Detroiter hikes Bruce Trail to remove barriers, learn of its Underground Railroad history

·2 min read
Zwena Gray is hiking the 900 kilometre Bruce Trail. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Zwena Gray is hiking the 900 kilometre Bruce Trail. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

Detroiter Zwena Gray is walking the 900-kilometre long Bruce Trail to highlight some of its historical roots in the Underground Railroad and create a diverse hiking community.

Gray, 20, launched the Black on Bruce project, which involves her hiking the path that runs from Niagara, Ont., to Tobermory, Ont., over the next several weeks. The project, she said, was fuelled by her passion for nature and wanting to remove barriers Black people and other groups face when it comes to outdoor spaces.

"I saw that there was a gap for Black people and environmentalism and how oftentimes Black people aren't represented, so being able to showcase what Black joy can look like in nature and exist within this space, because I believe that nature and the outdoors can provide a sort of liberation," said Gray, who studies environmental sciences at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.

In addition to hiking about 20 to 23 kilometres a day, Gray is also making stops along the way with historians to learn about the area's connection to the Underground Railroad. The railroad was previously walked by enslaved people seeking freedom in Canada.

LISTEN: Gray chats with Windsor Morning about how the journey is going so far

Two weeks in to the hike, Gray told CBC News that the fulfilment she's experienced from learning about the area's history and engaging with people outweighs the physical exhaustion.

In St. Catharines, Gray said she met up with a historian who took her to Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church. According to the church's website, it was founded by freedom seekers in the early 1800s.

Toronto Bruce Trail Club/Instagram
Toronto Bruce Trail Club/Instagram

"Harriet Tubman and her brother actually lived across the street from that location, so it's been really powerful getting to learn about the Black history of those places," she said.

"I think something was a little bit unexpected but has been really fulfilling on the trail has been storytelling, so when we're on the trail every once and a while we'll see other people and they come up to us, we'll talk and they tell us stories."

Gray is hiking the trail with a good friend and has had others who have heard about her journey join her at certain points.

Through fundraising, Gray was able to pay for some accommodations, equipment and transportation, she said any additional funds will go to organized events that will bring groups of people out onto the trail.

So far, Gray and her friend have been hosted by homeowners along the way, but as the trail gets more remote she said she anticipates they'll need to break out the camping gear more.

By June 6, Gray hopes to have completed the trail.

"I'm looking forward to definitely a little celebration and a nice long sleep," she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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