Hiking Trails

This hiker makes nature a natural place for everyone

CBC Quebec shines a light on people in Black communities across the province who are giving back, inspiring others and helping shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

It started as a way of looking at family during the pandemic: Jamillah Jean and her family would gather outdoors, physically distancing on sidewalks, in order to spend time together.

Finally, Jean, who loves nature, suggested a new place: hiking on the hiking trails of Montreal and the surrounding area.

“We started realizing, wow, just wait a minute, [there are] not many black people on the trail,” Jean said. “There aren’t a lot of racialized groups at all when we’re out there.

“It just sparked an idea in my head. I was like, ‘I feel like this needs to change.'”

John founded MTL hikea community group that aims to get Black Montrealers and other people of color to feel comfortable enjoying nature and occupying that space outdoors.

Watch a village come together

She said it’s not just about who’s on the trails. Whether she went to buy the tickets online or shop for gear, Jean said, she rarely — if ever — saw a person of color depicted, even in the ad.

“If you don’t see other people who look like you…you’re going to hesitate,” Jean said. “Naturally, you’re going to be like, ‘Yeah, that’s not for me.'”

Jean said people told her that getting out into nature wasn’t something they thought they could do, or that they were too scared or hesitant to try.

“I also heard, ‘Black people don’t hike. I’m not going to go there alone. I’m not crazy,'” she said with a laugh.

But once people are in groups, hiking, says Jean, is like watching a village come together.

Jamillah Jean started hiking as a way to stay in touch with her family during the pandemic. (Submitted by Jamillah Jean)

Almost all newbies come back for another adventure, she says. Jean has had to start limiting the number of people on rides, and she’s recruiting more people to help run the events.

As fall turns into winter, Jean organizes other activities, encouraging people to try skiing or snowshoeing on Mount Royal, or at the Cap-Saint-Jacques nature park in western Illinois. Island of Montreal and Raimbault Park in Cartierville.

Winter sports, in particular, have traditionally been viewed as whites-only activities, she said. It’s another mindset she’s trying to change.

Jean’s message to anyone still hesitant to try hiking is to take the plunge and get in touch, because she says nothing compares to being out there with your community.

“I feel at home in the woods, not only because I’m surrounded by nature, but also because I’m surrounded by people who look like me. And we’re really at peace,” she said.

“It’s hard to put your finger on what that feeling is, but it’s an amazing feeling.”

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing people who, regardless of their background or industry, are committed to creating a positive impact in their community. From solving problems to doing small everyday acts of kindness, these changemakers make a difference and inspire others. Meet all the change makers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canadaa CBC project that black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.