Making the miles matter

September 2018

No matter how you keep track - miles, kilometres, or steps - Eli Jacko has covered lots of ground. He is a tireless community leader who inspires others with his positive actions.
We sat down to talk one morning at a south-side coffee shop after Eli had completed his one-hour daily morning walk. I’ve seen him many times on his route. He always greets other walkers with a nod of the head and a smile. It was a pleasure to get him to stop moving for a while to chat with me.
His love of walking, and the willingness of people to say “hello” to other walkers, encouraged him to found the Evergreen Walking Club which will celebrate its 10th year of Tuesday night walking this November. He has found that one of the best ways to bring neighbours together is just to get out and walk together.
In his early years, Eli, whose home community is Wikwemikong, was a sailor and worked on a passenger ferry boat on Manitoulin Island. It was a 500-passenger ferry and Eli, as the Head Waiter, was responsible for feeding the 85 crew members in the mess hall. It was a busy job that Eli enjoyed. “I learned about teamwork on that job,” he says. “We had our orders and they had to be followed because you didn’t have much time to feed the crew members on their lunch breaks. I had to be organized. I did a good job and I was fast. I could even carry four plates of food at a time then!”
The ferry work was 6 months on and 6 months off, so Eli had some time to pursue other work in the Band office. One of the projects he is most proud of was a community newspaper he started for Wikwemikong. “I wanted to bring out the lighter side of reserve life in the newsletter,” Eli says. People liked the paper. In fact, the volunteer-driven newsletter was produced for over 10 years, a record in the community. “We sent that newsletter, that I printed on a Gestetner copier, internationally. If we had young people who were serving in the Armed Forces overseas, we’d send them a complimentary copy.” The newsletter even caught the attention of then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau who sent Eli a Christmas card one year with a note about reading his paper.
Eli enjoys writing and is proud to report that he is a published poet. His poem, “Hello Red”, was published in 1968 when he was just 18 years old. He is also a coin collector and despite being a non-smoker, he collects hand-painted ash trays from the 1950’s and 1960’s.
When Eli moved to Thunder Bay, one of his jobs was as one of the first employees of the Emergency Shelter in 1988. “Back in those days, we were pleased when we had 75 people come for Christmas supper. But there are so many more people now there every day.” Eli was proud when people who had been clients of the Shelter were hired to do jobs there. It’s something that has always impacted his work– making a difference in someone else’s life. His work with the Ontario March of Dimes on a documentary film addressing issues for people living with disabilities in remote communities led to positive changes. The film was called “There’s No Word for This”, because in the Anishinaabe language there is no word that translates to “disabled”. Eli says, “that image of Sarah crawling from her bedroom to the living room because the community didn’t have a wheelchair for her made me so sad.” It also helped to bring awareness of those, like 92-year-old Sarah, who was featured in the film, who wanted to be able to get around and not just stay in their room. Eli helped to make a difference for many people, including Sarah.
It was his community volunteering in his Ogden East End neighbourhood back in 2006 that has led him to where he is today. In those years, the United Way had a project called Action for Neighbourhood Change out of which Evergreen, a United Neighbourhood and the Community Clothing Assistance Thunder Bay (formerly the Clothing Assistance Mission) began and still exist today.
As a walker, Eli is visible to all he passes. He says that his daily walks are a joy to him. “I meet others, ask them where they live. We have something in common because we’re both walkers. It feels good to talk to a total stranger. It doesn’t cost anything to smile and say “good morning” to someone. When someone says that to me it really makes my day.” When he walks by businesses he stops to say hello. It’s this love of walking and a realization that arose 12 years ago when he was walking in his neighbourhood that it was safer to walk with people than alone. When he met Linda Bruins, the powerhouse behind the Evergreen movement and a fellow neighbour, Eli suggested creating a regular walking group and that helped Evergreen become incorporated as a charity. One of the first projects the group started was the Tuesday night walking group.
Evergreen a United Neighbourhood promotes strong people living in a healthy and safe community. Based in the Ogden East End neighbourhood, the Evergreen centre on 139 Heron Street, a former bikers’ club house, is now a thriving neighbourhood hub where all are welcome. One of the projects that Evergreen is proud of is their Tuesday walks. “We go all year long in all kinds of weather,” says Linda Bruins. “But we do have to take a break when the temperature is plus forty or minus forty!” Consistency is key to building a
walking club and that is one thing that Evergreen is good at. “If one person shows up, I’ll walk with them,” says Linda.
The Evergreen walking group is not just for fitness. Eli stresses that it’s about walking safely with others and meeting the neighbours along the way. “Once a lady who had moved away from Thunder Bay as a child heard about our walk,” says Eli. “She came out for the walk because she had grown up in the Ogden East End area. It was a memory walk for her to go back to her roots.”
Eli’s blood relatives are scattered throughout North America and Mexico but his adopted family circle comprises the many people and friends he has connected with in Thunder Bay. Eli wants to empower Anishinaabe people to help Anishinaabe people. “I want to start a movement to treat people the way you want to be treated.” The quiet grace in which Eli lives his life is an example to everyone about how to live harmoniously with all neighbours. Through his passion for walking, Eli is bringing people together. “People don’t have to know each other or be the best of friends,” Eli says about his Tuesday night walkers, “but the walking could lead to friendships.” He wants to get people together for indoor walking too so he’s got a plan up his sleeves to walk indoors at Victoriaville Mall. Knowing Eli, this will surely happen - one step at a time.

Eli’s Eleven
Want to make a difference in your neighbourhood? Follow the Eli Eleven for a few tips.

  1. When I walk I think about this saying I heard, “I’ve got two doctors, my left leg and my right.”
  2. When a stranger says “good morning” it takes me a long way.
  3. It doesn’t cost anything to smile.
  4. Even if you’ve made a little dent, you’ve made a difference.
  5. If you walk and talk with others, an hour goes by quickly.
  6. I learned from Captain Cruikshank when I worked on the ship that you need to follow orders if you have to evacuate in a hurry.
  7. Support local businesses like independent coffee shops.
  8. Putter. Always have something to keep you busy.
  9. If you live alone, make an effort to get out of the house. Go for a regular walk and talk to people you see.
  10. Think of walking as a personal healing journey.
  11. Make new friends. Invite them to go for a coffee with you.

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.