A sole survivor for peace; How a Montreal man's round-the-world walk turned into both a mission and a prison
National Post

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Page: A3

Section: News

Byline: James Cowan

Source: National Post

When Jean Beliveau left Montreal on Aug. 18, 2000, he had a route mapped out, a baby stroller loaded with supplies and a plan to walk around the world. Seven years later, he has travelled 43,196 kilometres, crossed 46 countries and worn out 33 pairs of shoes. But what began as a mid-life crisis for the former sign salesman is now an arduous mission. As he took a break at a rest stop in Turkey recently, Mr. Beliveau confessed he sometimes has hesitations about his globe-spanning trek.

"I am a now a victim of my dream," he said, speaking by cellphone. "I had a dream and it's become like a jail. But I think it's something beautiful that we're doing."

Mr. Beliveau -- no relation to the former Montreal Canadiens star -- began musing about hiking around the planet in 1999 after taking up jogging to improve his health. For eight months he planned in secret, not telling his wife or two children as he plotted a route and got the vaccinations he needed for his journey. He revealed his plan just three weeks before his departure, announcing over a Sunday breakfast that he intended to spend the next 12 years on the road. His family were surprised but supportive. Indeed, it was Luce Archambault, his wife, who suggested dedicating the walk to the promotion of world peace.

After leaving Montreal on Aug. 18, 2000, his 45th birthday, Mr. Beliveau travelled south through the United States and South America. Upon reaching Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2003, he flew to South Africa where he began working his way north toward Europe. As he travelled he was welcomed as a guest at police stations in Tanzania, private homes in Egypt and a Catholic mission in Kenya. He also traversed Sudan, describing it as "the safest country for me since I left Montreal" in an e-mail to his family.

Mr. Beliveau relies on donations of food, lodging and money to keep him moving forward. The experience has given him insight into the relative generosity of different nations. In some countries, such as the United States and Mozambique, he has been plied with free food and welcomed into strangers' homes. In other places, such as Turkey, people are friendly but expect to be paid for their services. In only a few countries, such as Ethiopia, has Mr. Beliveau experienced outright hostility.

"Ethiopia was very difficult for me," he said. "It is a very rich culture but they don't try to make friends. If they don't like you, they just tell you to get out. I did not really like the country, but I learned a lot of things from them. Sometimes, when it's hard, we learn more."

As he walks, Mr. Beliveau pushes a three-wheel baby stroller loaded with his clothes, a tent, a first aid kit and other supplies. In an effort to keep his burden light, he sends a package home every few months, filling it with the religious icons, T-shirts, plaques, teddy bears and cook books given to him by well-wishers along the way. Ms. Archambault serves as the curator of the collection, saying the items now crowd their Montreal home. "I have so many boxes," she said.

Ms. Archambault has devoted her retirement to supporting her husband's quest. She spends five hours each day answering e-mail from fans and managing Mr. Beliveau's Web site (www.wwwalk.org).

She also makes an annual pilgrimage to visit her husband, referring to the sojourns as "honeymoons."

"The walk is like a passion for me also," she said. "It's getting more and more interesting because he meets more and more people. It's getting bigger all the time."

Mr. Beliveau's fans include a growing number of diplomats and politicians. When he passed through Paris last June, he was honoured at a ceremony by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for his work promoting non-violence. A less formal celebration took place in January when he arrived in Rakoczifalva, Hungary, the midway point in his journey. A crowd of 50 people showed up to watch him complete the 40,075-km mark of his trek. A pair of his shoes are now displayed in the local museum (A second pair have been sent to the Canadian War Museum for an exhibit on individuals who promote peace).

More recently he crossed the Bosporus bridge in Istanbul, marking his arrival in Asia and the beginning of his fourth continent. While Mr. Beliveau initially hoped to continue on to Turkmenistan and then work his way southward to India via Uzbekistan and China, visa problems may scupper that plan. Instead, he may be forced to skip directly to India. The change in plans would slice as much as a year off of his travel time.

As he prepared last week to continue his trip across Turkey, Mr. Beliveau did not sound like he would mind arriving home a little sooner.

With a five-year-old granddaughter he only met last October and another he has never seen, he said he needs to keep reminding himself that every footstep brings him a little bit closer to being finished.

"The next few years will just be walk, walk, walk, walk and then--no more," he said.