Interview with Jonathan Toews: Hiking to Defeat Depression

James Ryan

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Niagara hiking enthusiast Jonathan Toews to discuss his upcoming plans to hike along the Bruce Trail in an effort to raise money and awareness for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, which he plans to accomplish on weekends by hiking 24 consecutive hours on five separate occasions commencing this upcoming Saturday February 4th and ending the first weekend in March. Jonathan describes himself as a seasoned hiker/runner and cyclist who believes in the positive benefits of physical exercise in the battle against mental illness. He’s also a lot taller than I expected. – James Ryan


“I’m hiking as part of a national campaign called Defeat Depression, which is funded through the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. They help with the campaign and I get to work with a great guy named Ken Porter – he’s the manager at the MDSC. I told him my story back in early December, which was that I’d been hiking from the Niagara Region to Owen Sound, and the goal there was to do that in a couple of months, but I didn’t know exactly – I didn’t have a great plan set out for that. But anyway, I looked him up.

“Prior to that however, I met a guy named Brad Perkins, who I met last summer while we were both hiking along the Bruce Trail. He was just finishing up a 33-day hike. I caught up with him afterwards and he mentioned that he’d done his hike to raise awareness for a cause, so I thought that was pretty awesome. It really got my mind rolling afterwards about what I could do, so in early December I approached the MDSC and got a hold of Ken. We ended up having close to an hour-long conversation about my passion for hiking, the outdoors, and also about the mental illnesses that I’ve personally experienced. I’ve dealt with depression over the years, and I also deal with high anxiety and ADHD, so hiking has always been a way that I could ‘get lost’ as a way to deal with these mental hurdles. The trails really help. Spending time in nature declutters my mind. It enables me to see the bigger picture in my life and not to dwell for too long in a place of discomfort.”


“I’m currently on a medication that helps me deal with my ADHD, as well as I take some herbal stuff, which I’ve tried over the past few months, and it’s helping too – it all helps, but to get a real sense of success when I’m feeling a certain way, my default is to go outdoors. That really, really, really helps me.”


“It helps with goal setting and it helps me with being able to plan better. It’s also enabled me to involve other people, so that’s what I was really looking at when I talked to Ken. This wasn’t just a way to help myself, but a way that I could help by involving others – others in my community, and even in other communities as well. And the Bruce Trail is amazing for that reason because it travels through a lot of really great Ontario communities. On the trail, off the trail; the exposure that I’m now getting on social media has enabled me to reach out to a lot more people, like yourself, and others who have also reached out to their friends and family, and who are now getting involved in some way themselves.”


“My initial goal was to complete all of the hikes by April. I had already hiked the Bruce Trail in the summertime, as well as last year in September and later on in the fall. I’ve always wanted to hike the Bruce Trail in all four seasons, so I figured I’d do a couple of hikes in the winter months and then maybe two or three ending off in the spring, but after talking to Ken at the MDSC, he helped to steer me in a better direction and get more focused. The reason you’re doing this hike, he said, is because you’re passionate. And he was right. I had dealt with depression in the past, I lived with depression, I’m married to my greatest partner who also deals with depression, I have friends and family that I’m very close with who all deal with depression; so he just basically bundled that whole conversation and was like, why don’t you do it? Based on your experience and fitness level, why don’t you combine all of that and do it in February, which is statistically the highest rated month for depression cases throughout the entire year? So we started talking more about it, and within a week, we had a plan together.”


“The money we raise will be going directly to the MDSC. They support hundreds of clinics that focus specifically on helping people who struggle with various types of mental states; depression, bipolar, anxiety and others, so these clinics are places that people can turn to. People often wonder where they can go, and a lot of people end up going to the MDSC for help, but unfortunately, I don’t think that the majority of people reach out to these types of clinics because ultimately they don’t even know that they exist. So part of what I’m doing is to inform people that there are clinics out there that are open to the public – to people who don’t feel like they can open up to friends or family, but want to talk to someone. So these clinics are out there to help people talk about what they’re going through.”


“Right now, I have some time available. I’ve opened up my schedule specifically for the weekends, so during the week, when I do have time, I’m mainly busy meeting with new people, whether it’s fundraising, meeting with a potential corporate sponsor, or just getting together with people that are interested in some way with hiking or helping out, so I work around my schedule to meet with people, and to give them a better understanding of why I’m doing this.”


- Saturday February 4: Campbellville Rd / Applebee Line – 7am to 7am (February 5)

- Saturday February 11: Hockley Rd / 2nd Line EHS Mono – 7am to 7am (February 12)

- Saturday February 18: River Rd, Kilgorie / Centre Road – 7am to 7am (February 19)

- Saturday February 25: Side Rd 15 / 6th Line – 7am to 7am (February 26)

- Saturday March 4: 11th Line / Euphrasia St Vincent Townline to 6th Ave W. Owen Sound – 7 am to 7am (March 5)

The total distance of each hike is 100 kilometres.


“Luckily, there’s someone who’s committed to hiking the night portions with me for a 12-hour duration on all five of the weekends. Her name is Kathleen Lamoureux and she’s a registered nurse. So far, she’s done several training nights to get herself accustomed to the level she needs to be at in order to be able to hike for 12 straight hours. Right now, she feels very confident hiking throughout the night. About a month and a half ago, I posted something directly onto Facebook and she messaged me. She told me that this idea was personal for her and she wanted to get involved in a big way. She hadn’t done a tonne of hiking up to that point, but she’s always been very involved in the cycling world. I’ve known her for a number of years – she’s a strong cyclist, and her fitness level is pretty high too, so we met a few days later and discussed her reasoning for wanting to help, and from there, our relationship in that area has really taken off. She wants to help out and be my key supporter, not only throughout the night – she chose the night, which I was greatly relieved to hear because I definitely want to hike with other people, particularly over the night portions, and she not only chose this to challenge herself, but to be the support that I need as well. Thank you, Kathleen.”


“That’s a big concern. I think you could break it down to many components without placing an importance on one over the other, like a person’s diet being number one or getting outdoors as number two – there’s no order because everyone who’s dealing with depression is different. So for someone who’s dealing with depression, it might just be that they don’t have the community around them that they need. Maybe they’re alone, either physically or mentally. Maybe they’re going through a tough loss like a separation or a divorce. Maybe there was a death in the family. Maybe they have no friends to talk to. Maybe they’re new to a particular city and are feeling pretty lost.”

JR: When you start to think about it, you realize that there are plenty of reasons why a person might be feeling depressed. Then again, depression is a natural human emotion that everyone experiences. It doesn’t automatically mean that you’re sick or that you need to start going on pills. Sometimes it just means that you need to work some things out in your life (having a person to talk to helps), and maybe, just maybe it also means that you need to reconnect with your natural surroundings (go for a hike in the woods).


“I think a lot of people look towards social media for personal connections, but there’s actually another side or level to it, where people are actually in media depression. They go on Facebook for a temporary high, where maybe they’re putting what they had for dinner on there and hoping to get a few likes. You’re a good cook! Or, that looks yummy! And that makes people feel good, so I think we should just accept it. It might sound crazy to some, but there are people out there who are hungry (no pun intended) – they’re hungry for attention, and so that’s what they’re looking for. Whether it’s that or you’re an athlete – that was big in my department because personally I’ve been gifted to be able to mountain bike at a really high level, so for me to post things about a race or an achievement, it gave me a high through social media that I couldn’t find anywhere else because I was reaching a lot more people, and it was like, wow, this is great, so I’d do another race and get another high, but in the end, it was all just temporary. I think that basically hits a small fraction of where we’re at on social media.”


“It all comes down to the person. We can’t be told indirectly to go do something. I can’t sit here and tell someone who’s dealing with depression to get out and get hiking. I think the first thing we all need to acknowledge is that people are people and everyone’s different. I think to reach out to someone who just wants an ear – that’s it, that’s the biggest starting point – just to have someone to listen to them, and the MDSC can definitely help in that department.”


“When the actual physical hiking is done in March – I don’t think it’s ever gonna be done, but from a standpoint of the hikes and what I’m doing, I can’t think of success in terms of helping a million people. I have to think of success as being able to help just even one person.”




FB: Jonathan’s Hike to Defeat Depression

Website: https://mdsc.akaraisin.com/Common/Event/Home.aspx?seid=13575&mid=8 (Donate)

Email: jonathanshike@defeatdepression.ca

Text: 289-241-7368

TW: @JustToews

IG: @JonToews

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada (MDSC) is a national non-profit charity which works collaboratively with health, research, private sector and government partners so that these organizations keep people with mental illness at the forefront of their activities. MDSC seeks to improve access to services, more research, better programs and government policies that have our interests in focus. Please visit our website to learn more: mdsc.ca

Written by James Ryan at The Fallen Trail

James Ryan
James Ryan


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