Bear Foot Trail: In the Footsteps of the Ancestors


Guided by the footsteps of the ancestors we evolve with the energies of the land, creating trails as we clear our inner pathways of the heart and soul, opening the way for future generations to live in their potential. 

September 6, 2020 was the 25th anniversary of a new beginning on a new path, as we followed our hearts to the Edge.  This past September a visiting guest asked how we built our trails. I deferred her to Todd, my husband and co-founder of the Edge who has been the primary trail builder here. Later that night I was awakened with a deeper sense and understanding that I too have been a participant in trail building as a path of the heart and soul guided by the footsteps of the ancestors.  

The building of the ‘Bear Foot’ trail, the main trail here at the Edge, began in the summer of 1996. We had so much fun attempting to successfully haul and lay gravel for the foundation of the path as the wheelbarrow sped down the steep hill. We skillfully navigated around boulders and trees, doing our best not to wipe out and spill it all. I remember pulling old railroad ties out of the lake that had been there since the creation of the old rail bed 100 years prior to our arrival.  

The origin of the railway that once ran through the property of the Edge is a significant piece of the town of South River’s history. There was once a time when the village of South River was known as the Charcoal Centre of Canada. It was a reputation earned by the small but bustling village following the establishment of the Standard Chemical Company factory – one of six plants built by a Montreal-based company in Ontario during the early 1900s.

Miles of track were laid out from the factory toward Algonquin Park along what is now known as Chemical Road. A company train replaced a Phoenix Steam Hauler as the main mode of transportation when the track was laid, hauling cordwood to the factory from lumber camps deep in the woods. 

We cut and hauled each railroad tie up the path to re-purpose them as steps.  Many of our projects at the Edge have involved using old materials as the foundation for new creations.  

Pathways of the Soul  

A great deal of time, physical labour, strength, and perseverance is needed to move gravel, stone, rock, earth, and logs, piece by piece. Clearing and creating pathways upon the landscape is also a reflection of the landscape of our own soul.    

Inside each of us is an ancestor version of ourselves we may refer to as our spirit or inner voice, that guides us along our spiritual path.  This part of us communicates to us through dreams, images, stories, and nature itself, offering insights that help us to grow along our path.  In a world full of external stimuli and distraction it takes great discipline to listen deeply and follow the guidance of our inner voice to be heard, valued and acted upon. 

Nature mirrors the soul pathways within us that wish to be discovered, opened, cleared and appreciated. Choosing where to place a stone, how to level a stair or carve a trail can reflect a decision we desire to make within our own lives.  Growing in awareness that our external lives are a reflection of our inner lives, we can imbed the rocks and land with our inspirations, creating the path of our dreams. 

Pathways of the Heart

Like the meridian system of Chinese Medicine, the Earth has energy lines that flow through her body.  The Earth calls to our hearts when we are out of balance, and can help restore our energy flow.  When we tap into the energy of the earth, we are nourished, clear and connected.  Like the veins that run through our body bringing nutrients to our cells, the pathways of the heart carry life energy.  When we slow down, sit quietly and feel deeply from our hearts, we open to the flow of life. Our heart guides us in our relationship with ourselves, others and the earth. 

Following a heart path requires courage, living in truth and authenticity, aligning our actions with our words.

The heart is where our meeting place is; the place where our pathways connect. A heavy or broken heart may feel like a loss of connection. The heart is also a protective container, and a safe space to hold hurts, fears, resentments, anger, jealousy, grief and sadness until we are ready to let them go. Forgiving those we perceive may have hurt us, expressing our gratitude for those who have helped us, and loving and accepting ourselves and others clears the pathways of the heart, bringing the body, mind, heart and spirit into coherence. Balancing these aspects of ourselves opens us to new possibilities and ways of relating to one another, ourselves and the earth.   

Like a meandering river, the Bear Foot Trail snakes through granite rock, moss, ferns, maple, birch, hemlock and spruce. The hill, at its foundation, was once a towering mountain. Each newly carved path requires moving the mountain; one piece at a time. We too move mountains as we clear the pathways of the heart.  

Pathways of the Ancestors

Do you wonder where your inspirations or ideas come from?  Walking a trail with presence while observing the natural world, the prayers of those who came before us can be heard and felt.  Each bird in flight, image on a rock face, or tree bark carries a message for us, reflecting not only our lives, but the hopes and dreams of our ancestors.  I believe we are the living prayers of our ancestors and our choices and actions ripple out to affect the past, present and future generations.  

The Bear Foot Trail carries many memories for me, like when my children were young, carrying lanterns, bells and other instruments up the pathway while singing in the light of the full moon. The trail also carries an imprint of my fathers footsteps on the last day he visited our home.  

In 2016, the year my mother passed, we were preparing to host a wedding. I had a strong desire to name all the special spaces that didn’t yet have a name, to raise awareness of the sacredness of the land, rocks and trails, so they would be respected, appreciated and protected.  

The Bear Foot Trail had not yet been named, when a visiting friend intuitively asked me, “What does bear foot mean to you?”

I recalled the story of walking with my father on a trail when I was a child.  We were staying at a camp in Kipawa, where I fell in love with rocks, lakes, trees, tiny toads, blueberry picking with my mother and making the best blueberry pie ever!  

It was autumn with a crisp coolness in the air as my father and I walked the trail to the beaver dam. The cabin was located near the Kebaowek First Nation, where our friend Wallace was from. Wallace stewarded the land and taught me how to clean a fish, play cards and connect with nature. On the trail, my dad and I came upon a bear trap that Wallace had set. I stood frozen and wide eyed, staring at a bearfoot that was left in the trap. I hadn’t noticed that my father continued down the trail. I heard the snap of a branch and imagined it was a bear, running all the way back to the camp, in one door and out the other, as I was sure the bear was chasing me.  

On August 20, 1996, my father walked up and down the newly created trail we had worked on all summer. When his foot hit the last step, a tree fell alongside the path, as though they mirrored each other. After my father left, I cried all day. Asking my heart why I was so sad, I heard ‘The tree has sacrificed itself for this dream to come alive, and so too has your father.’

Exactly one year later my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and in hospital. During some spiritual healing work I did on his behalf a black bear appeared to offer him strength, determination and courage. I gifted my father a hematite stone, that when he peered into it, would reflect his strength, determination and courage. The black bear helped my father find his courage to prepare for his death, while healing the past and returning to love.  

On the day of my father’s funeral, my sister, who was staying at my parents home with my mother, went outside to bring the dogs on the trail my father walked every day. It was January and there was a fresh blanket of snow that had fallen. My sister saw my father’s barefoot prints in the snow. He wore a size 14 and his barefoot prints were very recognizable!   

On August 20, 2016, The Bear Foot Trail was named on the 20 year anniversary of the day the tree fell and last day my father was physically here.  

To the guest who asked how the trails were built, it takes deep, deep commitment and a fair amount of sacrifice to build a trail and follow it consciously, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. The day my father last walked the Bear Foot Trail, I knew he was making a commitment for this dream to come alive, however I did not understand the true cost of that commitment. 

My mother passed in 2016, and somehow the naming of the trail that year, was significant, as though we had completed something we had committed to do, together; healing and clearing the pathway for the ancestors and descendants as we cleared our own inner pathways of old stories, blockages, obstacles, fears, and resentments, making way for new life on the path of unfolding beauty.  

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