The Ottawa Citizen

Canal skaters open hearts to help Haiti
Senator’s 100km skate-a-thon could raise $10,000

Joanne Laucius

When Senator Jim Munson first considered skating 100 kilometres on the Rideau Canal skateway to raise money for Haitian relief, he thought he might be able to raise $3,000.

Saturday afternoon, about two-thirds of the way through his weekend-long skate-a-thon, it appeared that Munson’s tally would top $10,000, and Munson joined a human chain that stretched two kilometres down the skateway.

“It’s quite emotional to see this human chain,” said Munson, 63, who sported a Haitian flag across his shoulders and a Canada toque perched on his head. “We have a moral obligation to help our neighbours.”

Meanwhile, the NCC’s donation boxes had been covered with the Canadian Red Cross logo and Red Cross volunteers walked along the skateway taking donations, with proceeds going to disaster relief in Haiti.

Jaël Destin, 22, who came to Ottawa from Haiti five years ago, has never donned a pair of skates. She was among the volunteers helping with the Skate for Haiti effort.

Destin’s family lives in a neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince that was relatively undamaged by the earthquake, but some of her friends died in the disaster.

“It’s very important for me to help rebuild Haiti,” said Destin, a civil law student at the University of Ottawa. “We have to begin right now.”

Brodie Hemphill, 15, volunteered because his stepfather is Haitian. “Raising awareness helps raise money,” he said.

The National Capital Commission, the Haitian Community and the Red Cross got together only a few days after the earthquake on Jan. 12, said NCC chief executive officer Marie Lemay.

“We can’t start to celebrate Canadian winter without thinking about how other people are suffering,” she said. “The Haitian community just rallied.”

As she joined hands with fellow Carleton University students, Kelsey Johnson, 18, a journalism student from Edmonton, said the earthquake was a human tragedy on a level no one could comprehend.

“We’re fortunate in Canada. When people saw the devastation, it struck a chord,” said Johnson.

The NCC estimates that on a busy weekend day with pleasant weather, the skateway has between 50,000 and 70,000 skaters — and it appears Saturday was within that range, said NCC spokeswoman Kathryn Keyes.

So far, there’s no tally on the money collected on the skateway for Haitian relief, or even a guess on the final amount. But fundraising will continue through Sunday, said David Fraser, president of the Ottawa Branch Council of the Canada Red Cross.

The Ottawa branch has already collected about $200,000 just in donations that have walked through the doors of its Catherine Street  office. There have been more than 100 events at schools and area businesses.

“The outpouring of support for the Haiti campaign has been overwhelming,” said Fraser. “We had a group of kids who had raised funds walk into the branch. They just walked in with a pile of money.”

As the human chain broke up and the links skated away, Munson reflected on the magic of the skateway.

“I love this place. I was on the canal at seven o’clock. You could hear the birds and watch the kids on Dow’s Lake,” he said.

“It’s like being on a breakaway. You have so much anticipation. And you know you’re going to score.”