Douglas MacEwan has been walking one kilometre every day for the last two months.
Daily exercise is nothing new for the active 95-year-old retired radiologist, but this new routine goes beyond personal health; MacEwan is walking to raise more than $100,000 for Winnipeg’s four major arts organizations.
"It’s very, very difficult for the arts groups, because they have to keep their actors and dancers and singers in training," he says. "If they aren’t performing, they lose the drive."
The walkathon started when he received an unexpected letter from a childhood friend of his kids, who lived in the neighbourhood and used to stop by the MacEwan house for fresh-baked cookies.
In the letter, the sponsor — who asked to remain anonymous — said they would donate $500 to a charity for every kilometre walked up until MacEwan’s 96th birthday on Nov. 11, plus an additional $500 for every day he finds someone to walk with.
As a lifelong patron of the arts, it was easy for MacEwan to choose the fundraising recipients.
He has been a season ticket holder with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Manitoba Opera, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre since moving to the city in 1966. The total amount raised, which is climbing thanks to public donations, will be split equally among the four groups.
"It makes me feel wonderful," he says of the opportunity to contribute. "It’s very important to come together and raise money to support them."
MacEwan served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and got his first theatre experience at 19 years old while overseas in London. Watching Laurence Olivier perform in Richard III was a life-changing experience that stoked his passion for other art forms.
He took his future wife to a ballet performance in Montreal for their first date and the pair became well-known audience members locally.
"That was their way of socializing and meeting people and enjoying the culture of Winnipeg," daughter Eleanor Wiebe says. "Having a thriving arts community is a good sign of a wonderful place to live is what my father has always said."
The RWB’s rendition of Swan Lake is a favourite for MacEwan, who says the local performance is as good as anything he’s seen internationally.
"It was beautifully done," he says.
On Tuesday, wearing a red Manitoba Opera hat and holding two walking sticks, MacEwan set out for a walk around his Tuxedo neighbourhood, joined by friends, family members, leaders of the four arts groups and a gaggle of media.
"For him to make this gesture to show his support is both humbling and inspiring," says Larry Desrochers, general director and chief executive director of the opera. "With each step, Dr. MacEwan takes us one step away from the pandemic and one step closer to coming together again to perform our wonderful art forms in person, the way they are meant to be performed.
"We hope to repay him and his children, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren with beautiful productions for many years to come."
Those interested in donating can visit mbopera.ca/a-walk-for-the-arts.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.