News / Halifax

The big squeeze: Man comes to Halifax to embrace - literally - everyone in our city

It would be an understatement to call Arie Moyal a huggy person.

The 34-year-old Montreal native stopped in Halifax on Tuesday to spread the love with his sixth annual hug campaign, where he travels around North America for six weeks by train during Christmas time, hugging complete strangers.

Now on his sixth journey, Moyal says many of the random hugs he’s given over the years have turned into long-distance friendships.

“People have come up to me over the years and said, ‘you don’t know how much I need this right now, today of all days,’” he recalled Tuesday afternoon near the Via Rail station in Halifax.

Moyal’s hug train began as a test-trip six Christmases ago, when the then marketing and communications consultant decided to give the crazy idea of travelling across the continent and hugging random strangers a try.

He never imagined such a wacky idea would ever turn into tradition, but then tragedy struck. A close friend committed suicide the following year, and so Moyal embarked on the trip for a second season, this time for healing.

Over the years, his annual voyages have been pained with overcoming personal hardships, which is what he believes many people are struggling with during the holidays, and why people sometimes need a little extra joy to raise their spirits.

“It is a difficult time of year. Not everyone has the perfect holidays, and the advertising and the movies remind people of what they don’t have. It can be further isolating,” Moyal explained.

To keep the hugs coming year-round, Moyal is developing an app that will allow people to request a hug, which will then be sent to users within a 500-meter radius in hopes that someone will offer up a much needed squeeze.

Also for the first time, this year’s trip is the subject of a new documentary, which he hopes to be released in the new year.

Not only has his journey lifted the spirits of so many strangers, but has also taught Moyal himself to find comfort in his own vulnerability.

“I’m not someone who generally goes up to strangers and talks to them,” he said.

If you want a hug?

Arie Moyal is departing Halifax by train on Wednesday bound for Toronto.

He will then head west to Windsor, Edmonton, Winnipeg and down through the United States.

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