Sashbear Walk attracts hundreds of walkers, raising almost $100,000 for mental health!

On Sunday, May 27th, 2018, Toronto’s Sunnyside Boardwalk became a sea of orange as hundreds of family members, friends, and people with lived experience, gathered for a 5K Walk in support of The Sashbear Foundation.

Keynote speaker Asante Haughton, joined Sashbear founder Lynn Courey at the start line to cut the ribbon, signaling the beginning of the annual walk. Leading the crowd forward were Olympians Heather and Brittany Maclean, Tera Van Beilen, and Michelle Torro (Williams), all on hand to support Sashbear and speak out on mental health.

Walk by the numbers

  • Total participants: 400
  • Teams: 32
  • Funds raised: $90,000
  • Volunteers: 100+

“This was the sixth annual Sashbear Walk and the second in a row to raise close to $100,000,” said Sashbear Walk Co-ordinator Heather Rider. “This shows that the Walk has reached a new level of maturity and that the record-setting numbers from last year are holding. The last two walks have exceeded expectations bringing in almost $200,000 to The Sashbear Foundation while growing both the number of volunteers and walkers.“

Sashbear founder Lynn Courey called it “an incredible day.” She said “I can’t thank everyone enough for helping Sashbear help families. No words can express my gratitude.“

Asante, who joined the Sashbear Walk this year for the first time, tweeted, “Man, it was so incredible to be out there with everyone, walking and sharing stories of struggle and of hope. So much more needs to be done but I’m happy @SashbearOrg is out there to provide support to families.”

The walk was organized by a team of 100 volunteers led by Heather Rider and Catherine Needham. “On Sunday, this huge group of volunteers worked smoothly and efficiently to make the day go without a hitch,” said Heather and Catherine. “Their passion and dedication to Sashbear are truly inspirational.” Walk volunteers arrived at Sunnyside Beach at 6:30 am to begin setting up for the walk. The first task of the day belonged to Michele MacLean who ensured the gazebo and grounds were clean before setup began. By 9 am the registration table was open, the stage and podium were set up, the music was playing, the VIPs were arriving, the volunteers had donned their inspirational sandwich boards and the Sashbear mascot was entertaining the crowd.

Kickoff ceremonies

The event kicked off promptly at 10 am with founder Lynn Courey delivering a heartfelt speech about the accomplishments and importance of the foundation and introducing actor John Ralston as Master of Ceremonies.

Arif Virani, MP for Parkdale-High Park, gave an impassioned speech, saying “ When we engage with The Sashbear Foundation and its Family Connections program, we support each other, we support our loved ones and the tremendous initiative that Lynn Courey and Mike Menu have started in memory of Sasha, which is bringing mental health stigma out of the closet.”

R. Shelley sang a new song written specifically for this year’s walk entitled “Other Side”.

Asante Haughton was up next, sharing his personal story of mental health struggle, hope, and redemption. Inspired by his bravery, many walk participants stopped him along the boardwalk to share their own stories.

Walkers also got to participate in the annual mindfulness walk across the Humber Bay Arch Bridge led by Karen Waddell.

The Finish Line

Once the official ribbon-cutting was complete and the walk was underway, volunteers led by Heather and Brittany Maclean, jumped into action transforming the walk site into a ceremonial finish line complete with red carpet so the Olympians could bestow medals on each walker as they completed the five kilometers. The idea of having medals to celebrate the finish was Heather MacLean’s. “This is very special to me,” says Heather. “Sasha and I stood on many podiums receiving medals together.“

The celebrations at the finish line with Sashbear volunteers cheering and banging noisemakers, and the Olympic swimmers putting a medal around each participant’s neck, were a highlight of the walk. CBC Television arrived just in time to capture the moment and interview Lynn Courey, Asante Haughton, and Heather MacLean.

All funds raised by the Sashbear Walk go towards supporting Sashbear programs. The signature program is Family Connections™, a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) skills-based Peer-to-Peer program which provides skills to families. There is no need for a referral or diagnosis and the program is free. Sashbear understands that families are on the front line in fighting mental illness and need skills and understanding. The Sashbear program is in high demand as many health providers such as CAMH, SickKids, and the Canadian Mental Health Association are referring families to Sashbear.

The Sashbear Foundation is leading the drive to expand access to the Family Connections™ program across Canada. Programs are now running in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Sashbear Walk pictures

Pictures from the Sashbear walk from Diana Fernandez and Jordan Cait. Just click on the images below to see full albums.


Sashbear Walk Video

Wajih Adbalnour’s video of the 2018 Sashbear walk

One day, One community, One Team, One Dream And YOU helped us make it happen!

Our Walk Sponsors

Thank you to our sponsors of this year’s Sashbear Walk and to the Vogtle family for their generous donation:


Thank you for making this walk a huge success!

…and book your calendars for next year’s walk on Sunday, May 26, 2019!

The Sashbear Team

Messages of awareness

The following messages of awareness were shown during the walk by our tireless volunteer “sandwich people” which carried them, one on their back and one on their front: