A Family Affair: Giving, Getting Outside and The Great Trail

Every morning, Matthew Stevenson puts on his cycling shorts and bikes 50 kilometres on the Martin-Goodman Trail — part of The Great Trail that runs through Toronto.

“It’s so quiet and peaceful, with nothing but the sound of the wind whistling in your ears,” says Matthew, who recently made an incredibly generous donation of $50,000 to Trans Canada Trail.

It wasn’t the first gift from the Stevenson family, either. His late father, Richard, was an early donor, making gifts to TCT four times between 1997 and 2003.

“When the Trail was originally announced, my dad was taken by the idea,” says Matthew. “So, he donated in honour of his grandchildren’s birthdays. That stuck with me.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, Matthew made three gifts to TCT. He chose to commemorate his mother and father, as well as his wife Mondy and his children, William and Angela.

“It’s important for the kids to see philanthropy in action,” he says.

Matthew grew up in Montreal and spent time on what is now Le P’tit Train du Nord — part of The Great Trail in Quebec. Then he rode the Lincoln Trail in Fredericton during a vacation. However, it wasn’t until he moved to Toronto in the mid-1980s that he caught the cycling bug and became a regular on the Trail.

“I wanted to see the sun come up, so I hopped on the bicycling trail network in Greek Town, where I lived, and starting riding early in the morning,” he recalls.

Now he starts his rides in the Beaches, peddling along Lake Ontario, passing Tom Thompson Park, the Leslie Street Spit, Woodbine Beach, Balmy Beach and Sugar Beach, among other destinations.

Last summer, when he read TCT’s special publication in The Globe and Mail devoted to The Great Trail, he started thinking about his father, his children and the value of giving.

“The idea of having a trail that links one end of the country to the other resonated with me. It’s brilliant. Donating is my way of saying ‘I’m Canadian’,” explains Matthew. “The Trail is one of the ways we link ourselves together — just as we know we can go to British Columbia and listen to the CBC and hear the same stories we hear in Ontario. Or, we all have the same five-dollar bill with Wilfred Laurier on it. It’s about connection.”

Matthew appreciates the important things in life even more since surviving ulcerative colitis. He took early retirement a few years ago and has more time to cycle and stay active.

“While dealing with the pain from my colitis operation, I often willed myself to remember the sound of the wind whistling in my ears when I rode my bicycle,” he recalls. “It helped get me through tough times.”