outdoor cadio ravine explorers

Toronto woman leading night hikes to teach people about the ravines

Catherine Duff helps raise her hiking group member's heart rates but also their awareness of the rich history behind the Don River Valley.

Armed with a doctorate in archeology and ancient history, and a love for exercise and the great outdoors, Duff started the group called Outdoor Cardio Ravine Explorers in September.

"I saw an opportunity to combine my passions and sort of inspire others to get out, explore and appreciate what we have in our backyard," she told blogTO.

"I think a lot of people walk on by and don't realize that if they just took a turn down any one of the dead-end roads, they'd end up on a trail."

The brisk hikes, which range from 10 to 25 kilometres in length, are upbeat, challenging and come packed with tidbits of historical facts and background on the trails being explored.

"I find most are attracted to my group, not so much for the cardio, but for the history. They're either new to Canada and just want to get out and explore or they're new to the ravines and want to know about the history," she says.

And there's plenty of history to be shared.

"I love Todmorden Mills and hiking through Sun Valley because those were the sites of early industry in the Don like the brewery, cotton mills, paper mills, and a lot of people didn't realize that before the DVP, Crothers Woods and the Don Valley looked a lot different," Duff says.

The group has already grown to nearly a thousand members, with most being women ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old.

Along with her co-organizer and friend, Archie Tawatao, Duff leads sunrise hikes, midday lunch break hikes as well as night hikes.

"I find when I'm leading a night hike especially, I'll look back and see everyone's headlamps and they're all chatting. There's a real sense of excitement, empowerment and discovery," Duff says.

"I know when a hike is a good hike because I'll be trying to interject historical tidbits and nobody's listening because they're all chatting and having a good time."

She's also been creating DIY hikes for those who might not be able to make it to one of the collective hikes. These map out a route as well as the interesting facts around what you'll be passing and are available in the group. 

"My goal is to get you out and then you will take your friends. I've heard from members, 'I'm going on a hike this weekend with some friends to show them.' I love hearing that people are exploring on their own," Duff says.

Anyone interested in joining in on the fun can sign up online.

Lead photo by

Oswald Parmar

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