On January 27, 1988, Helen Walsh’s dream of the day when all pre-born Canadians would have the right to live was known only to her family and her friends and neighbours in the town of Bedford, Nova Scotia. The slim, blonde mother of five – four her own and the youngest adopted – took an ordinary part in her local pro-life group, but by her own admission, she hadn’t made nay real sacrifice for pre-born children.
On January 28, 1988, the decision of the country’s highest court overturned two things – the 1969 abortion law and Helen Walsh’s quiet settled life. “When the law was struck down, I realized that something had to be done that was long-term,” she told The Interim. “I remember saying to myself, “I’ll do anything to protect life. Anything that’s just, I would do to protect life.”
A marathon walk of five months and 3,650 kilometers behind her – through blizzard and heat, a bear and the violent death of her eldest daughter – the 44-year-old Maritimer addresses a group of quiet, thoughtful students at Don Bosco High School in Toronto:
“I’d never laid my life down. I wanted to speak a message that will ring true, that life is really important, so I decided to take part of my life and walk across Canada.”
These students – and the working men and women, the judges, the reporters, and the politicians she has encountered on her way, have responded to her words because she believes, “you have to make a sacrifice in order to speak about the value of something.”
After she leaves the classroom, the students add their names to the 20,000 already amassed on a petition which calls upon Parliament “to formulate and legislate a law to protect life, from conception, a law which seeks to save and protect the life of both mother and child.”
The students spontaneously take up a collection. This money, Walsh promises, will help to fund local initiatives to protect the life of the pre-born and to assist the mothers of unplanned babies.
May 8th, Mother’s Day. From St. John’s, Newfoundland, Helen Walsh is ready to walk halfway across Canada to give life. She’s got the blessing of her husband, Michael; she’s fit after walking 30 km a day for the first part of the year, she has a group of Halifax-Dartmouth residents to organize her itinerary; and she has a leave of absence from her accounting job in a Halifax hospital.
“I was in Newfoundland 23 days and I walked 960 kilometers across it – with Mary Martin driving the van with me all the way,” she recounts. “Then I took a ferry from Port au Basques and entered North Sydney.” There, Louise Carrier – driver, assistant and friend – joined Walsh and plans to stay with her until she walks into Thunder Bay, Ontario, in the late fall.
Walsh’s pace is an arduous one. She spends at least six hours a day on the road, covering 45 to 50 kilometers. “I walk in the name of those who protect life. I just happen to be the feet.”
She fills up the rest of the day with speaking engagements. Already many thousands have come out from towns and villages in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario to hear her speak:
“There is a silent cry across our country of the pre-born child who has absolutely no protection under the present laws of Canada. It seems so hollow, so meaningless when we Canadians proclaim the dignity and freedom of the person, in the opening phrases of our constitution, and yet each day, pre-born children, in the hospitals and other centers from Victoria to St. John’s continue to be killed.”
The same conviction that inspires Mother Teresa of Calcutta to pick an abandoned child out of the dustbin because it has life in it, also fires Helen Walsh to walk the roads of Canada. “There’s no sacrifice too great for life, even one of those lives,” she says out of her conviction that the pre-born child nestled in its mother’s womb is the priceless gift of God.
“Even if I do all this and only one child is saved, it will have been worthwhile,” says the mother who, by a cruel irony, lost her oldest child, Anne Marie McKenna, 23, to a cycling accident on June 24 in Vancouver.
In PEI at the time, Walsh returned to her Nova Scotia home, doubtful she could carry on with her journey for life. What revived her desire to “give life” for the hope of a society that loves and cares for its mothers and children was the example of Anne Marie herself.
“I realized that regardless of the price I didn’t have the right to feel sorry for myself…My daughter had love and gave love and that’s more than over a million children have been allowed to experience in our country in the last twenty years.”
This and the hundreds of letters and phone calls from Canada, the U.S. and around the world induced Walsh to begin again. Three weeks later, July 15, she was on her feet and setting a stiff pace through her home province, friends Ann and John Oicle driving the van behind.
This part complete, Walsh felt strong enough to return to PEI. “The people came out in droves,” she remembers. Charlotte towners presented her with a petition of 11,000 signatures. “I really think it spoke another message. It said that life is even more than death, that death has no power over life.”
Quebec and a high point for Walsh lay ahead. Shawinigan’s city council officially recognized the goals of her journey for life. “They presented me with a resolution from the city signed by all the members demanding that a law be legislated to protect the pre-born baby from the moment of conception, and also to create a caring society for women who are experiencing difficulties due to unplanned pregnancies,” Walsh said, rejoicing that other cities appear to be moving in a similar direction.
On September 17, she was in Ottawa, and one of 35 speakers invited by the recently-formed Christians for Life to address a crowd of more than 15,000 pro-lifers from across Canada who rallied on Parliament Hill.
From her grassroots experience of the aspirations of thousands of ordinary citizens, Walsh implored the government to listen to the people of Canada who want life for all.
I’ve walked more than 3,000 kilometers across Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, PEI and Quebec, to ask our government to join with all other Canadians in giving us a law that will protect life from the moment of conception through all of its stages until God calls that life home.” She cried.
In the fourth century, St. Helen, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine following divine inspiration – renounced the comfort of court life, and willingly took on the suffering and danger of a journey east. Her goal? Jerusalem, to discover the true cross.
Like her namesake, Helen Walsh – who wouldn’t want to be called a saint – has also found a cross at the end of her long journey. On September 29, as she prepared to resume her trek to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Walsh learned her husband had suffered a massive heart attack. Her journey for life – already deeply etched with personal suffering – is, for the time being, suspended.
She has also been burdened by the cross of a lawless Canada where since January 28, master abortionists ‘legally’ murder pre-born children and politicians do nothing. Walsh has carried this cross by giving life and spreading her message:
“I want to give so much life that people will realize that to take life is wrong. To take life at its most defenseless is such a brutality, and Canada was not built on the strong oppressing the weak.”