Thirty years and walking

The Dartmouth Volksmarch Club on one of its many hikes. Photo: Lionel Conrod

She doesn’t even have to think about it. “Duncan’s Cove,” says Susan Banks.
Sharon Russell nods.
“We’ve done Duncan’s Cove on November 11 for many years,” says Sheila Mann, agreeing that it has one of the region’s best walking trails. “Sometimes you’ll get a day in November with a nice southerly gentle breeze, the sun is shining and it’s magic.”
Banks, Russell and Mann have been members of the Dartmouth Volksmarch Club (DVC) since the late 1980s. Just like the group’s five and 10-kilometre hikes are not limited to Dartmouth boundaries, neither is its membership. Its namesake represents the initiative taken 30 years ago by the Dartmouth Parks and Recreation Department and a group of citizens (including Ron Colpitts, DVC’s first president) to establish what is now Canada’s oldest Volkssport club.
“A Volksmarch is simply an organized walk, an event designed to appeal to anyone and is not a contest of speed and endurance,” reads a Dartmouth Parks and Rec press release from September 1, 1983. “…Along city street, wooded trails, or lake shores, participants walk at their own pace.”
The DVC continues this tradition today, hosting guided walks every single weekend of the year. As one of 30 clubs affiliated with the Canadian Volkssport Federation (CVF), the club also sponsors six permanent routes in HRM. Locals and visitors alike find the designated walk box to pick up a map and saunter independently; sometimes, they’ll get in touch with the local club contact, who will join them if time permits. Similar permanent walks are located in every Canadian province and territory.
The CVF is one of more than 40 national organizations around the world administered by the IVV (Internationaler Volkssportverband). Volkssporters can collect stamps and record their distances in pocket-sized books for each IVV walk completed around the world and send them in to collect certificates, pins and badges.
As the three DVC members reminisce, Russell reveals a large sash covered with insignia representative of the nearly 11,000 kilometres of IVV walks she’s completed, including a 10-kilometre walk inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. “Many of us in our travels have done walks that we get IVV stamps for,” says Mann. “I do it when I go to Florida. I go to a seashell shop and ask for the walk box and get the map and start touring the beaches and lighthouses!”
As a group, the DVC has completed numerous walking trips, like to Gros Morne National Park, the Cape Breton Highlands, St. Pierre and Miquelon and the Magdalen Islands, sometimes joining up with the areas’ local clubs.
It was even the DVC that initiated the idea of a public walk across the P.E.I. Confederation Bridge the day before it officially opened in 1997. As a result, around 40,000 people walked the 12.9-kilometre link, including 400 Volksmarchers from across North America. Russell laughs as she points to a photograph of herself after completing the trek. “I was wearing a neck brace, but I got to the end!”
In 1990, the DVC also started doing marathon guided walks, literally hiking from dawn until dusk. Banks was there the first year to do the 59-kilometre Dobson Trail in New Brunswick, and she’s done it 15 times since. Throughout her 25 years with the DVC (as well as Volkssport clubs in Truro and Kentville), she has walked 38,000 kilometre in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia.
Not many members have Banks beat, except for perhaps Lionel Conrod and his wife Lily, who have been with the DVC since its beginning. In 30 years, Conrod has surpassed the 40,000 kilometre mark and Lily has walked close to 50,000 kilometre. Together, they have hiked the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference, travelling from the Italian Dolomites to Transylvania and all around South America.
Conrod is the DVC’s 30th anniversary committee coordinator. For the October 11 to 14 festivities, he’s planned four walks (the Salt Marsh Trail, Cole Harbour Heritage Park, Lawrencetown Provincial Beach Park and Lake Banook/Micmac) and several social events, including a turkey dinner with live entertainment from tenor Leander Mendoza.
Conrod says they’re expecting Volkssporters from across Nova Scotia and Canada to attend, and the entire IVV Executive will be flying in from Ottawa, Luxembourg, Italy and Germany. All are welcome to participate, including new members and alumni.
As in DVC fashion, the anniversary walks will happen rain or shine. “In 30 years, we’ve only really cancelled or postponed maybe five walks,” says Conrod. “People usually always show up, even if there is snow or rain. Sometimes we have to modify walks for safety reasons, if there’s a flood or a snow storm or something like that, but the only time we cancel is if nobody shows up.”
Banks, Russell and Mann are looking forward to the 30th anniversary celebrations, as well as many more years with the DVC. “It takes me into the woods or into a park, places where I wouldn’t go by myself,” says Banks. “…You keep pushing yourself to do it, even a difficult walk, and it feels so good afterwards.”
“I get inspired from watching people who are older than I am who are more fit,” Mann says, pointing to Banks. “It’s an inspiration to keep on going.”
For more information on the Dartmouth Volksmarch Club and its 30th Anniversary Celebration (October 11 to 14), visit

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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