In celebration of International Women’s Day I began to reflect on all the inspirational women who have trekked, hiked, cycled, and paddled the Great Trail in their own way. Each has given so much in terms of where the trail goes, who is on the path, how we see it, and how the outdoors in Canada is celebrated. Each one is an amazing individual, whose contributions and incredible experiences enliven the nation and the outdoors.
I have long been amazed by the footprint of amazing women on pathways across Canada – not just as hikers and explorers, but as trail builders, fundraisers, organizers, and as trail angels! It is because of them that I am currently undertaking this epic 4 year, 24,000 km trek across Canada on the world’s longest recreational pathway!
Personally I have been particularly influenced by the many trekkers on The Great Trail who, since its inception through to its connection, have made the route inspirational!
Sarah Jackson – Sarah Rose Walks (https://sarahrosewalks.wordpress.com/) is a west coaster who was the first woman to complete the 11,500 km trek from Vancouver to Newfoundland from 2015 until 2017. Her adventure and willingness to undertake the entire adventure on foot and on her own revealed that this venture on the trail was possible.
Dianne Whelan – 500 Days in the Wild (https://500daysinthewild.com/) is an Indigenous woman who is an accomplished filmmaker, paddler, hiker and cyclist who is about to complete her own epic 24,000 venture across the country, exploring how traditional wisdom informs our modern world, while at the same time releasing an amazing documentary film on the experience (something I am very much excited to see!)
As an interesting aside it was an article about Dianne in the Coast Reporter by Jan Degrass in 2015, sent to me at the time by my father, that first got me thinking about attempting The Great Trail.
Mel Vogel – Between Sunsets (https://www.betweensunsets.com/) is an intrepid and inspirational adventurer travelling with Malo her furry companion whose has so far walked from Newfoundland to Whitehorse, through every season and weather condition. When she has finished she will have completed the entire route of the Great Trail form the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific! It was Mel’s advice and encouragement from 2018 to the present that very much made my own trek possible.
Julie Chatelain – JUSI Adventures (https://www.jusiadventures.ca/) is an accomplished global hiker who is currently trekking across the country on the TGT whose own adventures strive to push not only her own boundaries but also motivate others to stay fit and to engage in mindful hiking amid nature. She is a motivational speaker on the Art of Walking and had ventured along the challenging GR20 in Corsica, the Camino Frances, GR65 / Via Podiensis, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail before setting out on the Great Trail. For the past two years, Julie and her trekking partner have travelled slightly ahead of me on the Great Trail and in so doing been a wondrous source of advice and information. Last year while venturing in Northern Ontario they were kind enough to stop, offer moral support, and load me up with amazing trail treats! I am not sure whether it is her sense of adventure, her kindness, or the fact that her past hiking resume, current adventure and future plans for trekking (Via Francigena) mirror mine so closely – but I find her to be a wonder.
Judith Kasiama – founder of Colour the Trails and a participant along with Jacqueline Scott on the planned Black Canada Hike (https://blackoutdoors.wordpress.com/) along the Great Trail. Judith Kasiama is a dynamic lady and a Fellow with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society who has sought to celebrate the achievements of BIPOC in the outdoors, challenge gender stereotypes, and change the public perception of adventurers in nature. She, along with Jacqueline Scott, is set to begin venturing along the Great Trail, exploring Black Canadian history while advocating for equity and diversity in the outdoors as well as accessibility to nature.
While these are the public faces of exploration and adventure on the Great Trail there are so many more women whose efforts in the past and today have worked to build trails, protect green spaces, and make nature more accessible for everyone. These unsung heroes are the fundraisers, the volunteers and the trail builders who have worked since 1992 on the Trans Canada Trail and now the Great Trail! It is their efforts that have made the world’s longest trail possible and who continue to improve upon it, ensuring that it becomes more accessible as it grows!
En route from Newfoundland to Mantioba I have been fortunate to meet some of these visionaries, trail builders and volunteers. I have hiked with Susan Cook and the ladies of the Musquodoboit Trailways Association who have worked throughout the region to protect and build this amazing pathway in the heart of Nova Scotia, which was one of the first to be designated a section of the Trans Canada Trail in the province!
I have stayed with Mary in Chezzetcook, who along with her husband are dedicated trail builders in Nova Scotia. The evening I spent at their house with her family was an amazing experience. Here I heard stories about the day to day challenges which trail planners, designers, and builders face. These tales opened my eyes to the shear amount of dedication required to build a few kilometers of the Great Trail which often takes place over the course of years and decades of work – often undertaken quietly by volunteers like Mary and her family.
In Halifax I was fortunate to meet with the intrepid and energetic Holly Woodill and members of the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails! Here I was amazed to see the amount of work that she and others like her put into maintaining and expanding the pathways of Cole Harbour as well as around the city of Halifax! Their work has led to an amazing series of trails which now includes a massive urban loop of pathways throughout Halifax and Dartmouth region. Indeed since I trekked through the maritime region in 2019 it seems that Nova Scotia, Halifax, and the Annapolis region have been rapidly adding new and amazing trails to the TGT system – all because of the dedication of people like Holly!
In Prince Edward Island, I was fortunate to have dinner with and trek alongside Ruth DeLong for a day. Ruth, a hiker since 1979, is a force of nature who has ventured around New Zealand and Canada, believing that we all need a stronger connection to nature. She has volunteered for almost two decades on the Confederation Trail, Island Trails, and the Trans Canada Trail system. When I met her she was the
Trail’s Community Relations Coordinator, trail builder, and outdoors advocate. Her dedication, energy, and passion for Canada’s outdoors and its trails is, in my experience, unequalled – with the results showing in the sheer beauty and immaculate conditions of Prince Edward Island’s trails which are without a doubt a trekker’s or a cyclists paradise to venture along!
Stephanie Miller and the women of the South Whiteshell Trail Association who in recent years have guided the development of the amazing network of trails from Falcon Lake into the heart of Whiteshell Park! In the process they have leveled, expanded, and maintained an amazing stretch of local pathway and a section of The Great Trail making it easier to navigate, safer to use, and more enjoyable to traverse!
This of course is not a comprehensive list as there are so many people whose names we’ll never know and who we have not yet had the chance to talk with but who have contributed towards making our nation’s trails wonderful, accessible and safe! Across the country, in every community we have visited we have chatted with, been emailed or messaged from people whose grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, and family members have been involved in building the pathways and greens spaces in their region.
Women donate, they design and plan, they organize, they advocate, they help build, and continue to maintain the pathways in our nation. They dedicate time and resources to ensuring trails are accessible, that they are connected, and women work tirelessly to host activities and events for trail groups, nature organizations, and outdoors clubs across the country!
Thank you to all the women, and the people who support their efforts and achievements from coast to coast to coast!
There are so many stories yet to be told, so many contributions and achievements to be acknowledged.
The great thing is that step by step we are all getting there.