Walking the walk Winnipeg's trail system is thriving thanks to volunteers
who have jumped in feet first
By: Shamona Harnett
They are hidden worlds in your own city.
>From the giant snapping turtles that you might encounter in St. Vital's
enchanted Bois-des-Esprit trail; or the colourful wild flowers that will
fill your senses on Charleswood's Harte Trail; or even the thrilling roar of
landing planes on St. James' Yellow Ribbon Greenway Trail, Winnipeg's system
of recreational pathways is thriving.
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Blazing the trails
*What's the purpose of Winnipeg's trails?*
Trail advocates want Winnipeggers walking, running, cycling, in-line
skating, skipping and wandering down city trails. Ideally, the trails will
help Winnipeggers become more active and, therefore, fitter. (According to a
Active Transportation Advisory Group report, 55 per cent of Manitoba's
people are overweight and 45 per cent considered inactive.)
Trail proponents hope the trails' increasing connectivity make them a
viable, safe way for people to get from one neighbourhood to the other
without their cars.
*How much money is the government putting into trails?*
In the last five years, more than $40 million has been spent on trails and
cycling infrastructure around Winnipeg -- $20 million just last year alone.
*How many trails are in Winnipeg?*
It depends on what you define as a trail. There are many bits and pieces
that are too small to have an official name. The Winnipeg Trails Association
has mapped out nearly 40 city trails.
*How is the trail system organized?*
In 1993, the city came up with the idea to divide the city into six parkways
-- essentially consisting of land along both sides of the Red and
Assiniboine Rivers. The goal is to hook up the parkways to form a continuous
trail system. This web of parkways joins one park to another. Trails mainly
curve around the riverbanks and, when necessary, wind onto residential
*What is the Trans Canada Trail?*
A project the federal government touts as the world's longest network of
trails. Today, more than 15,500 kilometres' worth of Trans Canada trail has
been developed nationwide, 1,400 kilometres of which is in Manitoba.
*Is there a way for the city to profit from its trails?*
Advocates say Winnipeg's trails will attract tourists and lead to growth in
the city's economy.
*How do I find out more about Winnipeg's trails?*
Log onto the Winnipeg Trails Association Website at www.winnipegtrails.ca
*How do I help bring a trail to my community?*
Contact local trail associations, your city councillor and your MLA.
What makes these magical places what they are? One reason is the legion of
There are hundreds of trail volunteers in Winnipeg -- some who, for 20
years, have worked to create the interconnected network of paths you see
Here are four inspirational volunteers who help make it happen:
*Claim to fame:* Co-founder of the Prairie Pathfinders, a trail-exploring
walking group that now boasts around 500 members. Twice a week, Banks and
her colleagues take Winnipeggers on treks that help them get to know the
most beautiful trails, pathways and green spaces in their own city. Banks,
76, is also co-author of Winnipeg Walks, a book she wrote 12 years ago with
Kathleen Leathers, Sheila Spence and Wendy Wilson. The book has since sold
more than 10,000 copies.
*How she fell in love with Winnipeg's trails:* It happened when she would
walk from her home in Wolseley to her job at St. Boniface Hospital and back
again. "I started thinking about walking in Winnipeg," says Banks, who now
lives in Fort Garry.
*On identifying her favourite Winnipeg trail:* "There are just so many of
them," says Banks, who loves forest trails such as Bois-des-Esprit. "It's
pretty nice. It is so truly wild. You can walk along the Seine River or you
can go through the forest."
*On her recent Friday-night group walk:* She took more than 70 people out to
the Bridgwater Forest Trails, a new development in Waverley West. "The
purple gentian -- there were about 12 of them just along the trail (as well
as high bush cranberry). (The developers) just left wonderful pieces of the
forests," says Banks. "When there's a new development and you have any
influence on it, tell people you want it to look like Bridgwater Forest."
*On seeing someone purchase her book:* "If I'm at a bookstore, I've hardly
seen anybody ever buy one," says the retired grandmother. "It gives me a big
thrill the few times I have."
*On her pet peeve:* "I don't like the world trails. I hate it. It's a word
that's being used for so many different types of places people might go,"
says Banks, who prefers the term "pathways."
*On what makes her work so worthwhile:* Many people in her group "believe it
or not, have been to more places in the world than most people," explains
Banks. "They have learned to value their own city and appreciate it more. I
think our books have done that for people."
*Claim to fame:* Chief executive officer of the Forks Renewal Corporation.
For a decade, headed the Winnipeg Trails Association (WTA). Now, advises
every trail group in the city. Many consider him a trail "visionary."
*On when he first discovered Winnipeg had a trail system:* It was 2000 when
he was asked to chair the WTA. "Lo and behold, I met all of these people --
these volunteers -- who had been working away on their trails for years. I
thought there were no trails in Winnipeg until I met these folks," says
*How often does he use the trails?* For the past decade, Jordan has walked
to work and back everyday. In the winter, the Corydon Village resident, and
father to four grown sons, often skates to work and back down the frozen
river walk trail.
*What it's like to skate down the frozen Assiniboine River:* "It's cool
because in the dead of winter, it's darker in the mornings than in the
afternoons. Once you get moving you're not cold," says Jordan, who relishes
the serenity of the route. "As you go under the car bridges -- they're all
backed up with rush-hour traffic and people fearing the elements -- you
realize just how pleasant winter can really be, how peaceful it is down at
the river level."
*On the fact that the river walk at the Forks has been underwater for the
whole year:* "It's just beyond frustrating," says Jordan, who is used to it
being flooded out in the spring, but never for this long.
*On how trail volunteers give him the zeal to fight for the cause:* "They
are a very dedicated lot. I remember two years ago we called a meeting and
it turned out there was a massive blizzard on that night so I expected no
one to show up. More than 100 people showed up in this blizzard," says
*Why trails are here to stay:* "I think recreational trails and bike
commuting will become more and more important. Never mind the economics --
just for health reasons. It's a way of building that exercise into your
daily routine so you don't have to go to the gym."
*Claim to fame:* An outspoken trails activist who is a co-ordinator with the
Winnipeg Trails Association and advisor to many other trail committees in
*How often does she use Winnipeg's trails?* Every day in the summer. "Trust
me. When you have nine-year-old triplets, you do everything you can to get
out and get moving. It's cheap and it burns the energy off," says Lukes, 50,
who likes to trail-hop from neighbourhood to neighbourhood with her kids and
*How she got started advocating for trails:* It happened a decade ago when
the St. Norbert resident was pregnant with her sons. "We didn't have a trail
close by. That's when I started knocking on the neighbours' doors. I said,
'Look, people are walking on the road. And it's dangerous to walk on the
road. There's no lights,'" recalls Lukes, who ended up raising $200,000 to
build the Sentier Cloutier Trail.
*On the obstacles of trail advocacy:* "At the time, there were days when I
was bawling, 'Why does the government move so slow? Why does everything take
52 phone calls?' I didn't get it."
*What are her favourite trails?* "I don't know. It depends on the season. It
depends on the temperature of the day. My favourite trails are the ones that
don't make me feel like I'm in the city," says Lukes, who grew up on a farm
in rural Manitoba.
On the most satisfying part of trail building: "No one knows the blood,
sweat and effort that goes into building a trail. But when you see other
people enjoying it and using it and pushing their kids and jogging 24/7
around the clock... that's a very rewarding feeling."
*Claim to fame:* A North Kildonan mother, wife and retired government worker
who, since 2005, has helped build the Northeast Pioneers Greenway, a
5.5-kilometre trail built over the Marconi Spur rail line. The long stretch
of smooth asphalt in the middle of the Gateway Road is now one of Winnipeg's
most used trails.
*What prompted her to care about trails?* For 30 years, Bailey cycled to
work from her home in North Kildonan to her downtown office. She also took
her kids for bike rides down Wellington Crescent when they were young and
before Winnipeg had official trails. A few years ago, she donated money to
helped build part of the Trans Canada Trail near the Chief Peguis Bridge.
When she discovered it hadn't been completed, she decided to find out why.
Later, she joined a group dedicated to building the Northeast Pioneers
*What drives her?* Her mother's lack of fitness. "My mom had a hard time
making it across the street. She was breathing heavy and she was in her 60s.
And I thought, 'Oh my God. That's ridiculous," says Bailey, who moved to
Canada with her parents from Germany when she was just a baby. "If people
are active and they are doing things, then they will stay healthier into
their older age."
*Her pet peeve:* "The bottom line is when I see these people driving around,
one person in a car, it just drives me nuts," says Bailey, who limits her
driving time in favour of walking, cycling or taking the bus. "We have to
get out of that mindset. People complain about parking. Well, why are you
taking your car and parking in the first place?"
*A source of pride:* As soon as the asphalt went down on the Northeast
Pioneers Trail four years ago, people started using it. "There was still
steam coming off it and there was people out there. It was just amazing.
People are using it. They feel safe and it's convenient," says Bailey, who
raised $150,000 to help build the canopies and benches located at every
kilometre of trail. She's also proud that her grown sons and husband use the