Gateway Center of Excellence: free time is important for your well-being

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Whether you prefer to spend your free time learning a new skill, reading, or working towards your personal fitness goals, free time should be taken seriously.

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This was the topic of the Gateway Center of Excellence in Rural Health conference on October 5.

Moderator of the discussion, Dr. Heather Mair is Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation and Recreation Studies at the University of Waterloo and the Gateway Chair in Rural Community Development and Well-being.

To begin his presentation, Mair engaged participants in one task – list your three favorite leisure activities, reflect on how activities define you as a person, and how the pandemic has impacted your enjoyment of those activities.

Leisure is more than free time. It is a state of mind. It provides a sense of freedom, self-determination, a source of identity and is an important tool for dealing with stress and fatigue… to name a few. Mair referred to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIM) which measures social progress and provides information on the quality of our lives at the community level. Measured against a framework of eight areas such as community vitality, environment and standard of living, it can be a valuable strategic planning tool. An example of the CIW in action is a report titled “A Profile of Well-Being in Rural Ontario”.

One of Mair’s current research projects focuses on curling clubs and the role they play in the health and well-being of rural communities. Curling is a popular physical and social activity in many rural communities. It is also an intergenerational activity. Often the local curling club plays a service role in a community, the “third place” outside of the home and workplace.

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Mair was joined by his colleague Karla Boluk, Associate Professor, Leisure and Recreation Studies at the University of Waterloo. Boluk presented information on “overtourism”, when the economic benefits of tourism are highlighted against negative aspects such as overpopulation, impact on the environment, infrastructure and resources. The cessation of tourism experienced during the pandemic allows us to reassess and redefine the sustainable development objectives in terms of tourism. Regenerative tourism must be sustainable and work to have a positive impact on communities.

Boluk also presented her research findings on women social entrepreneurs in tourism – their role, the challenges and gender barriers they face and how they contribute to a sustainable and regenerative future.

Panelist Chris Lee is the Railway Trail Advisory Committee Liaison for the 132-kilometer Guelph to Goderich Recreational Rail Trail (G2G). Lee provided the historical background for this unique asset now designated for non-motorized recreation. The recent completion of the trail has changed the nature of its users. It is a safe and quiet place to participate in leisure activities, including for people with reduced mobility. Lee has witnessed a “breakthrough effect” in the volume of use and the types of users taking advantage of the G2G Trail, particularly throughout the pandemic. It is a popular multigenerational destination (eg, the elderly with walkers, caregivers with strollers and a remarkable variety of bikes – recumbent, e-bikes). The trail also offers users a unique perspective on the rural landscape – a few houses, wet ecosystems for bird watchers or naturalists, etc.

Lynda Wilson wrote a book, “Walking Home,” about hiking the G2G Trail End-to-End in 2014, and today the G2G Trail is a personal end-to-end challenge for many hikers, runners and cyclists.

Gateway’s next conference will take place on Tuesday, November 2 at noon via Zoom. It will feature Gateway Associate President Scott Brown of the University of Guelph. To learn more about Gateway CERH, visit

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