Perhaps we don’t acknowledge it often enough, but many women have played key roles in the history of Canada – and the history of The Great Trail! From coast to coast to coast, we’ve heard countless stories from some pretty amazing ladies – from those who have traversed the Trail to those who continue to inspire us.
To honour International Women’s Day, we’d like to celebrate some of the women who have defined and shaped The Great Trail as we know it today.
1. Susan Aglukark
Photo: Nathan Denette
A TCT Champion, a spokesperson on Indigenous issues and a Juno Award-winning musician, Inuk singer Susan Aglukark is a hugely inspirational force on and off the Trail.
Born in Manitoba and raised in the Northwest Territories, Susan worked with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Inuit Tapirisat before branching out into music with her debut album, Arctic Rose, in 1992. She has also acted as a spokesperson for Indigenous youth, and has advocated on issues such as food insecurity in Northern Canada. While she has stressed that she is proud to be a role model for Indigenous people throughout Canada, she also sees herself as a musician with a universal message of self-respect and strength, which she hopes individuals of all backgrounds can relate to.
2. Sarah Jackson
In June 2015, Edmonton-born Sarah Jackson parked her car in Victoria, B.C., and started walking on The Great Trail. Two years later, she arrived at Cape Spear, Newfoundland, after walking 11,500 kilometres across Canada, becoming the first woman to complete a cross-Canada hike of the Trail. “I didn’t know I’d do the whole thing,” Sarah told CBC News in 2017. “I figured I would keep carrying on as long as I was enjoying it and I loved it, so I just kept going.”
Sarah’s record-breaking feat and her perseverance continue to inspire us and many other through-hikers on The Great Trail.
3. Dianne Whelan
Photo: 500 Days in the Wild
Sarah hasn’t been the only determined trailblazer either! Filmmaker Dianne Whelan has been on the Trail since 2015, and has faced her fair share of challenges along the way. In November 2017, she was completing a canoeing section with a friend near Kenora, when the lake between them and the next section of the Trail froze solid. “The night before it was a beautiful moon and I was looking out over the water and I could see these thin pieces, almost like Saran wrap, floating out on the water,” Whelan told CBC at the time. “And the next morning, not 10 hours later, the whole thing was solid ice.”
Whelan and her friend started bushwhacking, and later called for help with her GPS phone after four days in the bush. But Dianne doesn’t intend to slow down following her unplanned adventure in the northern Ontario wilderness. “I’ve been faithful to every kilometre of the Trail since I left Newfoundland two-and-a-half years ago and I intend to do every single one of them,” she said. Stay up to date with Dianne’s adventure by following 500 Days in the Wild.
4. Mel Vogel
Photo: Alyssa Martin Photography
Another remarkable woman hoping to through-hike The Great Trail is Mel Vogel, a German-born explorer now based in Toronto. Spurred on by a desire to see more of Canada, Mel started her journey in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in June 2017 and plans to complete her journey within two years. Since beginning the adventure, she has passed through Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and is currently exploring Manitoba.
In the coming years, Mel hopes to Victoria, B.C. after having covered 15,000 kilometres of The Great Trail. Asked by PEI Canada if she was scared to be travelling alone as a woman, Mel explained: “Everyone has their own dreams or ideas of what one wants from life. I want to be on the road. It’s the place where I feel most content and happy.”
“Even though I travel solo I never feel lonely as I am meeting so many interesting people along my journey and remain friends with many,” she continued. “There are moments of fear of course, but they pass. As long as fear is not dominating our mind, it is a good impulse to take extra caution in certain situations.”
5. Laura Secord
A legendary figure on The Great Trail, Laura Secord is a true Canadian heroine. During the War of 1812, she walked 32 kilometres out of American-occupied territory to warn British forces of a planned American attack. The information she passed on helped the British and their Mohawk allies to fend off the invading Americans, halting a colonization of Canada from the south.
Interestingly, her feat was largely forgotten until she reached old age. Her story only captured the imagination of Canadians when Edward, Prince of Wales presented the then-impoverished widow with £100 for her service.
Today, Laura Secord’s memory is kept alive by the Friends of Laura Secord, a group of volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain the Laura Secord Legacy Trail in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. One of the volunteers, Carolyn McCormick, is also Laura’s great-great-granddaughter!
5. Harriet Tubman
Another phenomenal woman in Canada’s history is Harriet Tubman, a former enslaved person from the U.S. who escaped to Canada. Once she gained her own freedom, she became a key figure in the ‘Underground Railroad’, a network of anti-slavery activists in North America that helped many enslaved people cross the U.S.-Canada border in order to escape their cruel masters. Tubman was revered for “never losing a passenger”, and ensured all fugitives who travelled with her arrived safely in St. Catharines, Ontario – the last stop on the Underground Railroad.