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Volkmar Bandermann (centre) and the Cross Canada Grandpas ended their journey in St. John's, N.L., in August. (Photo: Ryan Blair)

Grandpa cycles cross-country for reconciliation

The United Church senior raised about $4,000 for the church's Indigenous Healing Fund.

By Mike Milne

When Volkmar Bandermann joined a few friends for a cross-country cycling fundraiser this past summer, he chose the United Church’s Indigenous Healing Fund as his cause. After 80 days and 7,500 kilometres on the road from Victoria to St. John’s, N.L., he added about $4,000 to the fund’s coffers.

Calling themselves the Cross Canada Grandpas, Bandermann, John Greven, Mike Tanner and Elio Zanella — and John Damoiseaux, who joined the entourage when they reached North Bay, Ont. — are all in their 70s. Bandermann, 78, a retired chef from Stratford, Ont., was the eldest. Other charities benefiting from the ride are a palliative care program in Sarnia, Ont., the ALS Society of Canada and a group delivering eco-friendly stoves to Guatemala.

Bandermann and his bicycle were blessed during a send-off from his home church, Avondale United. He also had a smudging ceremony from an Indigenous congregation member. On the way to British Columbia to start the trip, Bandermann stopped at St. Clair United in Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont., to visit the congregation’s minister, Brenda Mac Main, and a community monument dedicated to Indigenous children taken to residential schools.

“It’s reassuring to us that there are people outside our own communities who care and who are working with us,” says Mac Main. The Healing Fund, she adds, provides “resources to do the education that needs to be done, first with our own people and then those outside our community.”

Previously, Bandermann had done cycling holidays in Europe and Canada with Greven and their spouses, but the cross-Canada trek was a much bigger commitment. A truck and camping trailer accompanied the group, with a dedicated driver on two sections of the journey.

Bandermann had more than his share of aches and pains, but said he took the trip one day at a time. “Every day brings new experiences,” he says. “You really don’t think, ‘Gosh, so many more days to ride.’ You just prepare yourself for the next day.”

This story first appeared in The Observer's October 2018 edition with the title "United Church senior cycles cross-country for reconciliation."

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