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Back Roads Bill: Labyrinth revisited in winter wonderland

This week Bill leads us through a different winter experience and one he created through a process with others

No matter your location this winter you're invited not to a wedding, birthday, or retirement party, but to attend a unique event on the back roads.

There has been a labyrinth of Village Media stories previously


The labyrinth and similar spiritual forms are very ancient spiritual symbols. In some form, the labyrinth has appeared in almost every culture. Though the meanings vary, there is always the core idea that the labyrinth is a pathway you can trust.

Labyrinth “snowshoeing” or walking is an ancient practice used by many different faiths for spiritual centring, contemplation, and prayer.

Entering the serpentine path of a labyrinth, you walk slowly while quieting your mind and focusing on a spiritual question or prayer.

Walking a labyrinth is a form of active meditation that is unique from meditation while standing still, sitting, or lying down. Active meditation provides many benefits, and labyrinth walking is a unique spiritual and natural experience, especially in the winter.


One of the foremost authorities on labyrinths resides in northern Ontario. Gailand MacQueen. His two books are The Spirituality of Mazes & Labyrinths and Celebrating The Labyrinth - “A Journey of the Spirit.”

MacQueen has advanced degrees in philosophy, theology and educational theory. His thesis in educational theory, Ideology and Childhood explored the rights of children. MacQueen served in ordained ministry in various northern Ontario congregations and taught religious studies at Huntington College in Laurentian University in Sudbury for 17 years.

A labyrinth is not a maze. It has only one path to the centre and back out, which is called unicursal (one line). It has no blind alleys or dead ends as mazes have. The path twists and turns back on itself many times before reaching the centre. Once at the centre, there is only one way back out.

The author explained, “The other thing that lends to simplicity in the labyrinth is that the whole figure is visible at once. Mazes, on the other hand, use all sorts of walls, illusions, and psychological tricks to prevent you from seeing what's ahead. Mazes are out to fool you. Labyrinths are not.”

“I read about labyrinths, probably, 65 years ago in W. H. Matthews' 1922 book Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development but they didn't make much sense to me. I couldn't see the fun in creating a path which couldn't fool anyone. Then (while walking the South West Peninsula Path in Cornwall England) I encountered the Rocky Valley Labyrinths and really understood their importance,” MacQueen said.

MacQueen describes the geometry of the labyrinth. “Even though the labyrinth may appear quite complex, it is really quite simple. I often illustrate this in workshops by attaching a cord to the path of a labyrinth and having two participants take one end each and pull while walking apart. The cord forms a single straight line, the simplest possible one-dimensional figure. When we do the same thing with a maze we end up with various bits of cord dangling down and/or forming loops. In the technical language of topology, the labyrinth is monocursal; the maze is multicursal. In my presentations, I usually avoid the technical language of mathematics because participants are there to be introduced to the spiritual dimensions of the labyrinth.”

“The setting is fabulous,” MacQueen said, when referring to the one within Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park and the Canadian Ecology Centre.

“Usually it is difficult to follow a labyrinth in winter because the snow tends to cover everything up. But we have friends who create their own labyrinth by snowshoeing the path in an open field. I see from your pictures that your labyrinth remains through the snow cover. What a nice opportunity to experience the labyrinth in a new way.

“The labyrinth has opened up many opportunities for me. It has been wonderful to walk labyrinths with all sorts of people and to share their experiences. Being involved in the planning and installation and dedication of labyrinths has been a special privilege."

And something thoughtful, “Remember that walking a labyrinth will be different every time. Whatever is experienced is okay. It is what it is.”

To order a book, contact MacQueen for information.

Here is how to make one in your personal snow space and you can always create your own mini finger labyrinth at home.


There are benefits to entering and exiting the labyrinth. Nazneen Mehdi is a psychotherapist nurse in Toronto. She says you may feel a sense of solace from being alone. “There’s one way in and one way out, but along the way, there are twists and turns. There are no dead ends, no wrong choices like in a maze. Instead, you can be confident that if you keep going, eventually you will reach the center of the labyrinth.

“Labyrinths allow us to have an honest look at how we live this one life we have. They provide a space to contemplate, confront challenges, meditate, pray, and find serenity by integrating the body-mind. Experiencing the labyrinth is an incredible, lived-integration process. When people take the time to walk the labyrinth, it takes great courage.”

Another favourite is the one in High Park in the west end of the city, and she has walked this story’s labyrinth.

Karen McNeely is from Corbeil, she describes her recent labyrinth experience.

“Last year was a year of great upheaval for me, including the death of my husband and personal illness. I’ve entered a period of significant transformation: I’m on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth. I do daily walking meditation in the forest, so I was eager to walk the labyrinth at CEC to feel its energy.

"Wow! So powerful! Choosing a stone (available to participants upon arrival or bring your own) to carry brought me to tears. I held it to my heart during my slow, mindful walk. I felt such a strong pull of energy at the large amethyst rocks, I lingered in reflection for quite some time, bathing in the beautiful feeling of connectedness and feeling profound gratitude for all the experiences I’ve had, leading me to deepening understanding. The suggestion at the end of the labyrinth is to leave something behind.

“Without conscious thought, I realized I would be leaving behind my broken bit: I was leaving my broken heart at the labyrinth. It was a remarkable experience, and I know that I will return again and again to that labyrinth - the energy there is profound,” McNeely said.

Another local labyrinth goer is Wendy McGuinty from Mattawa.

"All strangeness aside, I get such a great vibe when I'm there. I have brought people out, the kids love it and we make up our own magic about what it means to walk the labyrinth.

"I enjoy explaining my thoughts in a labyrinth walk but often I speak casually with discernment because not all will understand what I get and that's ok. I love sitting with the amethyst at the centre. I've yet to spend time there at night but I am looking forward to that experience.

"Suffice to say, I love the labyrinth! Special things and thoughts occur to me when I'm there and when I leave there. I don't think I have the words. It's not the specialty, it's the simplicity I am grateful for," McGuinty said.

You can snowshoe or walk the labyrinth any time, any season. A great opportunity to combat the “winter blues” or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) with a dose of Vitamin N. It awaits your presence.

Here and There

Where is this permanent labyrinth? From the last two Village Media stories, let’s practice, UTM 17 T E 0664036 N 5128477 or Lat./Long. N 46° 17.402’ W -78° 52.223’. And here is the map for practicing those navigation skills.

There is an energy source in the middle of the labyrinth and it comes from here. It is said this gemstone helps the mind flow freely in both mental and metaphysical dimensions. Proponents of this alternative healing technique continue to believe that certain stones and crystals act as conduits for healing by allowing positive energies to flow from the stone to the body, while the body releases negative energy into the stones.

May 4 is World Labyrinth Day which always occurs on the first Saturday of that month. Here is a labyrinth locator for ones near and far.


Make the pilgrimage, the invite is to attend the special candlelit snowshoe/walk on Saturday, March 2 in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, the home of the Canadian Ecology Centre.

“Trust your Path,” Gailand McQueen says. Sage advice, for the labyrinth, and on the back roads.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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