When it was established in 1998, Cornwall’s Outdoor Club posed as a fun way to meet new and interesting people. For novices new to the area, activities for the ingénue to the expert offered a blended schedule of safe, fun events led by experienced leaders.
By the time Sylvie Wilkins joined the group in 2007, she was curious for a change. A precocious child born to Gertrude and Percy Billard, Sylvie was raised in a French speaking household. Her father worked for C.C.V.S. as head of the French department for 25 years. At home, Percy was Sylvie’s protector: teaching her many things about life. Through his fully stocked garage of tools, Percy had a way of bringing people together. As the years fell away, his neighbors became life-long friends. Life was an adventure.
Born on a Friday, Sylvie’s mother Gertrude was a stay-at-home mom. A twin who felt ‘kept’ as a young person, Gertrude prevailed in teaching her children to thrive by staying active through life. From kayaking, swimming, practicing Yoga, skating or Volleyball: nothing has held her back.
As a young girl, Sylvie taught herself to read and learn English by reading storefront signs while out shopping with her mom. In summer, life revolved around the water. The family owned a small cottage along the Saint Lawrence River in Summerstown, where pancake breakfasts on the BBQ, card games with the neighbors and lots of reading, was the norm.
At 18, Sylvie attended the University of Ottawa earning a BA in General Arts. Two years later, she attended Saint Lawrence College and received a diploma in Legal Administration. After marrying, Sylvie moved to the greater Toronto area but within four years learned something that big city urban jungles seldom teach. When back visiting her hometown, Sylvie purposely took detours driving along the river where immersive Canadian summers link brown-eyed girls to the physical and spiritual world. Change was in the air.
At 44, Sylvie left her first marriage, moved back to her roots and built a new life working for Legal Aid Ontario and the City of Cornwall. As a way to de-stress, she swam laps at the Nav-Centre each morning at 5 am. When it closed during Covid, she took up running in the hour before work. Other days, it was a quick bike ride behind the old canal, but it wasn’t enough.
Wanting to get out and meet new people, Sylvie joined Toastmasters Cornwall, on the suggestion of a co-worker. While swimming at the Nav one morning, she saw a poster advertising the Cornwall Outdoor Club. https://www.facebook.com/COCDPA
In his book, Life in the Woods, Bill Bryson famously quipped, “There is a phenomenon called Trail Magic, known and spoken of with reverence … that when things look darkest- some little piece of serendipity comes along to put you back on a heavenly plane.”
Within the same month, Sylvie met Kevin O’Rourke – or was it Kevin O’Rourke met Sylvie Wilkins? The world may never know. Kevin didn’t have a car but his canoe sported wheels: both a great conversation starter. On his suggestion years later, Sylvie approached Julia Lucio & Mai-Liis Renaud about publishing monthly articles in https://theseeker.ca/ based on the many outdoor adventures available in Cornwall and the surrounding area.
By this time, Percy and Gertrude had torn down their summer cottage and built a new home in its place. Realizing they had more in common than swimming, Sylvie & Kevin got married on the 5th anniversary of their 1st date. The Outdoor Club was flourishing numbering 40+ members. Weekends subsisted of excursions to the Adirondacks, bike trips and camping along the Saint Lawrence. In winter, out came the snowshoes and off they went.
From any vantage point, a walk in the woods is an ethereal experience, as the wild opens her arms to the hushed whisper of the world in motion. As in life, no two forests are the same.
Through Kevin’s attention to detailing group excursions, Cornwall’s waterfront could never be so appreciated.
When asked to participate in this legacy project, Sylvie’s answer was a resounding “Let’s do it!” ~
Ready to go in a moment’s notice, Sylvie’s positive attitude is infectious. When she retired in the spring of this year, gone was the perfectionist and goal-oriented fireball – lost somewhere in the bramble of Ontario forest. In its place: a Bryson–esque refuge of solid friendships and good fun.
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