By Jennifer Hoegg
Three Annapolis County residents wanted to walk from Yarmouth to the Georgetown Conference in eastern P.E.I. along former railway lines, but they found a few barriers in the way.
Edward Wedler, Bob Maher and Heather Stewart attended a one-day Road to Georgetown Conference in Lawrencetown in the spring.
“The emphasis was to gather up stories from Annapolis County region and then be able to take these stories to Georgetown in October,” Maher said. “ We decided if we’re going to be authentic, we needed to walk the talk - hence the walk.”
They originally wanted to do it in one long stretch, but Wedler says the infrastructure is not set up for that. Some parts of the trail had gaps where there was no way to cross streams or rivers. They also didn’t want to travel off the trail to find accommodations.
Despite the obstacles, the trio was determined to immerse themselves in the geography of the rural communities, so they walked most of the way from Yarmouth to Truro here and there on day trips, leapfrogging from where they parked one car to another. They travelled abandoned railroad tracks, roadways and trails.
Stewart and Maher did most of the Yarmouth to Bridgetown walk; Wedler handled Bridgetown to Truro. As of Sept. 27, the three were still finalizing planning the Truro to Caribou and Wood Islands to Georgetown for the Oct. 3 conference.
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Wedler estimated the walk took about two-and-a-half weeks of seven- to eight-hour days on the trail. The walking was easier in some places than others. Few rest spots were provided aside from Kentville, for instance, and between Windsor and Truro, he had to walk Route 236 instead of the grown-over trails.
“There are some towns really look after the people who pass through the town and some places haven’t pulled up the railroad tracks and created a trail,” Wedler said.
Yarmouth and Clare were good, Maher said. Digby lacked signage and Annapolis was missing bridges. From Wolfville to Windsor, “you have to bushwhack,” he added.
The trails tell a story of lost economic connections, as well as lost physical connections, Stewart said.
“When we went through the Yarmouth and Clare trail they had real amazing pictures of the old railway stations, huge storyboards,” she said.
“All the little vignettes in those communities told a story of lost commerce.”
While there weren’t as many people travelling the formal and informal trails along the old railway lines as they expected, they did collect stories to share. On one day’s hike, Maher and Stewart came across “the duck toller lady” – a well-known dog breeder.
“We bumped into these people and you realize there are people making a livelihood in these locations,” Maher said.
Wedler met a young filmmaker he describes as a “next generation entrepreneur” who purchased a farm and wants to set up an international film studio in the Valley.
“I’ve met people from all over the place. They have come from all over the place,”
Wedler said. “I would like to see us identify the under the radar people – identify them and then find ways you can support them and nurture them and have them be able to bring wealth into the area.”
Looking down the road
The region could be a tourist destination for trekkers, Weddler said, but it would require improved infrastructure. He would like to see Nova Scotia’s College of Geographic Sciences help plan for it.
“In Spain they have the El Camino (Santiago),” Wedler noted. “We are looking at maybe a business model that would fit that European template. Would this work in Nova Scotia?”
He proposes future Georgetown conferences build such a walk into the conference in creative ways - a relay, maybe, that incorporated storytelling into the experience.
“Imagine people walking around Atlantic Canada, gathering stories and connecting with rural,” Wedler said. “So they’re looking towards Georgetown, while getting healthy in the process.”
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