Trans Canada Trail Blazer

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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Fall 2000 > Trans Canada Trail Blazer
Trans Canada Trail Blazer

Reaching John Bellini, BA'72, on the phone is like trying to hit a moving target. The executive director of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation has some of this country's biggest corporations on speed-dial as he spends hours drumming up corporate support for the project of his dreams.

Since 1992, the economics grad has racked up long days and devoted his considerable marketing savvy to ensuring that the Trans Canada Trail, a 16,000-kilometre recreation path, would be built. The trail, to be used by hikers, cross-country skiers, cyclists, snowmobilers and horseback riders, will be the longest of its kind in the world once all the links are completed. Winding its way through every province and territory, the trail will connect major cities and small towns from Victoria to St. John's and isolated northern communities. It's made up of a combination of existing trails and waterways, such as the Rideau trail in Ottawa, the Mackenzie River in the North-west Territories, and new portions being built by volunteers in communities across the country.


"The Trans Canada Trail will forge a link to the country's three oceans," Bellini says with some pride. "There's a strong symbolism. It's as relevant as the opening of the national railway. Now we've opened up Canada to recreational use."

The dream of a national recreation path was the brainchild of Albertan Bill Pratt, credited with bringing the 1988 Olympics to Calgary, and Ottawa's Pierre Camu. Following Canada's 125th anniversary celebrations in 1992, they got $585,000 in seed money from the federal government to create a project that would benefit generations to come. That project was the Trans Canada Trail.

Bellini joined the Canada 125 Corporation in 1991, after working in marketing and advertising for several corporations and at a major ad agency. He moved to the Trail Foundation in 1992 as general manager of their advertising consortium and director of communications. He believed so strongly in the project that he took on extra consulting jobs to support his family until the Foundation could bring in enough money to cover his salary.

"I left the traditional marketing/advertising world because I didn't like the answer to a question I kept asking myself: 'When my life is said and done, will anyone care if Labatt Blue's market share increases from five percent to seven percent?'" Bellini recalls. "The trail offered me the opportunity to apply my experience and skills to something that I feel would make Canada a better place for us and for future generations."

If the words sound a little gee-whiz, there is no doubting his sincerity. And Bellini's ability to communicate his passion has helped sell the vision of the trail, says Foundation board member Cecil Freeman. "If John needs to get up and give a speech, that Italian comes out in him and he's quite emotive about the trail," he says from his Fredericton office. "It's more than a job for John. He believes in the trail and stuck with it when there were (financial) difficulties."


The Foundation was even run out of the attic of Bellini's Montreal West home until it moved into its own quarters in 1995, the same year Bellini became executive director. The father of three young children continues to work out of his home office, a few blocks away from the Foundation's. The setup means he can stay in touch with his family despite the long days.

"Right now I'm looking out the window and my kids are playing outside as I'm watching them. When my daughter was in kindergarten we'd always have lunch together and play." After working 9 to 6, he spends the evening with his family and then pops back into his office for a few hours after his children are in bed. Bellini, who has trekked in Nepal and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, also "religiously" schedules a daily two-mile walk into his routine, the only recreation he has time for these days. "I guess reaching for the telephone doesn't count, eh?" he jokes.

Maintaining a physical distance from the Foundation office also allows him to stay focused on his job -- raising the money needed to turn the vision of a trail into reality. Otherwise, he'd risk getting mired in administrative details like "the fact that Mrs. Smith's name is spelled wrong," he says.

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