Healthy Living in the North

The community that plays together, stays together

When I sat down to talk with Jennel Harder, recreation director for the Village of Fraser Lake, the vast number and type of recreation activities available in her community became instantly clear.

As we sat on the shores of Fraser Lake – the beautiful blue sky and lakeside benches making an outdoor meeting simply too tempting – all I had to do was turn my head to see a handful of healthy activities. Outdoor exercise equipment, a new playground, a shed for community canoes, a bandstand, and walkers and runners on a trail along the water’s edge. And then I saw Jennel’s list.

Earlier in the week, I had asked what types of activities exist for children, youth, families, and seniors in her community. And there, in her hand, was a sheet of paper covered front and back with a list of activities unlike any I had ever seen for a community of just under 1,000 residents.

“We have the skateboard park, junior golf team, Men’s Shed, downhill biking, music, ball hockey,” started Harder, as I scrambled to write notes – missing what I’m sure were dozens of other recreation opportunities. “Over the summer we offer four major weeklong camps for kids: Xplore Sports, Xplore Arts, Xplore Science, and Xplore Adventure. We have great Family Day events, a provincially competitive carpet bowling team, hiking trails, a Christmas charity hockey game. And our bluegrass festival, the Festival of the Arts, and the show and shine are all popular events.”

parade with brown mouse and grey cat mascot

This is a community that easily becomes home.

Then came Harder’s confession: “As I started to write these down,” she shared, “I didn’t realize how much we have. No one can say we have an inactive town!”

There’s a simple but powerful statement that Harder constantly thinks about when she and the Village of Fraser Lake support these different recreation opportunities: “The community that plays together, stays together.” With this in mind, Harder supports programs that not only appeal to a wide variety of community members but also looks for activities that families can do together, like the Pumpkin Walk, groomed cross-country ski trails, and craft days for children and their parents. “I want to challenge the compartmentalizing of activities: Susie’s soccer and Jimmy’s pottery and dad’s hockey night. I’m always looking for things that families and community members can do together.”

“Fraser Lake is such a great playground,” shared Harder. “And we like to create and support programs that celebrate that outdoor playground! We have 170 lakes within a 50 km radius of our town. I want to challenge the trend towards screens. Sitting in front of screens takes its toll. More and more, people seem to be pulling straight into their garages and then hiding out in their homes. Having avenues to reach out and connect is what makes communities like Fraser Lake last.”

According to Harder, the Village of Fraser Lake has a dual role here: they both create recreation opportunities and they serve as a hub to let people know what is happening in town.

When exploring new opportunities, Harder is open to trying anything once! “Our programs respond to local needs,” said Harder. “We keep it simple but that lets me be responsive. We had some local seniors ask about adding pickleball lines to our facilities, for example. I looked into the sport, looked at opportunities to partner with community members to offer it, and now we have pickleball nets and lines being set up soon!”

When it comes to being a hub, Harder’s role is to connect with local organizations and make sure that others know about their recreation opportunities. In these cases, the Village of Fraser Lake might advertise the program or event, work with local service providers, provide space, support grant applications, and more. “Anything that helps the program be successful is the Village’s responsibility,” shared Harder. A few examples of this support include karate offered locally by a private instructor, the Fraser Lake Saddle Club and its local gymkhanas, Autumn Services (a seniors’ drop-in centre), and the Fraser Lake indoor playground – a new activity held at the local arena thanks to funding from Northern Health.

As Harder continued to list programs during our conversation – the Outdoor Adventure Klub (OAK), crib night, mud bogs, the splash park, the daffodil tea – she paused for a moment. “The best part of town,” she said, “is the people. These programs wouldn’t exist without the people.” Whether it’s the families who take part in craft days or the local fusion glass artists who volunteer their time to teach a course, Fraser Lake comes together around recreation.

“For me,” said Harder, “a healthy Fraser Lake is a community that is active, involved, and engaged. This can take work, but it’s happening here. I think that we’ve able to achieve this because we keep it simple and have gone back to basics – just getting people together and offering a range of activities. We keep things affordable and accessible here, and that brings neighbours together.”

“This is a community that easily becomes home,” said Harder. “Remember: the community that plays together, stays together.”

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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