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Reporter Mike Balsom walking a mile in her shoes

The annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser for Gillian’s Place returns to the Pen Centre on Saturday, Oct. 15 for the first time since 2019.

The annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser for Gillian’s Place returns to the Pen Centre on Saturday, Oct. 15 for the first time since 2019. I’ll be there as an official ambassador for the event, and I am hoping that you can join me in the walk or support my efforts to raise funds for the charitable organization. 

I’ll be donning a size 10 pair of four-inch pink high heels for the symbolic walk that gives men the chance to stand against the societal restrictions placed on women and non-binary individuals, specifically to help end violence against women. 

The roots of Gillian’s Place as a safe haven for abused women and children began on Salina Street in St. Catharines in 1977. Thirty years later they moved into their current space, the old Victoria School on Niagara Street. At that time, a new name was chosen in honour of former executive director Gillian Dooley, who led the organization from 1980 until the move to the current home.

Today, Gillian’s Place runs a 34-bed emergency shelter and a 24/7 phone or text support line. They also offer safety planning, one-on-one and group counselling, legal advice and court support. They visit schools to assist with education and violence prevention programs, provide child and youth programs and counselling, and offer transitional housing and support.

The first Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event was held in California, and since then it has grown to 140 walks held internationally. Gillian’s Place organized their first local version of the walk in 2006. More than $1.2 million has been raised through the event over 16 years. 

The past two years Walk a Mile in Her Shoes was done virtually, with just over $100,000 raised both years. That’s a very impressive amount for virtual efforts, speaking highly of the Niagara community’s dedication to and support for the cause. 

As you might imagine, the pandemic has had a significant effect on the need for Gillian’s Place’s services. Since March, 2020, staff there have been responding to a 150 per cent increase in crisis calls, a 91 per cent increase in need across all of their programs and services, and a 98 per cent increase in community outreach services. 

During that time, 379 survivors of abuse have lived in the Gillian’s Place shelter, 8,304 crisis calls and texts have been answered, and 1,709 clients have been helped by the organization’s lawyer to navigate a legal system that rarely understands the insidious nature of abuse. 

As well, isolation during COVID-19 lockdown periods made it more difficult for women experiencing intimidation, threats, neglect or sexual, physical and emotional abuse to seek help. With their abuser locked up in the same house, it could often be impossible for them to make a call or send a text. 

Over the 29 years of my teaching career I periodically saw the effects of abuse witnessed by students in their own homes. Violence against women in the home often has the effect of leaving children quiet and reserved, displaying the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alternatively, they could lash out and become violent themselves. It affects their emotional, physical and intellectual development during key growth periods of their lives. 

The statistics, by the way, are staggering. 

One in three Canadian women have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner. In 2020, 160 women and girls were killed by violence, an almost 35 per cent increase from 2019. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence by the age of 16. And 64 per cent of people in Canada know a woman who has experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

When executive director Nicole Regehr reached out to offer me the chance to be an ambassador this year, I was honoured and elated. 

The first order of business was to sign the Men’s Pledge. 

It’s a simple process. I pledged to no longer participate in the patriarchy, to actively work to reveal, know and overcome our gender biases. I promised to actively work to end men’s gender-based violence, and to deconstruct toxic masculinity and work toward gender relations that are supportive of a more ethical relationship to the earth and fellow living beings. 

And I’m doing the walk, because I want to live in a world where our wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, nieces and granddaughters, and all who identify as female or non-binary, feel free from potential abuse. 

I know that I can be comfortable as a male to take a stroll in Niagara-on-the-Lake or St. Catharines or Toronto, just about anywhere, late at night after dark and not fear for my safety or my life. I would like the women in my life to feel equally as comfortable. 

And I want all children to be free from experiencing abuse in their homes, and for those that do experience it, to continue to have the safe haven that Gillian’s Place provides to turn to escape their tormentors. 

This year’s goal for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is $120,000, and my personal fundraising goal is $2,000. I am hoping you can get involved by walking alongside me, or contributing to my fundraising page. 

I’ll see you at the Pen Centre on Oct. 15. Look for the guy in the pink heels teetering dangerously on the tiles. Then again, it might be hard to pick me out of the crowd with that description. 

For information on Gillian’s Place and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, visit:

To contribute to Mike Balsom’s campaign, visit: