Montreal may be a 2,000 kilometre walk from Dryden, but for Jean Béliveau home is so close he can barely stand it.
“I’m so happy I could shout,” he says in Quebecois-inflected accent. “I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling now. In a few months I will meet my grandchildren. And I have a really, really great wife.”
Béliveau has not seen Montreal since he left on foot nearly 11 years ago, crossing the globe through 64 countries and 73,500 kilometres. While his wife would join him for three weeks every year on the road, Béliveau never once broke his pilgrimage to return home.
Allied with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Béliveau has carried a message of peace and non-violence for the profit of the children of the world in his travels.
He spoke to Dryden Rotarians at a recent luncheon, June 29.
Béliveau says this ‘unstoppable idea’ began with the 1998 ice storm over eastern Canada that severely damaged his neon sign business.
Coping with depression and what he describes as ‘a mid-life crisis’, Béliveau says he was jogging over the Jacques Cartier bridge one day when he began to ponder how long it would take him to reach New York on foot.
For the next eight months he planned out a route that criss-crossed the planet, putting off what he knew would be a conversation that would test the very limits of his relationship with his wife.
On Aug. 18, 2000 — his 45th birthday, he set out to see the world. He would turn 46 in Costa Rica, 47 in Chile, 48 in South Africa.
Two more birthdays would be spent crossing Africa, then Béliveau pushed his three-wheeled baby stroller of possessions north to England. He would proceed across Western Europe to Turkey, the Middle East, India and Nepal, resume in China and reach the shores of the Pacific in South Korea. He walked the length of Japan, the Phillipines and other Pacific Rim islands before touching down in Australia and New Zealand. Air New Zealand donated a flight to Canada putting him back on Canadian soil this past January.
Along the way he stayed in the homes of over 1,600 families who have offered him shelter for the night or a meal.
“What’s touched me very much is to be invited into the homes of people,” he said. “To see the families — the children, the grandfather and mother — eating, singing or playing in their own culture in Africa, the Middle East or India. This is for me a special thing I keep in my heart. “
Béliveau says upon his return to Montreal he will focus on sorting through a decade of ‘intellectual baggage’, write a book and campaign for the Canadian government to establish a Ministry of Peace.
“Everybody wants peace,” he said. “When I was in, what we say here ‘enemy countries’, I started to wonder what is peace? What is ‘my peace’ and ‘their peace’. Everybody’s point of view is different. So, I think the big thing is trying to talk and understand each other. That takes more courage I think than physically fighting each other.”
Check out Jean Béliveau’s website at wwwalk.org.
By Chris Marchand