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August 14, 2014
The jewel of Winnipeg

"I walk every day, to maintain my health - and my sanity," laughs Darlene Lewis, a retired educator and administrator. "And," she adds, "the trails are the best place to walk in the city."

I'm on the phone in my office in Toronto, speaking to Darlene in her home in Winnipeg, and the trails she's talking about are the ones that criss-cross Assiniboine Park, an urban park often called the jewel of Winnipeg. Darlene is telling me about the importance of the Park's extensive pathway system, both to her and to her community.

Assiniboine Park_été.jpgShe tells me that she moved to her current home to be close to the park and assures me that despite Winnipeg's cold winters, she uses the trails twelve months a year. "Where else can you walk where there's beauty all around you? There's different topography throughout the park, it takes you through all different kinds of landscapes. There's also the rush of seeing a doe and her fawn, a buck peering at you from the bush, a fox loping across a field, wild turkeys at the side of the road or a drake and female goose leading their clutch of goslings across the trail down to the river."

I've visited the park myself, twice in the past year, and I agree with everything Darlene has to say. But it's great to hear it from a regular user of the park's many trails because it gives me a real sense of the impact that Desjardins Insurance is having with its most recent gift - and the largest ever made by Desjardins in Western Canada.

Earlier this year, Desjardins made a donation of $500,000 over the next five years for the revitalization and upkeep of the Assiniboine Park pathway system. In mid-July, the gift was recognized at an event to unveil a plaque to commemorate the contribution from Desjardins. The gift was given in recognition of the contribution the trails make to the health and well-being of the many people who use them.

In fact, Darlene explains to me that the trails are used in many ways, by people of all ages; mothers pushing strollers, families out walking or cycling together, as well as older people, getting fresh air and exercise. "It is used to capacity and there's a real sense of community and ownership from people all across the city," she says. She herself has taken that sense of community to the next level, by volunteering as one of the park's 'goodwill ambassadors,' greeting visitors, providing directions and generally making everyone feel welcome.

Over the last few years, she has taken on a larger role, and now interviews and trains new volunteers. This was the best way she could give back to the facility she enjoys so much. Given her active life, enhancement for the pathway system resonates strongly with her. "Personally, I would never make a donation for a bench because I never sit in the park," she says. "I am always moving!"

After we speak, Darlene sends me an email which reminds me of her first comment - it's clear that for many people the benefits of the park and its trails are for the mind as well as the body.  "Walking in the beauty of nature is therapeutic for my mind, body and soul," she writes. "It gives me time to think, reflect, pray - and cry if needed." She tells me about a woman she met who comes to the park whenever she's faced with something difficult in her life because experiencing that beauty helps and restores her.

And sitting in my office on a beautiful summer day, I can't think of anything that sounds better.

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My Community

This blog aims to highlight people, causes and events that embody the spirit and values of Desjardins Group.

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