Valerie Pringle is serious about hiking. When she is asked about her longtime commitment to The Great Trail, a network of 24,000 kilometres of recreational trails (formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail) that links all 13 provinces and territories, she becomes poetic, quoting philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche (“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”) and Søren Kierkegaard (“I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it”).
Pringle, who was one of Canada’s best-known and most-respected broadcasters (with high-profile positions at CBC, CTV and Discovery Channel), left the grind of daily television in 2001 and almost immediately got on board with what was called the Trans Canada Trail (TCT).
On paper, Pringle’s involvement with the national trail organization reads like your standard Wikipedia entry: She joined the Trans Canada Trail in 2002 and served as chair of the TCT Charitable Organization Board from 2005 to 2010, before joining the TCT Foundation Board in 2011. Pringle then embraced the job of co-chair of the Chapter 150 Campaign that successfully raised more than $75 million to fully connect The Great Trail by 2017. She continues as co-chair, raising funds and awareness in an effort to “get Canadians off the couch.”
The true story of Pringle’s connection to the trail, however, started long before she joined the TCT board. “I have always loved this project. Just ask any of my former team members at Canada AM [CTV’s long-running, flagship morning show]. I was always pitching ideas about TCT,” says Pringle. “This cross-country trail captured my attention the first time I heard about it. It’s a link across Canada. It’s a way of exploring our geography and history…. When I was recruited to the board of the TCT, I don’t think the committee fully appreciated how enthusiastic and eager I was. I doubt they expected me to stick around for 17 years!”
YouAreUnltd caught up with Pringle, now 65, to find out more reinventing herself after a lifetime in broadcasting and her love of the great outdoors. Here’s what she shared with us.
When you left your job in broadcasting, what prompted you to devote so much of your time and energy into a cross-country trail organization?
I think it’s important – when you wrap up one career or switch gears – to look for projects that are a good fit, that speak to your passions and priorities. So, of course, The Great Trail was an ideal fit because I’m passionate about what it represents to this country – and I love the outdoors. Mental health issues are hugely important to me, as well. I’m a director of the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation Board where I focus on raising funds and awareness of mental health care in Canada. The outdoors and mental health are connected. We’re increasingly attuned to the mental health benefits of being in nature, outdoor exercise, forest bathing. Spending time on a trail connects us to nature – and to one another.
Have you always been an outdoor enthusiast?
“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. While I’ve hiked up Mount Kilimanjaro and trekked to Everest Base Camp, I was just as happy cycling the relatively flat Confederation Trail near St. Peters Bay in Prince Edward Island – part of The Great Trail, as is the path around Stanley Park, which I always walk when I’m in Vancouver. Sometimes, being in nature for me is as simple as walking with my granddaughter on the portion of the trail near my home in Niagara-on-the Lake, or taking my dogs for a ravine walk in Toronto. Just being outdoors feels good.”
Were there learning moments in the transition from hosting a current affairs show on national TV to chairing fund-raising campaigns for a not-for-profit?
“Gosh, yes. Let’s talk about fundraising, about asking people for money! When I first started campaigning for funds I was convinced I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t ask people for money. I distinctly remember not wanting to bother people. I mean, who likes to ask people for their money? But I learned from one of the best fundraisers there is – my husband, Andy Pringle, who reminded me: ‘You’re not asking for yourself. You’re asking for something you deeply believe in and that’s good for people’s health.’ He was right, of course. Ultimately, I was asking people to dig into their pockets and support a project that connects communities and people across Canada, that’s a gift for Canada, for our children.”
Where will the The Great Trail take you next?
“I intend to continue raising funds for another couple of years to ensure there’s adequate funding to support the trail now that it’s established. I’m fortunate to be where I am. I absolutely love the work I’m doing. I’m having success at this phase of my life that perhaps looks different from my earlier successes in my broadcast career. I get to focus on something I truly believe in – and that’s so important at any stage of life. This is totally right place for me to be at the moment.”