What is motivating almost 400 people to get outside during the coldest part of winter to go for a walk?
It’s the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser – an annual event that supports local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger and homelessness. In Orillia, that charity is The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter.
The event began over ten years ago with two locations in Ontario and has grown to 156 locations across Canada this year. The walk officially takes place on Feb. 26, although this year the event is a self-organized and virtual event. As of Feb. 24, there were 74 teams registered for the Orillia event, representing almost 450 walkers who have already pledged to raise 97% of the $150,000 goal.
And walking in the cold isn’t the only outdoor activity that has been inspired by a local cause. Family Day weekend was busy with family-friendly activities that got all kinds of people outside to walk, run, practice yoga, skate and snowshoe, all while supporting their community.
For the seventh year in a row, local proprietor of Sunrise Yoga Studio, Rosanna Shillolo, hosted a Snowga event at the Leacock Museum grounds. Admission was a cash donation to The Sharing Place Food Centre.
“It’s simply yoga done in the snow,” said Shillolo. “People love to be outside in the fresh air and it’s fun, just like playing in the snow.” She was pleased to have such a large crowd attend, even in the blustery, cold weather.
A first-time event, the Braestone Winter Classic pond hockey tournament, also took place on Family Day weekend, with proceeds supporting the Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre. What a success it was – 16 teams competed to raise over $70,000, surpassing the $40,000 goal.
Mayor Steve Clarke, who competed with a team of family and friends, said it was a wonderful activity supporting a great cause.
“Everyone was so glad to be outdoors doing something that was safe and healthy,” said Clarke. “It was a chance to get outside and breathe and blow some of the pandemic dust off.”
Local runners were also happy to get outside for the Snowflake Running Series, which had been delayed due to Covid. The long-running event has been supporting The Sharing Place and other community organizations for over 25 years.
And for those who enjoy skating, there was a special reason to visit the Webers Starbucks ice rink on Family Day. Fundraising celebrity Steve McNeil chose the location as the final stop in his 1926 Skate for Alzheimers in support of the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe County.
At each of the ten stops on the tour, McNeil skates for 19 hours and 26 minutes as a tribute to his mom Eunice who was born in 1926, and for all the family members and care partners looking after loved ones who are living with dementia.
McNeil said he wanted to complete his “skatation,” as he calls it, at the local ice rink because of all the work done by the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe County. “They are one of the largest Alzheimer associations in Ontario and they do great work – they are rock stars.”
Also on Family Day, a couple of newly formed community groups partnered with the Orillia Fish and Game Conservation Club to offer guided showshoe hikes at the George Langman Sanctuary. The Orillia Wetland Watchers and Stop Sprawl Orillia are new groups that are quickly gaining membership from those who are interested in the conservation and protection of wetlands.
“The snowshoe walk was an opportunity for us to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands, especially with the challenges of climate change,” said Anna Bourgeois, one of the founding members of the Wetland Watchers.
Local naturalist Bob Bowles guided walkers through the Langman Sanctuary wetland and woodland area, pointing out the unique biodiversity of the area, surprising many with his facts about various species and the role they played in supporting a healthy, sustainable environment.
“Everyone should take a walk like this to learn about how important these natural areas are,” said one of the participants. “It should be a prerequisite for decision makers.”
Although it was not promoted as a fundraiser, the snowshoe walk supported a cause and raised awareness about an important issue, while offering a chance to enjoy nature.
For those who want a bit of adventure, you still have an opportunity to get outside for a cause. You can be daring and sign up for a polar bear dip to raise funds for the Mental Health Department at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. It’s happening at Severn Winterfest taking place at ODAS Park on Saturday, March 5. It’s a whole day of fun activities for the family, including the polar bear dip at 4:30 pm. You can sign up by emailing email@example.com to receive a pledge form.