PANDEMIC WALKING PROJECTS – Discovering my Neighbourhood

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By Allison Lynn

When you’re a touring musician, movement is encoded into your DNA. There’s an unrelenting urge to travel long distances and explore the world around you. For the last decade, my husband, Gerald Flemming, and I have toured Canada with our inspirational duo, Infinitely More. Each year, we pack the car with guitars, gear, and CDs to bring live music from St. Catharines to every corner of the country. But April 2020, it came to a shattering stop. We were all told to stay home. Be still. Don’t move.

We cancelled everything and settled into lockdown, but the insatiable need to move was still there. I started walking. Not far and not extravagantly. Just around the neighbourhood. Soon, my walks grew longer. I grew stronger and healthier. But my mind is a creative force. It needs more than just steps. So, I created my own Pandemic Walking Projects.

First, the Hunt for Cheerleaders. As I walked my neighbourhood, I discovered lawn signs, window paintings, and sidewalk chalk art proclaiming, “Thank you, essential workers!” and “Better together!” Along Russell Ave., someone hand-wrote poetry and tied it to tree trunks, sharing inspiration and beauty with the whole community. Balloons, signs, and even plastic flamingos covered front lawns as we found creative ways to celebrate special occasions in this brand new world.

Summer inspired the Completely Uninvited Garden Tour. (Just to be clear, I didn’t actually break into any backyards!) Lockdown put gardeners into overdrive. Scrappy lawns were torn up and replaced with decadent flower beds, brick pathways, and ornamental vegetable gardens. New plantings led to socially-distanced conversations: “What variety of rose is that?” “How did you put up your arbor?” and “When you divide your daylily, can I have a piece?”

#ShopLocal took on a new twist as I discovered how many groceries I could buy within walking distance of my house. Bonus Challenge: how many groceries can I carry back to my house? (Honest Answer: not that many …) We’ve enjoyed homemade desserts from Mitchell’s Bakery, locally curated treasures from Bushel & Peck, and fresh produce from St. Catharines Farmers’ Market. And who hasn’t grabbed an afternoon snack from Avondale Food Stores or our city’s plethora of independently owned corner stores?

Latte Walks were the perfect autumn excursion. Our local cafes are filled with decadent creations: Pumpkin Spice from Mahtay Cafe, Dirty Chai from The Brazen Cafe, and Vietnamese Coffee from Fine Grind Cafe. Walking has never tasted so good!

Coats and mittens were finally needed for the Holiday Magic Walks. Our neighbourhood is always artistic, but they pulled out all the stops for December 2020!

Homes dripped in strings of multicoloured lights. Evergreen boughs were transformed into garlands, wreaths, and elves. Gently lit nativities and gleaming menorahs shone in the darkness. Santa himself posed on lawns, rooftops, and even by one very glittery Eiffel Tower!

Mural Walks became the antidote to the grey days of winter. Our downtown is like a free outdoor art gallery! Duck off onto the side streets to enjoy the dramatic “Save The Bees” on Garden Park, the colourful “People Standing” on Court St., and the ever-changing display of “Art Alley” off James St. Turn down any alley to discover smaller treasures like Celtic knots, poppies, and abstract creations. For my personal favourite, turn around the corner of Hannelore Headley Old and Fine Books for the whimsical “Surf’s Up.”

May brought the fleeting but heavenly-scented season of Magnolia and Lilac Strolls. As I write this now in mid-July, the warmth of summer has returned and with it, a renewed sense of hope.

My Pandemic Walking Projects have helped me survive this very difficult season. The more I explore our city, the more I experience the beauty and humanity of my neighbours. I’m encouraged to wear my mask to protect the vulnerable in our community. I’m inspired by the efforts we’re all making to enhance our gardens and cheer on our essential workers. More than anything, I’m reminded that “Compassionate St. Catharines” isn’t just a slogan. It’s a mission we can all live out, each of us in our own corner of the city.

So, please, take some time this week to walk around your own community. Wave to your neighbours. Support a local business. Check out some lawn art. You never know what treasures you’ll discover just outside your own front door.

Allison Lynn has the heart of a storyteller. Whether in her early work as an actor, or in
her current role as singer, songwriter, emcee, writer, and band manager, Allison is
drawn to the power of story to grow hearts and communities. Allison and her husband,
Gerald Flemming, form the award-winning inspirational duo, Infinitely More. This prolific
couple performs over 100 events a year and is currently recording their 9th studio
album. Infinitely More has been nominated for 15 national awards, including winning two
Covenant Awards from GMA Canada.
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