Expanding your footpath has never taken on such a literal message, with the recent fundraiser for The Great Trail. Until August 31st, every dollar you give will go 2x further, thanks to a matching gift from devoted Trail supporter, Jack Cockwell. Every Canadian province and territory is home to its own stretch of The Great Trail. This donation will support future generations on the trail, which weaves throughout every province coast-to-coast in Canada.
We sat down with Jane O’Faherty a Communications Advisor who works for the Trans Canada Trail for her nuggets of wisdom on how she fell in love with the trail, and her best tips for hiking and inspiring others to join in the fun. Jane is an Irish-born writer and communications professional based in Montreal who worked as a news reporter for the Irish Independent in Dublin until 2017, when she decided to take a gap year in Canada. The gap year has swelled into year two, and her love and affection for the Great White North continues.
LR– How did you get involved with The Great Trail?
JoF- I first heard about The Great Trail of Canada shortly after I moved to Montreal in 2017. Like many newcomers and backpackers, I wanted to get to know Canada by exploring its trails. Shortly after I arrived in Montreal, I read a story about a non-profit called Trans Canada Trail, which had been fundraising to create a national network of trails since 1992. At the time, I remember thinking “That’s pretty ambitious!” But the more I read about TCT, the more I was inspired. A few months after I had first heard about them, they celebrated the cross-Canada connection of The Great Trail on August 26, 2017. The idea of thousands of Canadians joining forces to create a trail network that exceeded 24,000 kilometres amazed me. I come from an island with a coastline measuring 1,448 kilometres, so you can imagine the impression this left on me! As luck would have it, Trans Canada Trail then advertised a job with their communications team in Montreal. I applied for the role, and I was delighted to get it!
I’ve been working for TCT for two years now, and every day is inspiring. I have the chance to see the immense work and effort that goes into maintaining and enhancing The Great Trail in every single province and territory. And even though the Trail is connected from coast to coast to coast, we know that we aren’t done. We’re still raising awareness and funds for The Great Trail across Canada – to make the Trail more accessible, to convert interim roadways in our network to greenways, to create new sections of the Trail while maintaining existing ones and strengthening our relationships with Indigenous communities.
So, you could say that I didn’t just get to know Canada on its trails – I also fell in love with it.
LR- How do you keep younger generations interested and motivated to explore the great outdoors?
JoF- I think one of the best ways to encourage younger generations to explore the outdoors is to introduce them to it in their own backyard. There’s always one thing that strikes me when I speak to people my age about The Great Trail –they’re always surprised to hear that The Great Trail passes through the place where they live! The Great Trail winds its way through urban, rural and wilderness areas, so there really is something for everyone – not just highly skilled, super-fit mountain climbers! One project we’re really excited about is our new series of events, called Better Together, where we invite young people to join meetups on the Trail in various Canadian communities.
Our first Better Together event was an Instameet in Winnipeg, where we invited a group of local Instagrammers on a guided stroll on the Trail around the Forks and in the neighbourhood of St. Boniface. Many of the people who joined us said they didn’t know about The Great Trail before and want to keep exploring the Trail in Winnipeg and elsewhere. I think these meetups are a really great way to introduce younger people to the Trail and foster their sense of adventure in the outdoors. We’ll be hosting a similar Instameet in Halifax on September 22, and there will be plenty more to come! If you want to see some of the photos from our past meetups, look up #BetterTogetherTGT on Instagram.
LR- What are your best tips and tricks for a successful family hike/excursion? What are the best things to pack for a hike?
JoF- If you’re new to hiking start small, with short excursions lasting a few hours. Getting used to being on your feet and walking is crucial, as it helps your body acclimatize to the conditions you’ll face on your hike.
Always plan in advance. Know where you’re going, what route you’ll take during your hike and how long your trip will be. This will require quite a bit of research, but it’s really worth it. For planning your trip on The Great Trail, I highly recommend downloading our app (available for iOS and Android devices). It gives a great insight into which sections of the Trail are close to your home, or ones that go through areas you’ve always wanted to visit. It also provides useful info about the terrain, any trail closures, permitted activities, etc. Share your plans with someone you trust before you depart. Ensure they know the details of your itinerary, as well as the time you expect to return. You might want to carry an emergency tracking device, like a SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger, if you’re planning a trip in a wilderness area.
Remember that hiking isn’t a race! Go at your own pace and take time in nature. Not only will this be a more rewarding experience, it will also prevent you from becoming over-exhausted. Make sure to bring warm, waterproof clothes with you (along with a change of clothes in case you get wet). Wearing good-quality hiking boots from brands like KEEN Footwear is also important. Other backpack essentials include a map and compass, sun protection, insect repellent, high-energy organic foods like CLIF Bar, first aid supplies, extra water, emergency shelter and bear spray. Last, but certainly not least, make sure to “leave no trace” – leave what you find, dispose of waste properly, respect wildlife and minimize campfire impacts.
LR- Tell us why The Great Trail is so important to you.
For me, The Great Trail is important in so many ways. Not only is it the world’s longest network of recreational, multi-use trails, it is also a symbol of connection and community. We live in a world of hyperconnectivity – an age where communication has never been faster or easier. And yet, many of us strive to find deeper connections in our lives. I think The Great Trail of Canada provides that. It’s a way of embracing an active lifestyle and exploring this country’s incredible landscapes, coastlines, rivers and lakes. It shows us the diverse heritage of this land –the Indigenous communities that forged the first trails to the journeys of the voyageurs. I think The Great Trail also represents the power of volunteerism and community spirit. People from across Canada have contributed to this amazing network by donating or helping to build and maintain this massive network. The Great Trail is great, and I think the world needs to know about it!
LR- What do you love most about hiking?
JoF- I love hiking and walking because it offers a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. It gives me the opportunity to stay active and connected to the world and landscapes around me, rather than connected to my iPhone or my laptop!
As a writer, going for a walk along the Lachine Canal in Montreal (a section of The Great Trail near my home) also helps me think creatively and brainstorm ideas for stories. As someone who lives with epilepsy, the simple act of walking outdoors and breathing fresh air – even just for a short time – can be really grounding and restorative. There’s also something very special about hiking or walking on trails – doing so doesn’t just connect us to our inner selves, it also connects us to others. Have you ever noticed that on trails, people smile at each other as they pass? Some people stop to talk to one another and hear each other’s stories. Hiking trails connects us geographically, but I also think they bring us together as people.
Make your donation today to the The Great Trail today.