A few weeks ago, I spent a happy time chatting with Shirley about her history with the Avon Trail. It all began back in 1995 when she and her late husband, Ron, read an article in the local paper about the 5-year anniversary End-to-End hikes that was taking place. They thought it might be fun so signed up for one of the sections. Back in those days each section was 20 km and Shirley, never having hiked before, was understandably a little concerned “but there was a lady in her mid-80’s doing it with just a bottle of Ensure, so she gave me the confidence to try.” Several hikers, noticing Shirley only had runners, asked if she would manage. Her reply was “Well, if I start I have to finish, so let’s go.” She was very sore by the end and barely walked for 2 days! But because she and Ron enjoyed it so much, they began some conditioning and were soon avid hikers.
What followed was Shirley’s involvement in the Avon Trail over the last 23 years, right up until today as a trail monitor with Marian de Groot-Izma. Her willingness to step up to the plate when needed with her “Yes, I can do that” attitude is borne out by the various roles she has had. In addition to being on the Board for several years, Shirley served as Acting President (although she preferred to think of it as Vice-President!), Treasurer, filling in as Secretary and, as Social Convenor, planning many social activities. For some time she was also responsible for Land Owner Relations which once included having to find all the landowner property numbers required by the Post Office for mailing out the Christmas Newsletter. As you can imagine, this was quite a challenge!
In 2005 when the club was in jeopardy due to skyrocketing costs of liability insurance, Shirley, together with other Board Members and Founding Members, made impassioned and effective appeals to the community through the Stratford City Gazette. This paid off when, at the next meeting, there was standing room only for the many people who came out to support the trail. They no longer had to consider amalgamating with the Grand Valley Trail in order to survive. “This was huge,” said Shirley, “if we had given up our independence, we most probably would never have got it back.”
One of the more memorable events that Shirley organized, with the help of Dennis Rawe and Marj Thiel, was a special celebration to mark the opening of a new section of the trail in the Bimini area in 2009. They spent months planning it – buses were arranged to bring in hikers from surrounding areas and Frances and Dave Williamson prepared a delicious chicken and pasta lunch. “It was lots of hard work but an amazing day, a fun day,” said Shirley. Sixteen new members signed up as a result.
During our conversation, Shirley came up with another story. In 2013, Dennis persuaded the Canada Day Parade team that it was time to use a transport flatbed for the float. This was quite a lot more to decorate than what they were used to. Undaunted, the large group of volunteers were up for the challenge – real trees, a bridge over fake water and a stile (which Dennis sat on for the duration of the parade!) helped conjure up the image of being on the Avon Trail. Several animals from Ed’s Concrete were purchased, hand-painted and added to the float to highlight the nature aspect. Shirley commented, “Lots of us put in many hours and it was lovely to see the children excitedly point to the animals during the parade. We definitely had the best float in the parade that year! “