The Voyageur Trail Association is an organization based in northern Ontario that leads hikes and maintains trails in the region.
Since its creation in the fall of 1973, it gained control over maintenance of 16 different trails which span over 700 km.
The Association’s creation and longevity would have been impossible without founding member and former president Dr. Paul Syme, who recently passed away.
“The Voyageur Trail is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization established in 1973 under Paul Syme’s leadership and vision to build a hiking trail,” said Steven Dominy speaking to SooToday.
Dominy is a former membership secretary and the current guidebook committee chair. He had been working with Syme since 1983.
Syme passed away on Sept 28 of this year, leaving behind four children and four grandchildren.
“The vision was to run [the Trail network] from Manitoulin Island to Thunder Bay. It was intended to be an extension of the Bruce Trail,” he said.
In preparation for working on the Voyageur trails, Syme and the rest of the founders studied the Bruce Trail system and ultimately modeled the trails after the one in southwestern Ontario.
“Paul Syme did a lot of work to understand the Bruce Trail," Dominy said. "When the Voyageur Trail got going, it adopted the same approach, the same markings for the trail.”
Syme’s passion for hiking and trail blazing stems from his education in natural sciences. The Hamilton native got his PhD in entomology (the study of insects) from the University of Toronto and then came to Sault Ste. Marie to work in forest research.
According to Dominy, the former VTA president’s passion also comes from his personality saying that Syme “had an affinity for being outdoors in the forest. He enjoyed being outside and working. The physical work as well as being in nature were really important for him.”
Syme left northern Ontario with a unique legacy: a growing interest in outdoor physical activity. Since the 1970s, the region has seen a rise in hiking and other such hobbies in no small part thanks to the work of the VTA.
“People love to get out and walk in nature. Some people like to go on longer outings and backpacking. There were opportunities that didn’t exist at the time [in the 1970s],” said Dominy.
“Outdoor recreation was probably not something that was given a lot of thought at the time.”
“This year, with the pandemic, we’re seeing more users getting out. It’s a safe activity you can do without worrying about close physical content and it’s a healthy activity.”
The Association is also working on growing in other directions, such in “the development of a trail app that can be used on your phone or tablet to download maps to know where you are on the trail."
“It would show you your location using the GPS function,” said Dominy.
“Beyond that, we are looking at some more local trail development around communities," Dominy also said. "We’re looking to develop some more local trails, maybe loop trails.”
More substantively, Syme’s legacy can be seen in the form of a brass plaque made in his honour, which currently sits on display in the Prince Township Museum.
There is also a piece of a trail dedicated to him between Goulais Ave and Maki Rd.
For his own part, Dominy is a big fan of outdoor exercise.
“For me, it’s really a chance to relax, to look around you, to experience nature, to breath in the clean air, to get the smell that changes from season to season.
“There’s an opportunity to see some wildlife. For me, it’s a chance to forget about any problems you might be dealing with and just thinking about walking.”