Canadian veteran walking from Prince George to Victoria to seek support for PTSD sufferers

Prince George prison guard and former soldier, Robert Gagnon, faces his own traumatic past as he trains for a march to Victoria on behalf of first responders and soldiers with PTSD.

'You don't ever want to show weakness,' says former soldier Robert Gagnon

Robert Gagnon said walking 2,000 kilometres during his training in Prince George is part of his "healing journey." (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News )

A Canadian veteran is logging thousands of kilometres on Prince George's streets as he trains for a solo walk to the B.C. Legislature on behalf of soldiers and first responders with PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.

But Robert Gagnon would rather keep walking in silence, than talk about his own trauma.

"We have to live with this [trauma] stuff every day," said Gagnon, a former corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces who now works as a prison guard in Prince George.

"There's so many people who never, ever talk about it.There is that mentality that  [you just] pull up the boot straps and suck it in. That you don't ever want to show weakness, because they want the strongest and the fiercest."

'Walking releases a lot of things inside of me'

But Gagnon believes that expectation is slowly changing for soldiers and first responders.  

And his own life is also changing, as he spends hours each day on training walks, striding along in heavy hiking boots with a backpack. 

Robert Gagnon, a former Corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces, wants to help other soldiers and first responders suffering with PTSD. (Facebook/Robert Gagnon)

Gagnon said until recently he was consumed with anger and was easily triggered by loud noises and big crowds.

"Walking releases a lot of things inside me, [from] my own PTSD experiences," said Gagnon. "Sometimes I'll laugh, sometimes I'll cry. I listen to what's in the bush. I listen to my own thoughts."

But Gagnon said it's the plight of others with PTSD that keeps him going.

"A buddy of mine who served in Bosnia, he's had some real powerful struggles in his life. I have friends who are fireman, ambulance attendants, RCMP members, correctional officers.

"Some of the stories I've heard from them are just absolutely mind blowing and mind numbing.  You can see it in people's eyes — the blank stare. It's what gets me up at 0400 hours to get my butt out on the road and start moving."

'He's conquering this...'

On June 28, Gagnon will set out from the Prince George cenotaph on a solo walk to the B.C. Legislature, in hopes of explaining the PTSD problem to the premier. 

Robert Gagnon will set out from the Prince George cenotaph to hike to the Victoria legislature on behalf of soldiers and first responders with PTSD. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

On Canada Day, he plans to march through Quesnel with local veterans by his side.

"I admire him greatly," said Joe Elliott, the Legion's operational special section representative for the BC/Yukon, who works to support veterans with PTSD.

Elliott said there is little recognition and few treatment options in northern B.C and across Canada to help veterans and soldiers with PTSD.  

"It's a huge problem. His personal journey will highlight the needs for more support and recognition," said Elliott, "And it will show how he's conquering this." 

Gagnon's walk aims to raise money for a Kamloops therapeutic ranch and a Quesnel horse farm that help veterans and first responders with PTSD.

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.