Monday, 31 October 2011

World Walker for Peace Returns Home

On Parliament Hill

On his 45th birthday 18 August 2000, Jean Beliveau of Montreal Canada left his family behind to undertake a mission to walk around the world through five continents and 64 countries for "peace and children."

He crossed mountain ranges, desserts, and even ate bugs and snakes in order to survive. This he has done as he returned home safely on October 16th, 2011 to a hero's welcome in Montreal.

In being away from Canada for 11 years and two months, Jean logged in 75,554 kilometres and wore out 54 pairs of shoes. He is now 56 years of age and reunited with his family.

Peter Stockdale presents 54th pair of shoes
I had a chance to meet Jean Beliveau on October 1st when he arrived in Ottawa and participated in the 5th Annual Ottawa Peace Festival. I walked with him from Minto Park to the City Hall where Mayor Jim Watson presented Jean with a Peace Award. Then, October 3rd, I was with him on Parliament Hill at the Eternal Flame for a photo opp before walking with him and several other people across Alexandra Bridge to Gatineau, where he was welcomed back to his home province of Quebec.

The night before he began his last leg of his  marathon walk home to Montreal, I had a chance to interview Jean and say our farewells. (See 383 event photos of the Peace Festival where Jean Beliveau participated. In Koozma J. Tarasoff's Photo Gallery. Also see 42 photos of the walk from Parliament Hill to Gatineau, Quebec.)

Here is what I learned from Jean Beliveau and his remarkable world journey by foot from August 18, 2000 to October 16, 2011.

My Questions

1. I understand that your walk began with a  mid-life crisis. Tell us how this came about  and how it helped resolve your personal problems.

'It began with a mid-life crisis. I was divorced and got remarried to Luce as a new life partner. I had my own business selling Neon Signs. However, the economic situation after the ice storm was not favourable and the business was down. So, what was I to do?
 Greeted by Gatineau, Quebec students

'One evening, at the age of 44, I decided I had to do something different so that I could again gain an interest in life. I thought about walking to New York. Before long, three weeks before I set out on my trip, I mapped out a plan to walk the world beginning south, then east and going west. In the morning I told my wife Luce about my idea.

'She said: "If you want to go, then you have to have a good cause  such as walking for peace."

'I grasped the idea as a good one. It was a turn in my life. This was in August  18, 2000, on my 45th birthday  it was the year that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace and  2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the children of the World. The Peace Manifesto was drafted by a group of Nobel Peace Prize members in everyday language. This became my cause and my mission. I became an Envoy of Peace.

'In recent years I learned about the Canadian Initiative (CDPI) to establish a cabinet level Department of Peace and I gladly added this to my agenda as I continued my walk. When I arrived on the west coast of Canada, I was glad to meet Saul Arbess, the National Chairman. Later, during my homecoming in Montreal, I met Saul as well as Bill Bhaneja  of Ottawa (co-chair of the Ottawa Chapter of CDPI) who hosted me for one night in his home.'

2.  How did you mentally and physically prepare for this walk? What did you take with you?

'I was in good shape as I was a recreational cross-country skier and I did some running from time to time. As I began my walk south to New York City, I walked alone with a three-wheeled stroller, Canadian-made, that holds a bit of food, my clothing, a First Aid Kit, a small tent and sleeping bag as well as lots of water. About 50 kilos in total.

'I did not speak English, but slowly I learned it with my thick French accent. In my youth, I left school after Primary grade. I had a lovely family. My parents encouraged me to go to university, but unfortunately I was not an academic child. To provide more education, they enrolled me in private courses.  I studied graphic design in Montreal. As I walked, I learned a lot like I've been in university.  On the road, I picked up several other languages:   Spanish, Portuguese, some tribal languages in Africa, Arabia — learned words like food and shelter as well as "Hello", "Good night". Above all, I found that a good smile helped me meet people.'

3.   How did you survive financially?

'I started with $4,000. Then people were supportive with food and bed. In South America there were two mines in Chile that gave me a total of $1,000. That was great! A Canadian, a Brazilian and South African Airlines shared the cost of a ticket from Brazil to South Africa. Air New Zealand flew me from Australia to New Zealand and then from New Zealand to Vancouver, without asking for publicity in return. l also received camping and sports equipment from outfitters, including most (but not all) of the 54 pairs of shoes I have worn out before coming home.

'My wife saved about $4,000 per year. But the rest came from people. I stayed with maybe 1,600 families. In the last year, when I was in New Zealand, I paid only one night in a hotel while I was there for four months. People made an amazing chain of hospitality. In fact, I could say that 80 percent of the money and help in kind for me came from the thousands of people I met along the way.'

4.  You have called your wife Luce Archambeault, 'an Angel' because she was very instrumental in the success of your world walk. Tell us about this.

'Whenever I was tired, I slept; whenever I was hungry, I ate. But I was not alone. My wife Luce met me from ten days to three weeks every year whereever I was. We just enjoyed being together while taking a rest. It was like a 'new honeymoon' as we reunited in New Orleans, Ecuador, Chile, Malawi. Egypt, Spain, Turkey, Nepal, Taiwan, Australia and Vancouver.

'Luce kept in touch with me through the Internet, Cel phone, and Skype.  Whenever, it was possible, I would visit an Internet Cafe or make use of computers with families that I met. I tried to send a message whenever I could. I used a digital recorder to record some of the sounds  of the day, but it was only in the last year or so that my wife gave me a laptop computer which helped me communicate better.

'My son Thomas Eric (now 31) met me in Germany and stayed on there for seven months studying and working. In Ottawa he joined me and then walked with with me to my home in Montreal. Daughter Eliza Jane (now 29) came to Ottawa as well. A nice family present.'

5.  In looking at your website, there is much we can learn about your life during your 11-year remarkable sojourn around the world. Your map, newsletter, 6000 photos, countless media reports and comments no doubt helped the public and the media meet you from place to place. Tell us about some of your meetings.

'Without the modern technology of the Internet, it would be very hard to stay in touch with home base.  I am grateful to Luce and friends for maintaining such a wonderful site.

'The people I met along the way were unforgettable. I had a chance to shake hands with former South African president Nelson Mandela -- a total of four Nobel Prize winners. Doctors would give me free checkups. One of these doctors gave me a prosthetic surgery.

6.  On January 30, 2011, you arrived in Vancouver. After  meeting with local people and your wife, you began your final 5,400 kilometers to Montreal. Tell us about the hardships (such as your attempt to cross Rogers Pass on foot)  and some of the highlights of this last long stretch of your walk on Canadian territory. 

'The walk through the Roger's Pass with frequent avalanches was the most dangerous. Parks Canada staff discussed my journey and provided a detailed path that helped me avoid avalanche zones and which sections I could safely walk. The Ministry of Transportation advised me to walk in the morning when rocks and snow were less likely to fall and they loaned me a safety vest at this time.

'In the end, I walked to just before the first snow shed after Canyon Hot Springs where the high avalanche hazard began. From there I got a ride to the east gate of Glacier National Park. Through the kind help of many good people, I was able to continue my journey in safety.'

7.  The 'walk' as the central part of your World Peace Walk interests me. Anthropologists know that other cultures have wandering traditions using the walk. Aboriginal Australians have the tradition of 'going walkabout'. In India and Nepal there are Hindu religious men called sadhus who renounce all material possessions and worldly pleasures and often go across the country on foot, relying on the generosity of the local people for survival. I understand that you met one naked sadhu in India who claimed that  he had walked 30 years, 30 kms a day.

Then there was the Peace Pilgrim,  a silver-haired woman who from 1953 to 1981 walked across  North America seven times covering some 40,000 kms on a personal pilgrimage for peace. I met the woman in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the 1950s when she stayed with my parents for a night. 

Jean, while you did not give up the pleasures of life, though your material needs were minimal, what similarities do you see with some of the walkers that you have heard about or read about? What is the advantage of the marathon walk, as compared to a marathon run?

We are made to walk. In nature, animals run freely; they hunt and are hunted. For us, a daily walk or a mega walk is like a pilgrimage -- it balances our energies which are pulling and pushing us.

8.  You walked  through America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Tell us about some of the dangerous incidents in your trip and how you handled them. 

I had two assaults which turned out not to be too serious. I walked in the wilderness and in war zones and was lucky that I am still alive.

9.  On October 16, 2011,  you completed your 11-year Walk for Peace as you arrived in Montreal  where you were welcomed by 200 people including two mayors, UNESCO ambassador, two federal MPs NDP Helene La Verdiere and Liberal Denis Coderre. Saul Arbess was one of the speakers to thank you on behalf of CDPI for including the idea of Ministry of Peace during your walk across Canada. Of course, your mother was on hand — this being the first time you saw her since you left home.  Tell us about this homecoming.

It was really a big surprise for me. My relatives, friends and dignitaries raised up the emotions resulting in an amazing finale to my walk which I will keep in my heart forever.

10.  Being forced to deal with a constantly changing world, meeting both rich and poor, you no doubt have learned about life. What significant lessons would you like to share with the wider world?

I learned to keep my life simple. I observed other peoples' values and learned to tolerate them and their ideas.

11.  Now that you are home, what are your plans for the future?

'My plan is to be with my family until Christmas, after which I plan to work on my book about my travels and possibly do some public speaking, to be involved in the peace movement,  and to participate in conferences.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story, Koozma.

  2. Very interesting. He is a tough cookie to walk for that long and that far. I hope his walking stimulated thinking about the need for peace.
    Ramesh, Belgium