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One family turns its grief into action

Greg McPherson and his sons, walk to raise awareness and funds for mental health, addictions services
otr4mentalhealth
Greg McPherson, right, with his sons, Kaelen and Aaron, in downtown Thorold Sunday. The trio were completing the first day of their On the Road 4 Mental Health walk from Niagara Falls to Ottawa.

When Greg McPherson strode into Thorold Sunday morning, it was a little bit like coming home again.

“We just walked by the house where my great grandfather lived,” McPherson told ThoroldToday. “I saw the place where I went to live with my grandmother.”

But McPherson, who was accompanied by his two adult sons, Aaron and Kaelen, were not in the city for a walk down memory lane. Thorold is one of the early stops on the McPherson family’s 600-kilometre trek from Niagara Falls to Ottawa to raise awareness for mental health and addictions. This is the third year the walk – dubbed On the Road 4 Mental Health – has taken place. The boys had joined Greg for the first day of the walk, which wound up later in the day in Grimsby. Sister, Chelsea, meanwhile, is the group’s driver.

There is one more Thorold connection: an image of Greg’s father, Jack, is depicted in his UN Peacekeeper’s uniform on one of the murals near Lock 7.

“We’ll have to go see that, too,” Greg said.

Accompanied by Aaron, Greg first made the trek back in 2022. The idea was to do something in memory of another brother, Aric, who was lost to mental health and addictions issues. Two years later, Aric’s friend Madeleine Soroczan-Wright, unable to recover from Aric’s death, was lost to suicide. It was in 2020 amid the COVID-19 when Greg began to take long walks to cope with the grief.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about him when I’m alone,” Greg said.

Then it morphed into the long walk he and the boys started on Sunday.

“We do the equivalent of a marathon (43.2 kilometres) a day,” Greg said.

“He makes these harder every year,” Aaron added.

According to Greg, Aric played a big role on where the McPherson’s begin their walk each year in Niagara Falls: a spot on the Niagara Parkway between Clifton Hill and the Rainbow Bridge.

“[It’s] a spot that Aric took a selfie on on May 19, 2018, with the American Falls in the background and he posted a message of hope to his Facebook page,” he said.

Greg runs a martial arts studio near his home in Stittsville, near Ottawa, and some of his students surprised him when started his walk in Niagara Falls on Sunday.

“Five of our youth students were here for a competition,” Greg said. “They joined us for the beginning of the walk.”

“It’s been beautiful so far,” Greg said, as the trio took a breather on Front Street. “When we left the Falls there was fog and it’s warmed up. I’ve got my electrolytes, so I’m prepared."

Aaron, meanwhile, said the family is grateful for everything.

“It’s been good,” he said. "We’re just happy with the support we’ve been getting."

While the group are accepting donations to help cover the cost of the walk, they are also raising funds for Ottawa Youth Services. Last year’s effort raised $15,000.

The McPherson’s are also encouraging supporters to donate to local mental health and addictions initiatives.

More information on the McPhersons walk can be found at otr4mentalhealth.com. Regular updates are being posted on the walk’s Facebook page.