Friday, March 26, 2021

Canadian Caminos on The Great Trail


In 2016, with the world making less and less sense, after years in school and decades at a desk, with our days spent looking at screens and our nights filled by streaming movies we had reached a point where we needed a change from the routine we found ourselves in. In a world of high speed internet, instant communication, and rapid transit we were both feeling less and less connected.  We weren’t sure what was wrong but we knew something was missing.  With little money and less athletic skill we did the one thing that was free – we began walking on local pathways and later hiking on long distance trails.  Eventually this led us to venture along Ontario’s amazing Bruce Trail where we discovered that spending time outdoors and back in nature was what we had been missing for so many years.  Venturing out onto the trail is one of the best things for people – it gives you control, it provides direction, it leads to a specific destination, and it occurs at our own pace!  On the trail we were able to unplug and take the opportunity to reflect and appreciate what we were experiencing rather than being able to flip between apps, messages and channels.  Given time in the outdoors, you begin to again see what is necessary and what isn't.

 
In 2016, we began saving, researched for weeks, and soon booked our tickets to go on the adventure of a life time – the Camino de Santiago trekking from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port France to Santiago de Compostella, Spain!  It took all of two weeks back home to begin to miss the routines of the pilgrim lifestyle and so we soon cashed out what was left of our savings and retirement funds and six months later went back to Europe to trek from Le Puy in France along the GR 65 / Via Podiensis to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (the beginning of the Camino Frances). Shortly afterwards we would return and venture along the Caminho Portuguese from Lisbon Portugal to Santiago and onward to Muxia and Finisterre – the end of the world. In our case, it's safe to say that the camino and our experiences on it call to us...


While had had enjoyed amazing experiences, made wonderful friends, and engaged with something which we had been missing for years.  The fact was, that when we came back home, we were struck with the loss of the daily experience on the Way.  We had found so much and wanted to hold onto those experiences!  But carrying the lessons and feeling of the Camino into the everyday became, as it does for so many, a real challenge.  We missed the essence and social atmosphere of the trail, we missed the simplicity of the daily routine, and we missed being out in nature with our destination on the horizon.  

Our solution to this dilemma was unique - we sold our house, donated our possessions, and quit our jobs to begin hiking on a 4 year, 24000 km trek across Canada along the world’s longest recreational pathway – The Great Trail to reconnect youth to nature.
 
To our great delight we were soon meeting Camino pilgrims and thru hikers across the country!  More than this however we also quickly became aware of a number of Canadian Caminos and pilgrimage routes across the country.
 
Covid, travel restrictions, and Staycation possibilities
 
With the onset of Covid in 2019, restrictions on travel, the lockdown of regions around the world and the need to maintain social distancing, many people have delayed and cancelled their trekking plans in the foreseeable future.  Added to all of the frustrations of dealing with Covid19 are the challenging economic realities which so many people are facing.  As a result, many who had plans to undertake a long distance trek or who wished to be a pilgrim along the Camino de Santiago in Europe are looking into other avenues – whether less expensive or which are simply closer to home – to venture. 

 
Given Canada’s natural beauty and diversity alongside the ongoing uncertainties around the world it would seem that Staycations and local trekking might be the most responsible, most economic and therefore the most in vogue thing to do for awhile. Fortunately Canada has a ton of amazing natural wonders, and great trails to explore!
 
Travelling in Canada, avoids the health risks of global travel, it helps local communities (who are struggling) by ensuring that our tourism dollars remain in the country, and it lets us explore this amazing country!
 
With this in mind, we felt that it was time to begin sharing some of the amazing Camino possibilities which we have found along The Great Trail!
 
            “….we often carry too much stuff; materially, emotionally, and spiritually.  A walking pilgrimage is an ideal time to renegotiate your relationship with stuff...”
                                                                                    (Stella Maris online commentary)


The Way of Stella Maris, Nova Scotia (https://www.thewayofstellamaris.com/)

The first Canadian Camino we discovered is known as The Way of Stella Maris located in Nova Scotia.  Inspired by the Camino de Santiago, and developed as a means to foster a renewed interest and support for local churches The Way of Stella Maris strives to provide a walking pilgrimage centred on prayer towards self renewal and spiritual growth. Established in 2019, the Way of Stella Maris is held annually as an organized hike led by the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese.


The 110 km long pilgrimage route begins at Holy Cross Church, Middle Musquodoboit and ends at Saint Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Halifax. It traverses the beauty and tranquility of the Musquodoboit Valley before picking up a series of trails along the stunning Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia: The Musquodoboit Trailway, Blueberry Run Trail, Atlantic View Trail, Salt Marsh Trail, High Flyer Trail and the Dartmouth Harbourwalk.  The route traverses a series of regional trails, many which are part of the Great Trail, and so can also be independently followed quite easily.  During the annual pilgrimage additional Stella Maris arrows are placed on the trail and serve as waymarking for hikers.




Camino de la Isla or the Island Walk, Prince Edward Island (https://theislandwalk.info/ or https://theislandwalk.ca/)

Moving East to West along The Great Trail the next Canadian Camino that we discovered was the Camino de la Isla or the Island Walk on a circular route on the perimeter of the nation’s smallest province, the tranquil Prince Edward Island. 


Designed and promoted by Bryson Guptill based on his own European pilgrimages in Spain and Portugal with the hope of developing a similar route in PEI to support the region’s iconic communities and showcasing its beautiful rural landscapes.  The desire was to create an easy to navigate local walking experience across one of the nation’s more accessible and safest regions which could be enjoyed by people at their own pace.  It has been developed by local trail builders, trail angels and business as a means to explore the province and its natural spaces. 


The Island Walk traverses 700 km around the province, and takes on average a month to complete.  Its route follows along parts of the Confederation trail, Great Trail, Island pathways, and country routes.  It takes travellers through regional forests, down peaceful country lanes, along the province’s iconic red sand beaches and into its pastoral communities.  It has been designed into 32 manageable stages of approximately 25 km each and generally includes easy access to a range of amenities from hiking trails and cycling paths, from campgrounds to B&Bs and motels, to grocery stores and restaurants.  In addition to which the Island Walk is unique in that unlike most trails, including the Camino de Santiago, this route is circular returning pilgrims to the point at which they began. 


Though only recently developed it has quickly become wildly popular.  So much so that there are currently plans to introduce a hiker passport, stamps at each of the 32 sections of the trail and a compostella upon completion.

From our experience the Island Walk also has by far the most information, assistance and guidance available for this Camino than any we have yet come across on the Great Trail – including a published guide book with maps, topographic data, and sectional commentary.



Pilgrim Route to Martyr’s Shrine, Ontario  (https://martyrs-shrine.com/pilgrim-route-to-martyrs-shrine/)

The third Canadian Camino we discovered on The Great Trail is known as the Pilgrim Route to Martry’s Shrine stretching more than 89 km from Barrie to Midland Ontario with hopes of eventually extending it through to Toronto.

Presently this pilgrimage route traverses along established trails in Simcoe County and Midland and includes sections of the Great Trail such as the Tay Shore Trail, Oro Mendonte Rail Trail, and the Uhthoff Trail as well as the urban pathways of Barrie and Orillia. Given the beautiful landscapes and communities of this region these trails are scenic and quiet allowing for a wonderful natural experience and easily giving way to reflection, meditation and the enjoyment of the journey.


The Martyr’s Shrine pilgrimage was developed by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the concerted efforts of the Martyrs’ Shrine, Georgian Bay Trails and Simcoe County Trails.  While there are regular pilgrimages organized by various diocese throughout Ontario, this route is well waymarked, the maps are available online and trails are open and free to venture along by anyone at anytime. 


The destination of this pilgrim route is to Martyr’s Shine and Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in Midland Ontario which is a sacred space which was built to honour the eight Jesuit saints who came from France to lived and work in Ontario and New York over three and a half centuries years ago.  They built the first church in Ontario and converted many of the Huron peoples. Much as one finds in cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago, the Martyr’s Shrine holds the relics of three of the Martyrs and is one of nine national shrines in Canada.




The fourth and final Canadian Camino we have so far discovered on The Great Trail is the wonderful Sudbury Camino. 


Developed in conjunction with the Sudbury Parks system and Rainbow Routes Association.  The Sudbury Camino was inspired by the trail to Santiago Spain as a local experience to allow people to challenge themselves, to push their limits, and as a means to slow down and reflect upon the world around us.  The Sudbury Camino route traverses the city of Sudbury taking pilgrims through its beautiful greenspaces, parks, downtown core, and natural spaces.


The Sudbury Camino’s route is 30km in length taking users from the Kinsmen Sports Complex to Moonlight Beach entirely along The Great Trail.  While it is one of the shortest Caminos we have found it is also one of the most accessible and easily completed routes to undertake as it is set along a series of extremely well maintained pathways close to city amenities.  As a result it can also be easily accessed along the route and therefore accommodates shorter day hikes for 30km, 21km, 15km or 4 km segments.


While travelling the Sudbury Camino hikers can also take a selfie at a number of different stations along the route to affirm that they have trekked the path.  These images can then be submitted to get a personalized certificate of accomplishment!


While annual group treks are regularly planned by the city, anyone can hike along this Way throughout the month of August and receive recognition for their achievement.  Information and maps are available online and include sectional directions and commentary. In the past few years this route has been an amazing success inspiring increasing participation!




Other Canadian Caminos in Quebec

In addition to these amazing routes there are other Canadian Caminos and pilgrim routes that we have heard of as well as other Caminos which are not located along The Great Trail.   Many of these Caminos are in the province of Quebec but in a number of cases there seems to be only limited and dated information about them. 

Perhaps the best established route that we could locate was the Sentier Notre-Dame Kapatakan. According to its website the Notre-Dame Kapatakan Trail (http://www.sentiernotredamekapatakan.org/), is inspired by the European pilgrimages in Spain and has many similar features including a credential passport, guidebook, and recommended accommodations.  This trail starts in Riviere-Eternite and goes to Lac-Bouchette in Saguenay Lac Saint Jean.


The route is 215 km long and takes between 8 and 15 days to complete crossing urban centers, pastoral farmlands, navigating around lakes and following historical concessions.  Like many of the other Canadian Caminos we have found, especially the Island Walk, the Notre-Dame Kapatakan Trail does sees its path as a means for people to regain their balance and to spend time in nature more than being a strictly religious undertaking. 


Another option is the Chemin des Sanctuaries (http://www.chemindessanctuaires.org/) trek from Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica along the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River.    This is a 375 km pilgrimage that takes 18 days to complete and it is organized and held each year in June. Online accounts note that this a very well established and waymarked path with accommodations which can be arranged along the route. 


Likewise, the Chemin des Navigateurs (http://www.chemindesnavigateurs.org/) is a 400km, 21 day pilgrimage from the Sanctuary of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pointe-au-Pere to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Baupre taking travelers through the regions of Bas-Saint-Laurent and Chaudiere-Appalaches.  This Camino is held annually every June and limits the number of hikers on the trail as well as the number who can set out each day.  As such while advance registration is required it means that the route is peaceful and there are arranged accommodations available for everyone hiking. Like the Camino de Santiago, the Chemin des Navigateurs has a passport system and stamps are issued along the route and a certificate of completion is issued at its conclusion.


Similarly, the Chemin de Saint-Remi (http://www.cheminstremi.quebec/) is more than over 820 km long venturing from Saint-Adrien-de-Ham in Estrie to Sainte-Florence in the Matapedia Valley. It is an established route through rural communities and villages which can be undertaken at any time during the year.  The trail has a guide book and is waymarked and hikers follow the GR red and white blazes between destinations.


Finally there is the more expansive Chemin du Quebec (https://www.quebeccompostelle.com/) which has a number of long distance routes covering more than 1200 km spanning from Montreal in the west to Cap Gaspe (known as Land’s end or literally translated as the end of the World) in the East!  This pathway explores regions full of cultural and historical heritage and allows hikers to discover and enjoy the beautiful landscapes throughout the province. The Chemin du Quebec also offers pilgrims a credential (or hikers log) which can be filled with stamps each day in accommodations, churches, and town halls, as well as a certificate upon completion of your trek.

All of these are of course just a sampling of the amazing Camino experiences you can go on right here in Canada!

Buen Camino and Bon Chemin !


Our Camino Treks:

For those interested in reading about our European Camino’s in France, Spain and Portugal the links below will take you to our blogs:
 
We also invite you to 'Come Walk With Us' as we continue to hike across Canada on the Great Trail from 2019 to 2022 encouraging youth to reconnect to nature.  To follow our journey and learn more about our #Hike4Birds, please visit the links below:
 
 


 


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