Fed up with the cubicle life, Claudie Larouche decided it was time to make more of an impact in her community. In April she made the gutsy decision to leave her government job and start spending more time outdoors. Inspired by her involvement with LOG (the Lesbian Outdoor Group) and her passion for the outdoors, Larouche, 28, created Street Strollers, a company offering daily 30-minute walks in the west-end neighbourhoods of Kanata, Barrhaven and Nepean.
“I guess I got tired of the cubicle life and the nine-to-five every day for the next 40 years of my life,” she says. “I wanted to try something new and wanted to spend more time outside. I wanted to do something that was more meaningful to me.” Led by Larouche, the walks will aim to bring people together for some healthy physical activity and the chance to get to know their neighbours. Larouche is taking a one-year unpaid leave of absence from her job with the government, after which she can return if Street Strollers doesn’t pan out. “I’m hoping not to have to go back, but at least I have that backup plan if things don’t work out,” she says.
Currently, Larouche is funding the project entirely herself. She’s focusing the walks on the west end for now but has plans to expand into downtown Ottawa and even into Gatineau if all goes well. She’s hopeful that her walks will help foster a greater sense of local community among people living in suburban neighbourhoods. “There’s a lot of Barrhaven people that come downtown to do things, but I don’t know if there’s that many things happening in Barrhaven where people can just drive five minutes and do something interesting.” She’s been spreading the word mainly through social media and postering and is targeting a key market of retirees, shift workers and parents who are at home during the day. She says she’s also hoping to reach out to new immigrant families who may be looking for ways to get to know people in their neighbourhoods.
Larouche charges $5 to participate in each walk and is considering implementing a sliding scale for lower-income participants. “The reason why you should pay is because I don’t offer just the walking — it’s actually the group that you walk with, so there’s that aspect where you meet other people,” she says. Another motivating factor for Larouche in her decision to start Street Strollers was a TED Talk by National Geographic writer Dan Buettner, examining the lifestyles of the world’s longest-lived peoples. “One of the things that keeps you alive longer is the sense that you belong to a community,” she explains. “My crazy dream is to make Street Strollers become sort of a community, I guess.”
The walks will start from centrally located points in the west end, then head off in different directions. Larouche will offer five walks per day in neighbourhoods of the three suburbs, likely from May to October (depending on weather), and is looking forward to fostering a sense of camaraderie among participants. “The people that you will meet, they’re actually your neighbours.”