Detroiter sets course to be first Black woman to complete Bruce Trail since Underground Railroad passages
Zwena Gray says another goal of the hike is to learn about the legacy people who escaped enslavement left along the Bruce Trail and in the communities they created there.
Zwena Gray is embarking on an adventure.
The 20-year-old Detroiter will spend the next six weeks hiking the 559 miles of the Bruce Trail – tracing the footsteps of women who followed the trail more than a century ago toward the last stop on the Underground Railroad.
The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest marked continuous trail in Canada. It runs through Southern Ontario from the Niagara River to Tobermory at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
“Being from Detroit, I really wanted to bring that connection to nature to my community.” —Zwena Gray
Gray says she wants her trek to “showcase Black Joy” and inspire Black, Indigenous, and people of color to get out into nature.
Listen: Zwena Gray shares her goals and vision for her 559-mile journey.
“I feel like there’s a type of liberation and connection to the environment that can provide a sense of joy, freedom and learning for BIPOC individuals,” Gray says.
She says her own connection to the outdoors was nurtured participating in environmental programs around the country where people of color were rarely represented.
“Being from Detroit, I really wanted to bring that connection to nature to my community,” Gray says. “It’s not only important for Black people to be present in these natural environments, but it’s also important for us to showcase just the freedom and liberation and just ease of existing and these spaces.”
Gray studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, with a major in environmental studies and science and a minor in gender and social justice studies.
She says another goal of the hike is to learn about the legacy people who escaped enslavement left along the Bruce Trail and in the communities they created there. She has arranged to speak with historians as she travels to get perspective on that history along the way.
Gray says she doesn’t think of going into nature as a way to get away from technology. Instead, her plan is to merge them.
“I think that there’s space for both,” she says. “I thought it was important to be able to bring technology in in a way that made it accessible for people who can’t necessarily get on the trail with me.”
She says she plans to create and post content as she travels.
“I’m going to be making natural hair videos, do videos about how do you handle your period in the outdoors, and even doing fun stuff like tent talks every week for my Instagram and then I’ll also be having YouTube videos kind of more educational about the historians that I talked to and the areas that I go through — more of a day-to-day thing.”
A friend is hiking with Gray the whole length of the trail. Family members, friends and followers plan to join Gray for day hikes at various points.
Gray says she plans to use the Bruce Trail as a source for inspiration for her own art, writing and performance art. She says after the trip, she hopes to share that art, her stories and even a hike or two at engagement events in Peterborough, Toronto and Detroit.
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