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Gerry Hilgendorff is the founder of the Trail of Dreams in Neustadt, Ontario

About the Trail of Dreams Founder

Born June 24, 1940, in Neustadt, Ontario, Gerry Hilgendorff has spent his retirement in his hometown where he has volunteered and helped in several areas from chairing the committee that saw a new recreation center built to his gift back to his community of the Trail of Dreams.
In the early 80s, he served on a committee working to help women who were the victims of abuse. Through that, he helped established Goderich’s first women’s shelter including doing some of his own renovations on the home for it to meet safety requirements.
In the late 80s, he presented the Town of Goderich with a plan,  including models and designs he made himself,  to convert the wheelhouse of a Great Lakes freighter into a nautical museum.  The plans were followed and the Marine Heritage Museum was built and operated at the Goderich Beach for more than 30 years.
In 1993 retired as a Sergeant from the Goderich Municipal Police Service.  In addition to serving for a time on the Women’s Shelter committee, he trained recruits and the town’s bylaw officer. He began policing in Essex County in or around 1965. During his time in Goderich, he was awarded an Exemplary Service Medal for saving a life.
He organized the Marine Heritage Fesitval in 1995 bringing the Tall Ships to Goderich. He co-chaired the event looking after booking much of the events and activities as well as marketing.  The event drew people to Goderich from Toronto to Michigan and Ohio and to date was the largest event the town has ever had with thousands in attendance. Goderich had a mostly quiet beach but summer visitors remain high to this day following that and two subsequent festivals, making Goderich a popular family destination.
In the 1990s he chaired The Goderich Festival of Lights committee for several years coordinating fund raising efforts that allowed the town to revitalize and significantly build their Christmas lighting into a holiday tourism attraction with a kickoff event each Christmas season that included extras like a laser light show. Working with a company in Michigan, Bronners, he was in charge of purchasing large-scale commercial decorations no other towns in the area have. He built on his own additional displays, all of which are still used to this day with displays in multiple locations in the town.
In the late 1990s, learning that bagpipe music had special qualities over water, he arranged for a bagpipe player to play during sunsets in summers in Goderich from one of it’s many bluffs overlooking the lake.
In late 1999, while the actual entry was made by a chamber of commerce member, he put together information about Walt Disney’s ties to the Town of Goderich that most people were unaware of that brought a special Disney Home Town Parade to town. Goderich was the only Canadian location chosen of only five of this one-time opportunity that were held across North America.
Early 2000s he moved back to his home town of Neustadt where he chaired a committee to build a new community and recreation center.  The committee was able to raise $1.3 million, 90 percent of the cost of the building. Gerry also contributed to the building’s plans to ensure it met the full needs of the community.
2012 and 2017 he was named Citizen of the Year in Neustadt, Ontario.
In 2005, Gerry began the Trail of Dreams.
Gerry continued to develop the trail with plans to bring the work to a conclusion in the spring of 2023 with a final round of statues purchased and being made ready for placement.
Gerry had been fighting bone cancer for 2.5 years while still working on the trail. Treatments had kept the cancer from spreading and even reduced it in some places but in January, 2023, after months of trying to get help for swelling that had started in his left foot, Gerry passed away unexpectedly from an infection resulting from the gradually increased swelling and kidney failure after treatment came too late.
Please see below how the vision of the trail will be preserved in his memory.

With many new addtions, a video walk-through of just some of what you will  find along the trail.

A story of the Trail of Dreams featured on CityTV in Toronto

The Stewards of the Trail of Dreams

Mandy Newton, along with her mom, Stephanie, now volunteer as caretakers of the trail. Gerry was assiting with the trail  until he passed away in January, 2023.  Mandy and her mom have graciously taken over the work of keeping the trail in great condition for visitors and helping maintain the vision Gerry has for the trail which includes sparking imaginations as well as conservation. Mandy or the Stewards can be contacted at

When Gerry began the trail, members of the Neustadt Lions Club helped with the initial clearing of the land at what would be the Queen Street entrance to the park in 2005. From 2005 through 2022, Gerry kept the trail maintained from clearing brush, building the installations to weed eating and trimming branches. At 82 years old in 2022, Gerry was still spreading stone dust on the trail provided by the Municipalilty of West Grey to help keep the trail handicap accessible.  While his son, Scott provided help with many installations and some of the upkeep and a few other friends and family began lending a hand as needed, family and friends began making more organized efforts to help in 2022 to keep up the work and Mandy officially took over looking after the trail in the fall of 2022.

The Stewards

Gerry’s son Scott Hilgendorff will continue to guide others in Gerry’s vision for the trail while local Artist and Illustrator Gary McLaughlin, his wife, Culinary Herbalist Pat Crocker, nephew Kevin Hilgendorff and Lions Club Member Jim Reist will help maintain Gerry’s vision for the trail with the help of other volunteers and family in the community. Gary’s art can be seen in places on the trail and the stewards will work to follow the direction for the trail left behind by Gerry.  That includes maintaining and promoting the trail as a place for foster imagination and exploring the outdoors. Efforts are being made to promote the planting of natural plant species and habitats for wildlife as directed to Gerry by the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority when the trail began. That is one of the reasons you see brush piles along the trail and a limit that has now been reached on the amount of memorial benches on the trail itself. Some of the statues along the trail were purchased from any monies leftover from the purchase of the memorial benches and in the Spring of 2023, the last items Gerry purchased for the trail will be put in place. While Mandy, Stephanie and the stewards may oversee some smaller changes and additions to the trail, Gerry had intended these final pieces to make the trail complete.