Ottawa’s Active Living Club

Outside, Social and Healthy

On a bright Friday morning, people are streaming into the foyer at Bell Arena on the outskirts of Bells Corners. Dianna Thompson is one of them. A smiling lady in a powder-blue jacket, she’s here to go snowshoeing with the Active Living Club.  And she’s in good company. Established for over two decades, the ALC is an outdoor recreation program for adults aged 50 and older. It offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing excursions in winter, along with hiking and cycling excursions in spring, summer, and fall.

Dianna has been involved for eight years. “It’s the only outdoor club for seniors that I know of that’s run by a municipality,” she points out. She likes that it’s run by the city; she also likes that it operates year ’round and that it offers a variety of outdoor activities. “I’m not an indoor person,” she declares.

Dianna Thompson and Leo O’Rourke.

Members of this club can hit the trails together 50 weeks each year, with activities offered four days a week in winter and five days a week in spring, summer and fall.

Penny Henderson and Nancy Lee met through the ALC and became friends. “It’s great to get out and do things with other people,” says Penny. ‘It’s social and it’s healthy.” Both she and Nancy prefer to be active outdoors than to exercise in a gym, and Nancy mentions, “I like the difference people. I really enjoy their company.”

Nancy Lee and Penny Henderson.

The ACL program caters to all fitness levels, from beginner to advanced. Up to three levels of difficulty are offered per activity and they vary by the length of the activity, trail difficulty and pace. What this means is that over the years, if people slow down a bit, that’s fine; they can still participate.

Ted and Molly Colwell.

Molly and Ted Colwell have been married for 54 years and they’ve been involved in this outdoor club for the last 15. “We’ve made a lot of friends,” says Ted, adding, “It keeps us going.”

On today’s outing, Leo O’Rourke is the leader and Pat Crosscombe is along to learn what his role involves. Leo, an active retiree, does a quick count and tallies 24 people. Pretty soon they’re all outside putting on gear and there’s plenty of chatter and laughter as they get set to head off on snowshoes.

Pat Crosscombe and Leo O’Rourke.


“This program is an affordable way to stay active, meet friends and like-minded people, and to enjoy nature.”

                                                          Peter Spiess, program coordinator, City Wide Sports 

The Active Living Club began in 1991 as a walking club out of Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre. In the fall of that year, cross-country skiing was added and trails were expanded to Andrew Haydon. The next spring, a level one hike was offered, followed by level two in 1993 and level three, into the Gatineau Hills, in 1994. That same year, 1994, cycling was added, while snowshoeing excursions were launched in 1995.

“What started as a walking club with a small network of trails has expanded to an outdoor activities program with 88 designated NCC trails across the City of Ottawa and Gatineau Park,” notes Peter Spiess, program coordinator, City Wide Sports. Today, the club has a membership base of about 90 people. Generally there are five to 30 participants on the daily excursions, depending on the activity and day.


Participants either join as members for access to all activities, or they can join for any of the individual activities. Once registered, people are sent a trail directory; program calendars are distributed four times a year. Participants then choose which activities they wish to do. After that, all they have to do is arrive (with appropriate gear) at the designated time, date and location. In case of cancellations, updates are communicated daily through an ALC phone line. 

Peter says response to the ALC “has been overwhelmingly positive. We have been told the value of the program is unequaled by any other program within the city.” 

Cost is $155 for an annual membership (for folks under 65) and $139.50 for people 65 and over. Individual activities (snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking and cycling) typically last eight or nine weeks and cost between $40 and $45.

There is also a Try-It campaign, offered four times annually, that allows visitors to participate in a week’s activities for free during designated time periods. 

For details, contact the City Wide Sports Front Desk at 613 580-2854 (Press 1, then 5 for Customer Service) or visit




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