Trek symbolic of man’s own journey with MS
Félix Jasmin’s portage aims to help raise funds in fight against disease
For Félix Jasmin, the canoe trips along the 13-kilometre ‘Grand Portage’ trail between Pigeon River and Lake Superior in northeast Minnesota were the highlight of his childhood summers.
The historic trail — a transport route used for centuries by travellers and fur traders — always marked the final stretch of the 37-day canoe expeditions for Jasmin and his friends at Camp Ahmek.
Now, some 27 years later, he and his camp pals are at it again. This time, however, the portage is a 700-kilometre, 18-day odyssey spanning two provinces to raise funds for multiple sclerosis research. For Jasmin, the trip is symbolic of his own journey with MS.
“The weight of the canoe represents the weight of my MS diagnosis and the long journey ahead,” he said.
The Montreal man is tackling the portage relay from Toronto to Montreal via Ottawa — Le Grand Portage — with the help of his wife, three children and 150 friends.
Jasmin and his wife, Meg Flynn, left Toronto on Sept. 30. Each morning for ten days, the pair portaged 13 kilometres before passing off the canoe to friends and family, who would continue the journey for the rest of the day in relay teams of four or five.
On Oct. 8, he arrived in Ottawa and made his way to Parliament Hill where he met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also a former camper at Camp Ahmek.
After a short break over the Thanksgiving long weekend, the pair resumed the portage on Friday in Hawkesbury, Ont., near the Ontario-Quebec border and are expected to arrive in Montreal Sunday morning. That day, people from around the world are encouraged to walk, run or bike to show their support.
Jasmin started experiencing MS symptoms in 2015, when he felt tingling in his legs and muscle twitches throughout his body.
However, it was only in 2019, after he lost partial vision in his right eye, that he was diagnosed with the disease.
He is one of approximately 90,000 people living with MS in Canada, which has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world according to the MS Society of Canada. The chronic autoimmune disease occurs when myelin, the protective covering of the nerves, is damaged, leading to disruptions in nerve impulses. This can affect balance, mobility, vision and memory.
There is currently no cure for MS, but Jasmin hopes to change that.
Over the course of the relay, Jasmin has blown past his $300,000 goal and raised more than $525,000.
All proceeds will fund research being conducted by his two doctors, Dr. Jack Antel, a neurologist with the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital at McGill University, and Dr. Alexandre Prat, a neurologist at Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal.
He’s riding on the success of last year’s inaugural virtual event, which raised $380,000 and has been overwhelmed by support from family, friends and strangers around the world.
“I am swamped with love,” he says. “If this love and happiness was a cure to MS, I would definitely be healed by now.”