An intrepid group of intrepid Winnipeggers made countless steps into one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders to help a cause they believe in.
Last year, six Winnipeg couples — self-described as "plus 60" and affiliated with the Fort Garry Mennonite Brethren Church — embarked on a four-day hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River at the bottom then to the top of the South Rim.
The goal of the trip-of-a-lifetime was to raise awareness and funds for Eden Health Care Services (EHCS), a faith-based organization rooted in Anabaptist Mennonite heritage that provides a range of services in the community to support and empower individuals living with mental health needs. Funds from the trip will go to help a non-profit housing initiative.
The Eden Winnipeg Housing Initiative is a joint venture consisting of a new 45-unit apartment building that will provide safe, affordable housing for families and adults having difficulty finding housing, including those with mental health issues.
Organizers say the building will be located on the existing Concordia Housing campus on Molson Street. EHCS will operate the facility and more than $11,000 worth of funding has been secured from the federal and provincial governments. Group members — who dubbed their endeavours Crossing the Canyon for Mental Health — hope to make a significant contribution to the project fund.
The contingent consisted of hikers Anne and Jenny Friesen, Dave Loewen, John Janzen, John Pankratz, and John Unger, and support staff Ruth Janzen, Grace Loewen, Grace and Bill Martens, Pat Pankratz, and Merril Unger.
"Mental illness is more debilitating in society than we think," said key event organizer and retired school administrator John Janzen, 71, who is a former EHCS chair.
"There’s still a stigma about mental illness and some people are reluctant to talk about it. One of the main goals of the trip was to develop awareness and create a dialogue about this issue, as well as creating a personal challenge and adventure."
The River Park South resident said the trip presented numerous mental and physical challenges, not least the Arizona climate and heat, but it was worth every step.
"It took us two days to walk down from the North Rim to the Colorado River, which is more than a mile descent, before heading up the South Rim. We had to carry backpacks, which was a new experience for me. We had to carry our tents, camping supplies, food and water, so the backpack weighed around 35 pounds. It was heavy," Janzen said, noting his preparation for the challenge included a half marathon and "cycling on garbage hills in Winnipeg."
He noted the group took four or five scheduled rest and water stops each day and developed a taste for dehydrated meals.
"I’d never had them before, but they were delicious. Whether it was beef stroganoff, chicken alfredo or rice dishes, you just add water and wait 10 minutes," Janzen said.
But it was an appetite for adventure that fuelled the success of the four-day excursion, which has inspired Janzen to possibly seek a similar challenge one day.
"You watch every little step a little more carefully than you do in the city. It adds to the drama," Janzen said, noting the downhill part of the walk can be potentially more gruelling on the knees.
"Having completed the hike, looking down from the South Rim into the canyon, I could truly recognize the majesty and grandeur of it. Aside from the camaraderie that flourished during such a sharing and bonding experience, it was good to challenge ourselves. Interestingly, while we were hiking for mental health, we believe our own mental health improved as a result."
For more information about EHCS, visit www.edenhealthcare.ca or call 204-325-5355.