A new project: 52 weeks on the Bruce Trail

I have always be an avid hiker, a habit that I gained from my father, who would take me on long hikes after church on Sunday afternoon in the Hockley Valley north of Toronto. We would go to Mass, have lunch and then drive the 80 or so minutes from our home in King City to hills and vales of Mono Township where the Hockley Valley lies in all its splendour.

The Hockley Valley, photo credit: Toronto Life.

I always looked forward to it, because the drive itself yields many dramatic views as the terrain was quite hilly. In the fall, there were two or three crossroads which, after a long drive up the hill, yielded a spectacular tapestry of warm autumn reds, ochres, yellows and brown beneath us. After the drive came my favourite part, the hike. We would walk, fairly quickly usually, and with long woodsman’s strides, landing on the balls of our feet to minimize the noise we were making. Sometimes we walked for hours in silence, other times we had conversations about philosophy, religion, mathematics and language. My father would also share his extensive, almost encyclopaedic knowledge of flora and fauna with me. He would point out plants as they sprouted, leaves of unusual or invasive species, and spots where the deer had rested, leaving an indentation in leaves or ferns. He taught me to identify animal tracks, which led me to imagine a world of animal societies interacting and conducting their business along these forest highways. Sometimes he would pause and we would listen to the music of the wind rustling through a stand of trees. He loves that sound, and always remarks that it is the most beautiful melody he has ever heard. I grew to love it too, in fact, I remember it as the song of my childhood.

About a year ago, one of my friends suggested that I read an article about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku in Japanese. In a nutshell, the idea is that we gain great health benefits from spending time wandering in the forest, breathing in the air tinged with the scent of trees and ferns and the other wonderful things that grow in the forest. Indeed, I was skeptical at first, but there has been some fairly extensive scientific research into the matter, sponsored by the Japanese government, which suggests that forest bathing is an effective way of calming one’s mind and improving one’s well-being.

A snowy spring in April, 2018.

At the time, I was in a particularly stressful moment, with much to do professionally and a lot of travel, which I find exhausting. I started to notice that my walks along the forest trail behind my house did seem to be a salve for my anxious and sometimes racing mind. I looked forward to my walks and even started to schedule meeting with my graduate students or social occasions with friends as walking rendezvous on the trail. I find this a congenial and engaging way of interacting, better than awkwardly sitting in front of one another across a desk or table in an office, café or the campus pub. These walks made me feel better, helping me focus my mind and loosen my body.

When I bought a fitness watch, a Garmin Fenix 5 model, I was astonished to see empirical evidence that these walks were having a remarkable effect on my well-being. Each hike improved my anaerobic and aerobic fitness, burned about 600 calories and dropped my stress level for the rest of the day. As an aside, I have grown to love my Garmin watch and wear it constantly, displacing the other watches in my collection, but that will be the subject of another post.

Indeed, the ability to walk five minutes to the Bruce Trail that was one of the greatest selling points of the new house I bought three years ago. Since moving in, I have walked or run the trail hundreds of times through all four seasons, watching nature change around me, the seasons start and finish, animals emerge and then recede to hibernate. It has been beautiful.

I have shared pictures and snippets of video from my walks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. My friends have reacted very positively to these posts, encouraging me to continue sharing them, telling me that such and such an image calmed them or that the sounds of the babbling brook brought them joy as they navigated the crowded platform at Bloor and Yonge. As well, I have noticed that pictures I take document serve as a sort of documentary of the cycle of life on along the forest trail.

This year, I have decided to document my trail hikes and runs through a weekly blog post. I will try to share some of the thoughts and feelings that I have had as I amble, trudge, slip, slide and sprint my way around the loops of the Bruce Trail behind my house in Ancaster, Ontario.

I hope you enjoy them and they bring you a little peace, as they do for me. I also hope that they encourage you to get out on a trail near your home and start to experience the joys of forest and field, as well as the benefits they provide to your mind and body.



What makes the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program so special?

Last week, I was happy to host my 17th residency as director of the Master of Communications Management program, offered in partnership McMaster University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. It was, as they all have been, a beautiful, warm, exciting and fascinating experience.

Most of the 11th MCM cohort! #mcm11

The MCM program and community is very special.

We developed the MCM as a school for leaders in the area of professional communications, marketing communications, and related fields.

We saw a need in the Canadian market for a new credential that combines the core courses of the MBA (accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, business ethics, etc.) with core strategic communications courses (organizational communications, market research methods, strategic communications management, digital communications).

To this core, we add amazing electives: negotiation and conflict resolution, data science and analytics, investor relations, strategic reputation management, strategic brand management, advertising law, government and political communications, crisis communications, and executive leadership, among many others.

We teach all of this important, stimulating material using a hybrid learning model, which allows each cohort of MCM students to work fulltime and study at the same time. That means that our students don’t have to put their careers on hold for two years while they achieve their master’s degree.

To further the MCM as a community and as a conversation among professionals, our program’s motto is “The MCM program seeks to develop a learning community based on collaboration, not competition.”

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How does MCM work?

MCM is organized around a magical combination of cohort-based recruitment, in-person residencies, and structured online learning. We admit approximately 20 students every year, from a competitive pool of applicants. They come together from across Canada and the Americas: in the two cohorts currently doing the MCM, we have every Canadian province and territory represented, except Nunavut and the Yukon (but we are working on it!).

Our students are diverse, representing Canada’s beautiful mosaic of diversity, including First Peoples, people of colour, and people who are differently abled. As well, we have international students, mostly from Latin America and the United States who add further depth and texture to our MCM community.

Every cohort is different and comes together to form a community of leaders who live and study together during each residency, of which there are three per year: the first in mid-October, the second in mid-February and the third in mid-June.



MCM residency is a magical, intense, exhausting, exhilarating week where students take two courses taught by tenured McMaster and Syracuse professors as well as leading industry executives, entrepreneurs.

During the Fall and Winter semesters, MCM students take one core business administration course, paired with one strategic communications course — one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. That is our left-brain/right-brain approach! These courses are separated by a long lunch so that our students can catch up with work and life.

MCM is not only about studying and courses. It also about great social events at wonderful restaurants and clubs, excursions to the wine country, lunchtime yoga sessions (gentle ones), roller skating by the sparkling waters of Hamilton Bay, hiking on the trails going through the natural wonderland of McMaster Unversity’s beautiful campus, and many other activities that bond students, faculty, alumni and staff into a warm, welcoming and supportive community of professionals who are also friends! Many of our students refer to their “MCM family”!

On Saturday night, we cap the first day of residency with a Residency Gala Dinner to which we invite a leading light of the communications world to give a personal lecture to the MCM community. Our Residency Gala Speaker Series alumni are a who’s who of public relations, marketing, journalism, advertising, politics, fundraising, and startups. On Wednesday, we host our

On Wednesday, we host our MCM Technical Luncheon Lecture, which features a top expert from the market research, digital comms, analytics, self-improvement or advertising worlds who illuminates us with their thoughts on a cutting-edge phenomenon (eg. Google Analytics, media analysis, artificial intelligence, Facebook advertising, executive leadership skills and mindfulness). We also invite the business community to this lecture – in the past we have been joined by members of several professional associations: CPRS Hamiton, Public Affairs Association of Canada, IABC Golden Horsheshoe, Canadian Marketing Association, Innovation Factory, amongst many others.

#MCM alumna Jessica Wooder talks about what our unique residency is like:

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Once residency is finished, our MCM courses move to their online phase. Here, students and faculty get together for webinar sessions that simulate the experience of an in-class seminar. The online period lasts between residencies, and ends on first day of the next residency, called “wrap-up day,” where students present, write exams or simply discuss key learnings from the semester that has just ended.

How do we teach in the MCM?

We follow the classic business education model by using the case-study method. This ensures the theories and facts that students explore in their MCM courses are applicable to real-world business scenarios in the private, public and not-for-profit worlds. We take the applicability of our MCM course materials very seriously. In fact, up to 80% of your assignments in the MCM can be applied to your place of work, if you wish to do so. Our students often call me up in the weeks following their first residency to tell me that their performance at work has already been transformed: they feel a new confidence, strength, and knowledge. And that, only after one residency. That is what I mean by MCM being the School for Leaders!

During their sixth term, MCM students work on their capstone project, which is a work of original research that explores a business challenge, often through a case study method. Students write a thorough lit review and gather data through original field research that they analyse to write a paper that they defend orally. The purpose of the MCM capstone project is to make each MCM alum a thought leader in a particular area. Many of our students’ capstone projects are published and almost all are presented to academic or professional audiences. Several of our students have launched successful startups based on their capstone project research! All of our students take great pride in the fact that the capstone makes them an expert in their chosen area of research.

I warmly invite you to learn more about MCM

I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse into the exciting world of the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program. In fact, I hope that you have understood that it is much more than just a program – it is a community of professional friends who support one another long after their last residency and the successful defense of their capstone projects.

Please do contact me if you think MCM might be for you! It would be my pleasure to discuss it with you further. I can be reached at sevigny@mcmaster.ca.

Dr. Alex Sévigny, APR (MCM Program Director | mcm.mcmaster.ca)