Canadian icon Jully Black’s blockbuster step class at Hart House this past summer was the brainchild of the new Director, Fitness, Wellness and Recreation. That was just one innovation that U of T alumna Vanessa Treasure introduced at the Fitness Centre as part of an empowering wellness refresh.

Sixteen short months ago, Vanessa Treasure, a University of Toronto alumna with a Bachelor of Kinesiology, was hired as Director, Fitness, Wellness and Recreation at Hart House Fitness Centre. Over her first year in this capacity, she has introduced some truly novel ideas.

Vanessa came to her role with a vision “to create a space where people are comfortable to explore all the unique ways they can move and be active; where they can find who they are through movement and wellness."

Vanessa Treasure

"I’ve seen it have a profound impact on people many times,” she elaborates. “For myself, personally, who I am was shaped by my sport career and athletics. It has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with what I learned about myself by moving my body."

“The driving force behind everything we do at Hart House Fitness Centre, all our programs, is providing opportunities for people to explore and learn about themselves while enjoying the physical and mental health benefits of movement.”

About Hart House, she says, “This place is gorgeous. There’s not another facility in the city that has the uniqueness, the beautiful architecture and that has a comforting, homey feeling in it.”

During her time thus far, Facilities and the Fitness Team did a refresh. For example, the popular Pilates reformer program, in Studio B, expanded and moved into what was formerly the cardio room. Studio B then transformed into a spin space.

There’s also a new rest space open on Fridays. Infusing the space with a sense of calm, it has LED candles, plants, music, as well as loungers and mats where people can relax. Vanessa seeks to make such spaces “more Zen; focussing not only on movement but also wellness.”

Sweat & Reset, Her First Resounding Success

The first major event under Vanessa’s leadership was in April 2023: Sweat & Reset, where students and members came together in a big way. “There’s a really special energy around having a bunch of people doing what they can in a space together,” she says.

Sweat & Reset

The session was comprised of a HIIT workout followed by a yoga session, so it acted as a cooldown and led into a more mindful, gentler practice.

Vanessa coached the HIIT workout, and partners including Lululemon, Arc’teryx and other sponsors contributed gift bags and prizes. With 80 participants, it was a huge success. “The team really came together for this event. I was beaming with pride,” Vanessa says.

Vanessa Imagines the Jully Black Event

Next, Vanessa dreamt even bigger. After attending a Lululemon event hosted in collaboration with the Jully Black Family Foundation called Step Up and Give Back, she sought to bring the Canadian icon, personal fitness and wellness guru to Hart House.

Vanessa, who attended the event with her best friend, had been moved to tears by what Jully said and strongly believed that this woman’s vision of empowerment and meeting yourself where you're at and giving yourself credit, aligned perfectly with the aspirations of the Fitness Centre. “This was the kind of moving, transformative experience that we want to create at Hart House,” Vanessa explains.

Jully Black and the Power of Step, described as classic retro step aerobics reimagined.

So, she reached out to Jully on Instagram. “I said I've got this incredible space. Let's animate it!” Vanessa recounts. And the two made plans for bringing Jully, who had been looking for space to do a step class for her 100 Strong and Sexy initiative, to the House.

This event in May was a smash success with high participation numbers – so much so, they did a second one in July. “It was a powerful experience, really heartwarming,” Vanessa recalls. “It’s so beautiful to see all different kinds of people ‒ people with different abilities, some accessibility requirements and staff members,” she says. There was even an infant whose parents were participating in one of the events.

True to form, Vanessa says it was a group effort that led to the success of the new initiatives she has introduced. “I would like to emphasize the incredible role my team had in both the two successful Jully Black events as well as Sweat & Reset,” she says.

“Hart House is that entry point”

To Vanessa, Hart House represents an inviting opportunity. “In the fitness industry, we often underestimate how scary or intimidating it can be to go to a space where people are seemingly already experts. Hart House is that entry point. It's that space where you can come as you are, and we will meet you where you're at. It’s movement for you, and you're doing it for you, and it doesn't need to look like the person beside you who's been doing it for ten years when today is your Day One.”

Participant in Group Fitness Class

The best thing about the Fitness Centre, to her, is the broad range of people ‒ including alumni who have been here for 60 years – and a sense of community. “It's a special thing. I love the people.”

She notes that some other facilities may have the most expensive equipment, “but if the people aren't lighting you up, making you feel like you're special and that you belong in the space, then it really doesn't matter.”

She encourages students, alumni and community members who may be thinking about joining a class: “Come into our space and try. Where you are now is exactly who we want you to be. You are already enough,” she emphasizes, adding, “You have one body and one life. It's great to be able to move it and use it to be your confidence driver.” 

Find out more about the Hart House Fitness Centre and get started on your "day one" today.