On the Road 4 Mental Health takes Greg McPherson across southern Ontario promoting mental health and addictions awareness

(Greg McPherson arrives home with his sons, Aaron and Kaelan and friends after walking over 500km to bring awareness to mental health and addictions issues across Southern Ontario. Photos: Stittsville Central)

On the morning of January 6, 2019, Greg’s wife, Ingrid, took the ill-fated call that no parent should ever receive. Their son, Aric, who had been battling the demons of mental health issues, had lost his life to addiction. It was then, that Greg knew he had to do something to bring awareness to addictions and mental health issues. In 2022, Greg shared with us, “Aric was an exceptional child who had accomplished so much in his almost 23 years and brought so much energy into the world. Three years has gone by, but the pain is there every day.”

In 2022, Greg founded On the Road 4 Mental Health and organized his first walk in support of addictions and mental health as well as the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa that provides counselling services to youth. With the assistance of Bureau staff members, Patti Murphy and Desiree Rapoch a fundraiser was organized. On April 16, Greg was joined by his son Aaron and together they walked for 10 hours across Ottawa from east to west raising over $11,000.

June 2 and 3, 2023 were the chosen dates for the 2nd annual walk for On the Road 4 Mental Health. During this walk, Greg and his son Aaron would visit all 24 Wards in Ottawa, with sidesteps through the Byward Market and a visit to Alexandria Bridge. Aric was living in Gatineau at the time of his death and the family wanted to memorialize him. Over $15,000 was raised for the Youth Services Bureau.

January 6, 2024 marked 5 years since Aric’s death and on May 9 Greg turned 60, to pay tribute to these two milestones, Greg had planned a walk from Niagara Falls to Ottawa – over 500km to begin on May 19. Greg’s father comes from the Niagara area so it was fitting to set out from there.

On May 18, Greg, son Aaron and his youngest son Kaelan walked 27 km to Thorold with the purpose of visiting a specific lock on the Welland Canal. They wanted to pay tribute to Greg’s Dad where a plaque bears his name (he was a First United Nations Peacekeeper).

On the evening of May 18, Niagara Falls was lit up in purple and green to support those who are fighting mental health and addictions issues. The City was supporting Greg in his effort to bring more awareness to these important issues. In Burlington, the Brant Street Pier was illuminated. In Ajax, a special event was organized by the town – with Councillors, MPP Patrice Barnes, the first responders, Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health, Durham Mental Health Services and all other vendors and spectators were in attendance. On the 4th day he was at the Ontario Legislative Assembly with a quick meet-up and photo-op with the Hon. Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Greg was presented with an Ontario flag, Ontario pins and a challenge medal which he carried through the rest of the journey. At every town he walked through, there was awareness of Greg’s presence with residents sharing their stories and signing his banner.

In Ajax, Greg met Patrick who he had also met on the street during his walk through Scarborough. Patrick was special to Greg, because he had lost both his wife and son to mental health issues. Patrick’s daughter had said to her Dad that this was important and he should be there. Patrick drove from Scarborough to be in Ajax to see Greg again and participate in the event. Then there was Stephanie in Bowmanville who told Greg that she was 19 days clean saying, “my head is clear, but my body is weak” as she signed Greg’s banner.

Greg says, “I had missed Newcastle but fortunately, a persistent Councillor Willie Woo found me and met up with me in Newtonville along with Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster and Councillor Margaret Zwart. Thank you for the send off on Day 6!” Greg dropped into the office of Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini to share his message and they talked about the journey. In Belleville, Greg spent some time at the Bridge Integrated Care Hub to learn of the work they are doing.

Greg shared that his visit and the support received from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was amazing and was another highlight in this journey even with the heavy downpours of rain. “I will always remember this day!” He thanked Gudgie whom he had met in the Native Renaissance Shop and heard her story – 20 months clean because her daughters got her to seek the help she needed. A group from the territory walked with Greg to the other side of Deseronto. The day ended at the start of the highway route in memory of Andrew St. Jean, son of OdemKwe AJ Carrie who had walked with Greg. Greg shared with him, “I am sorry that mutual tragedies have brought us together but it was wonderful meeting you.”

In Kingston, Greg took time off from his walk, but walked about 20km on Day 1 visiting a safe injection site, the street health centre and a new youth centre. Greg was welcomed into the Kingston Home Based Housing which provides housing for Youth in Need. Ground was just recently broken for the construction of the Kingston Youth Services Hub which will provide critical services to 16-24-year-old homeless and vulnerable youth. He was joined for the walk by Wendy Stephen – City Councillor for Lakeside who gave a lot of insight to the issues facing Kingston. On Day 2 in Kingston, Greg visited and spoke with clients, employees and the manager of the Integrated Care Hub. He also visited the Street Health Centre speaking with the manager, Donna, for quite some time about the services that Street Health provides. “There is a beautiful memorial wall at Street Health with a leaf for every client who has been lost,” said Greg.

After Kingston, it was back on the road for home, travelling through Smiths Falls (at the Town Square, Greg had a wonderful chat with Mayor Shawn Pankow and Councillor Jennifer Miller) and continuing on to Franktown, then down the Trans Canada Trail to Stittsville. He had a great welcome to Carleton Place by Houle Health Care and he spoke with representatives of Lanark County Mental Health. Aaron and Kaelan would join their father again for the last leg of the trip.

On his return May 31, Greg arrived with much fanfare at Cooligan Martial Arts. As he travelled through Stittsville, it was amazing to see the staff at Frederick Banting Alternative High School cheering him on. But his day was not over yet, he walked into Ottawa to the Byward Market that evening. To commemorate his walk, the Ottawa sign was lit up in green for mental health and purple for overdose awareness.

During the walk, daughter Chelsea was with her Dad to ensure that if he needed assistance someone was with him. Chelsea had also made all of the arrangements for accommodations and meals. Ingrid, his wife, had ensured that all his nutritional planning was taken care of by her. Greg had run into some problems with a leg swelling due to walking on country roads that slant down to the ditch. Ingrid travelled down on the weekend to nurse his legs back to good health and reduced the swelling for him.

Greg is now very open about mental health and hopes his family’s story will help others. “Through powerful story telling, the stigma and shame attached can be diminished. Sharing your story, opens up conversations to provide a safe feeling where family and friends can ask questions if they don’t understand.” Greg added, “I wanted to ensure that people were more aware of the walk than the man. In our own downtown of Ottawa the issues are quite visible because the services are located there, but people need to realize that the people suffering from mental health and addictions issues are not only from Ottawa, but Stittsville, Manotick, Orleans and northern communities – all using those downtown services.” Greg is amazed by the many stories he heard and the support he received from the communities and the many people he met during his journey.

Greg asks residents to support his mission to help those with mental health and addictions issues by donating to On the Road 4 Mental Health or the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa.


2 thoughts on “On the Road 4 Mental Health takes Greg McPherson across southern Ontario promoting mental health and addictions awareness”


    1. Thank you, Clifford. The walk exceeded my expectations and the connections and stories that I heard have built my resolve to continue to bring awareness to the crisis and to fight the stigma.

      Thank you for your contribution!

      Greg McPherson
      On The Road 4 Mental Health

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