations group leading the fight against the Alton gas-storage project. MacPhee agreed.

“I think giving to water protectors is meaningful because we value water so much,” says Milne. “And I think focusing on how we can mobilize our resources and our privilege to support indigenous and BIPOC lives is really important.”

MacPhee and her staff work mindfully to integrate community care into every aspect of the centre, whether through efforts like the half-price policy or supporting local artists and businesses by offering their products for sale.

“With small business,” says MacPhee, “it’s easy to put you into a box, and the first five years, you never do these things. After five years, you do these things. Like, no, screw it. I believe in tithing. I love the idea of giving to get like; it’s just this total flow. I’m just happy to do things in our own way and have that flexibility and the support of everyone who works here, who is on board. Or are the spark (or instigators) of the good stuff.”

Cultivating kindness
A simple way to create a culture of kindness in the workplace is to hire accordingly.

“Every person who works here, now and in the future, they’re hired based on compassion first,” says MacPhee. “You don’t know how to use Excel? I’ll teach you.” 

For Keeping, who spends hours in wellness spaces as both client and practitioner, it’s a decidedly different sort of workplace.

“You can feel that energy if you walk into a place and don’t see anything that reflects you,” they say. “So, it’s been a thing for me on a personal level to make sure that anywhere I go, people are aware people like me exist.”

“Lindsay is the embodiment of the place,” says Milne. “She is very what you see is what you get.”

There’s no act, and that helps people feel more comfortable in their quirks, says Milne. It doesn’t hurt that she holds space for people to make mistakes. 

“It’s not you’re no longer a part of our community. It’s, how can we facilitate change [for good]? And I think that’s important.”

Making meaning
For Jennifer Crawford, floating played a big part in how they learned to survive.

For loyal customer Jennifer Crawford (left), the service Lindsay MacPhee offers is a mental health essential. Photo: Aaron McKenzie Fraser
For loyal customer Jennifer Crawford (left), the service Lindsay MacPhee offers is a mental health essential. Photo: Aaron McKenzie Fraser

Crawford, a food creative and aspiring pro wrestler, found floating while searching for a salve for their PTSD. At this point, their nervous system was constantly on its highest gear. Imagine a car in park with the gas pedal to the floor. You’re burning your tires, but getting nowhere.

Crawford started floating once a week. And it worked. 

“I can still vividly remember my first session,” recalls Crawford. For 50 minutes straight, it was an absolute cacophony in Crawford’s head. Just noticing the speed of thought was shocking. 

“It was wild to witness,” they remember. “Over a month or so, my thoughts got slower and slower. It changed my life profoundly.”

Although they have yet to get in a float at MacPhee’s centre, they know how vital the methods are.

“Lindsay is doing something so special,” says Crawford. “When you see it modelled, you know it’s possible. It’s not just, ‘we’re going to make money,’ it’s, ‘we are going to make meaning’ … I wish there were a million Lindseys. When people bring their whole selves to what they do. It inspires other people … That kind of impact can’t be measured.”

Attitude of gratitude 
MacPhee is grateful to those who’ve inspired her life and business. She holds people like Sheena Russell of Made with Local as an example of good business ethos. Another close friend, a local activist, consistently models how to always be in service. 

And Crawford’s admiration is mirrored.

“Jennifer has helped me be more vocal with my queerness,” says MacPhee. They made me realize that if being queer is going to be part of your identity in a way that benefits you, then you’ve got to own it … I like cheering on people who are out there and living their lives in the most authentic way.”

Some days, she can’t believe she’s so lucky. For the first eight years of her engineering career MacPhee hid her tattoos and septum piercing to appear professional. She’s no longer willing to contort herself or her ideals to fit expectations — and she doesn’t have to. 

“I’m not changing who I am to fit into a certain box,” she says. “And if it means going through the school of hard knocks and learning the hard way by failures, great. I would never have control over any of this as a … junior engineer. I didn’t have autonomy. Now I realize all I ever wanted to do was to make a difference. And now I have folks who work with me who feel the same way. It’s magical.” 

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