Cyclists gather at the base of the Great Canadian Flag every Wednesday from May 16 to Sept. 26 and hit the road about 6:30 p.m. for a 10-15 km slow roll along the river and through neighbourhoods like Walkerville or Sandwich.
When Janice Brown came out as a gay woman after raising three children during a marriage spanning more than three decades, she felt uncertain, alone and unsure where to turn for social activities.
She started taking part in WEPride Rides, weekly cycling excursions run under the banner of Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, and hasn’t looked back. While she has yet to find that special someone, she has made new friends and toured sites and neighbourhoods in Windsor she otherwise might not have experienced.
“I’m a late blooming gay woman and I thought it would be a great way to meet people,” said Brown before departing with a friendly crew on a recent Wednesday night ride. “I like the camaraderie and it’s great exercise.”
Justin Lafontaine started running the weekly rides last year as part of a broad local effort to create more recreational and social activities for the LGBTQ+ community in Windsor and Essex County.
“It’s a great way to meet people in the community,” said Lafontaine. “It’s a social and recreational ride. We only go as fast as the slowest person.”
The rides are just one event being organized and funded via the Q-Connect project, a local program that last year received $450,000 over three years from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The program aims to “reduce social isolation” within the LGBTQ+ community and is also making inroads in the county through a partnership with Community Living Essex County, said David Lenz, President of Windsor-Essex Pride Fest.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are more than 2.5 times more likely than the general population to live alone and struggle with feelings of isolation, particularly youth or seniors, said Lenz. This loneliness and lack of peer or social supports can lead to depression, suicidal ideation and substance abuse.
“Youth and seniors have the hardest time,” said Lenz. “They have the most issues connecting within the community.”
The Q-Connect program is meant to bring people together with free and fun activities like cycling, game nights and wellness sessions including pilates, yoga and meditation. There are age-specific activities and everything from creative writing and arts workshops to dance nights. There are about eight to 10 events per month and even a program for the homeless community at the Windsor Youth Centre.
“It’s providing a social opportunity for the community and an activity that some people may not otherwise take part in,” said Lafontaine. “You’re not in a bar. It’s active and open to everyone. It’s about making connections in the city.”
Cyclists gather at the base of the Great Canadian Flag every Wednesday from May 16 to Sept. 26 and hit the road about 6:30 p.m. for a 10-15 km slow roll along the river and through neighbourhoods like Walkerville or Sandwich. They last an hour to 90 minutes, and participants sometimes cap it off with a bite to eat or a drink on a patio.
“It’s not a race. It’s not competitive. People chat,” said Lafontaine. “The waterfront is a great atmosphere for getting to know people.”