Healthy Living in the North

Dr. Knoll’s Recipe for Wellness

How does someone in the world of medicine and healthcare manage their own wellness? I think many people just assume, “Hey, she’s a doctor, she must be healthy – she’s so involved in supporting wellness that it must be just easy!”

The fact is, it’s not that easy.

Yes, doctors help patients with their health every day, from stitches to prescriptions and everything in between, but the reality is often overlooked. They are people too! They’re individuals who, like everyone else, need their own wellness and support systems, inside and outside the busy healthcare system.

This past month, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Susan Knoll, a family practitioner, someone who, among many other wonderful traits, has incorporated wellness throughout her life. Here’s her story.

Dr Knoll cross country skiing with her husband.

What did your road to practicing medicine look like?

Helping people has always been a passion of mine, and when I was in high school I enjoyed biology and physics. Truthfully, my mother suggested medicine and got me thinking it might be possible. If you were pointed in the sciences direction out of grade school when I grew up, the choices were a little more limited than they are now!

I completed my two year pre-medical and my full medical program at the University of Saskatoon, and then went on to residency for a year each in Saskatoon and Regina. Once my residency finished, I moved to La Ronge, Saskatchewan, a town of 5,000 people, where I spent nine wonderful years!

What inspires your personal wellness?

Wellness for me comes down to what I preach to my patients. Life is a pie, and each piece represents an important component. Each slice needs to be addressed or the pie will have a hole.

These are my life’s seven pie pieces:

Family. My relationship with my husband Garry is key. Having medicine in common, we’ve been able to provide each other with support inside and outside of work. Other common interests allow us to do lots together outside of work too! One of these is our family, and now grandkids, who live down the street from us!

Faith. Before I attended the University of Saskatoon for pre-med, I attended a year of bible school – my faith has had a large role in my wellness to this day. It’s truly special to be involved in a dedicated community of people who are like-minded, accountable, there for you in the tough times, and celebrate with you in times of achievement. This another thing that Garry and I share.

Friends. I’ve got great colleagues and peers. I’ve always believed that, in many ways, successful office-partner relationships are like a marriage. They take effort to maintain – and don’t get in a relationship you don’t think will work! Even though I have amazing friends inside the world of medicine, I’ll admit sometimes this line of work can be overwhelming. It’s important to have friendships with people outside the medical community so you can take a breath, reset, and keep perspective.

Exercising. I use a Fitbit! Any encouragement to get up and move is good, but I’ve always thought the more outside the better: cross-country skiing, biking, walking, and gardening are some of my favourites! I don’t always achieve my daily goal, but when I do, I feel much better.

Dr Knoll standing on a cliff by the ocean.Finances. Finances are a major stressor for a lot of people and there is a lot of pressure to live beyond our means. I think the better you manage your money, the less stress it is. Simply said, but not always as easily done!

Holidays. We try to always have a holiday planned. It doesn’t necessarily have to be right away, but it gives us something to look forward to! By the time you finish a holiday, I think you should have another one in the works, even if it’s six months away! Change is good.

Fulfilling work. I find much joy in my work. We often think of work as a necessary evil, a kind of drudgery. But I think being able to do meaningful work, making the world a better place, and having some positive impact on those around me is important to my sense of well-being.

If you could pass on one wellness tip to another person, what would you say?

Balance. As I tell my patients, moderation is the key. Not too much of anything, but get enough of everything!

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Cycling in the north: a Warrior’s perspective

With the arrival of spring many northerners have geared up and hit the roads for this year’s bike season. What better time to reach out to cyclists across the north and get their take on biking in the region? I connected with Karin Piche, Founder of the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North and a Licensed Practical Nurse in Prince George, about cycling, her team, and why she loves biking.

When did you first get into biking?

I had ridden a bike as a kid but it wasn’t until August of 2012, two months after my dear friend Nola passed away from cancer, that I bought my first road bike. My plan was to start a local team in the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer; I’d had the idea for a while but the first step to forming a team was buying a bike and I knew nothing about bikes! Luckily I was able to find some help at a local bike shop and purchased my first bike for the Ride. This is now my sixth year riding!

Tell me a little bit about the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer.

The Ride is a two-day cycling journey through Canada’s Pacific region that takes place every summer. Each rider must raise a minimum of $2500 individually to participate in the event and all funds raised benefit the BC Cancer Foundation.

What made you keep getting on a bike?

My friend Nola. My first Ride to Conquer Cancer in June 2013 was to honour her but it was bittersweet; I got 33 other riders together to form a team that year and on day two of the event, on Nola’s actual birthday, a 16-year-old boy who was participating as a rider was tragically killed. It was traumatic for me and after going through that experience, I thought I was done with the Ride and cycling. The next year the boy’s mother rode and was a speaker at the 2014 Ride. I thought, if she can do it, I can do it. The other thing that keeps me going is the Ride family. Over the years, I’ve met many dear friends and mentors. At this time of year, I tend to get tired from all the planning of our annual fundraiser, the Free Wheelin’ Dinner and Dance. Friends and other team captains will reach out and ask how they can support me so that helps.

How does biking help you incorporate wellness into your life?

I always enjoy the fresh air when I’m out biking. For me it’s therapeutic, and clears my head, and helps me connect with nature. Being under the sky with the earth under me – it helps me enjoy the little things. When I was 49 I decided to go back to school as a nurse. That summer, I graduated as an LPN at 50 and started recruiting a team for the 2013 Ride! The nice thing about having a team is that we train together so they force me to get out more. There’s days I don’t want to ride, yet I always feel good after I go. My team motivates me that way.

Woman standing in street holding helmet.

Karin holding her coveted golden helmet – a special gift for riders who have reached their 5th Ride milestone.

In your words, what are the health benefits?

I think getting outside and being active is some of the best medicine there is! For me though, it’s the giving back and making a difference that is most beneficial. In the beginning, I was doing it for Nola but now it’s so much more than that. I’ve been blown away by the ideas that the team has come up with for fundraising. They’ve shown me that there are endless ways. Since inception in the fall of 2012, the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North have raised over $740 thousand dollars for cancer research. I think we’re very close to bringing that total to a million dollars.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into cycling?

To anyone looking for a bike, I recommend you ask yourself what your biking needs are. Go to all the local bike shops in your community and get professional advice. Do some research and talk to people who have biked! The local bike shops in Prince George have been very supportive and I’ve definitely seen the cycling community grow since I started my team in 2013. There have been over 120 people become Wheelin’ Warriors over the years. Like me at the beginning, not many come in with a lot of biking experience.

Are there any local resources or routes you’d recommend?

Some of my favourite routes in Prince George include going out to Miworth, Blackburn (it’s so beautiful!), and out to Salmon Valley. In the north we’re very lucky to have rural riding opportunities. We don’t have as much traffic and pollution like the urban riders do. It’s definitely different.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Looking back, it blows my mind how far the team has come and all the good it’s done. To me, everyone on the team is a hero. No matter what their motivation is, they’re all exceptional. I don’t think of myself that way – I just want to inspire people and make a difference.

To learn more about the Ride or the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North, please visit:

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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From Prince George to Paris: how I learned to love commuting via bike

Every year around April, I start to get excited about the prospects of the snow melting and digging out my bike. For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed biking to work and school so I always associate the spring with bike season.

I love biking for a few reasons: firstly, it’s a fantastic way to get outside and get some vitamin N (nature!), and secondly, it’s a great way to stay active and get in that crucial daily physical activity. The third reason I love biking so much, is because it takes me back to a very special time in my life. For me, the inspiration to bike to work and school started when I was living in Paris, France.

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to participate in a bilateral university exchange through the University of Northern British Columbia and the Paris School of Business for two semesters.

View of city of Paris from Notre-Dame.

Commuting via bike was the best way to see Paris!

Living in the City of Love opened my eyes to big city public transport and the hurried nature of city commuters. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to rely on a vehicle for transportation and I quickly became accustomed to using the city’s metro system on a daily basis. I was able to get to where I needed to go relatively quickly and reliably without having to worry about driving (yay!), but the downside was that I was missing out on seeing the city with all the time I was spending underground commuting.

I decided to try out the Paris Velib’ system. For those who aren’t familiar, Velib’ (the name is a play on the French words vélo-bike and libre-free) is a public bicycle sharing system with an app and convenient pick up and drop off stations throughout the city. I was too nervous to try and bike to school in the mornings (my school was very strict about being late) so I decided to figure out how to bike home after school. I’m so glad I did!

Biking home after my classes became one of my favourite parts of my day. It made me feel like a local and I was able to see parts of the city that I wouldn’t have seen on the metro. I took in all the details and day-to-day scenes around me, and enjoyed being present. It was also a great way to balance all the French pastries I was indulging in!

When I returned home from Paris, I was inspired to continue commuting via bike. Although Prince George is no Paris, I realized that the north has its own unique kind of beauty. Biking through evergreen trees and being beneath blue northern skies made me fall in love with the northern BC landscape I grew up in, and made me appreciate being back home that much more.

Old red cruiser bike.

My beloved old cruiser bike and basket.

With Bike to Work and School Week approaching on May 28-June 3, 2018, I’ll be getting ready for another season of commuting. Below are some bike commuting tips I’ve learned along the way.

5 tips for a successful bike commute:

  1. Map your route. First time riding to work or school? Ease some of your anxiety about how you’re going to get there and map it out beforehand. Take note of high traffic areas and streets with no cyclist access.
  2. Test it out! Before you make your bike commuting debut, designate some time during your free time to test out your planned route. Be sure to time yourself while doing it so you have an idea of how long it will take you. The more you ride, the more consistent your commute time will become.
  3. Give yourself some extra time. I’d recommend giving yourself an extra 15-20 mins during your first couple rides until you’re comfortable. If you’re planning on changing clothes, make sure to factor in some time to change. There’s nothing worse than starting your day in catch up mode!
  4. Wear the right gear and clothing. Wearing a helmet is a must! If your route includes lots of hills you may want to consider wearing an athletic outfit and then changing into your work or school clothes afterwards. Have a shorter or less tedious route? I’ve been known to bike in dresses – I just make sure to wear shorts underneath. In the fall, I’ll wear biking leggings over top of tights for an added layer of warmth. Make sure that whatever bottoms you wear won’t catch in your gears. Nothing like chain grease to ruin an outfit! Sturdy, closed toed shoes are also a good idea. You can leave a pair of shoes to change into at your destination or toss ‘em in with your change of clothes that you’ll carry with you.
  5. Add a basket. If you’re anything like me, and love the aesthetic of a bike as much as the practicality, I highly recommend adding an accessory that makes you happy. My bike basket brings me joy, holds my lunch bag securely, and lets me incorporate a little piece of Parisienne chic into my everyday life!

Looking for more biking tips? Taylar shared some great tips for schools and families on how to get involved in biking this season, including teaching resources for road safety. Curious about how biking and wellness are connected? Check out Gloria’s blog on the benefits of biking!

To all the seasoned bike commuters in the north, happy bike season! To those who are planning on trying out commuting by bike for the first time: I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Happy biking everyone! Or as they say in Paris, bon trajet!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Four benefits of riding your bike now

Gloria cycling next to the Fraser River.

There are so many benefits to riding your bike, at any age! Why not use this year’s Bike to Work & School Week as a good time to start?!

This year’s Bike to Work & School Week runs from Monday, May 28 to Sunday, June 3. Think riding bikes is just for kids? Think again!! Riding bikes with friends may be one of your favourite childhood memories, but that “feeling of flying” doesn’t have to stop when you reach adulthood. In fact, the benefits of cycling at any age are so numerous, it really makes sense to continue this activity as much (and as late in life) as possible.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll experience by hopping on two wheels:

Health Benefits:

  • Increases your physical activity levels. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week to achieve health benefits. A bike ride or two can help make this number easy to reach and/or beat!
  • Lowers your risk of chronic disease by lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
  • Improves your focus and overall mental health.
  • Cycling is a low-impact way to get your heart pumping while taking it easy on your hips and knees – a great alternative to pounding the pavement on a run!
  • Lets you get a better rest! You sleep better when you’ve been active throughout the day.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Reduces pollution levels. Every time you choose to ride rather than drive, you are benefiting the environment and air quality. Don’t buy it? I believe the saying goes something like this: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Financial Benefits:

  • Getting around by bike is free! No fuel costs or parking fees.

Personal Benefits:

  • Saves you time!
    • In many cases, if you live within a reasonable distance from your destination, you will actually get there faster by bike than by vehicle.
    • No need to waste time circling in search of a parking spot!

Worried about safety? Research shows that safety increases as the number of people cycling increases!  Reasons for this include: more bikes mean fewer vehicles on the road, and drivers become more aware of the cyclists on the road simply because there are more of them! Are there safety risks to cycling? Yes, BUT the potential benefits outweigh the risks. To be better prepared to share the road, there are some great resources out there to help you brush up on your skills:

Start your cycling season off right by participating in Bike to Work & School Week May 28 to June 3, but don’t stop there! Use Bike to Work & School Week as your jumping off point and keep on riding throughout the summer to experience some (or all) of the benefits listed above. Registration is free, and if you log even one ride you’ll be entered to win the grand prize of a cycling trip for two in Portugal! You can join an existing team (I have one you can join! It’s called “Health’s Angels” and we happily accept new members OR challenges!), start your own team, or sign up as an individual.

If you have school-aged kids, register them for Bike to School Week, and check with the school to see if it is registered – get everyone on board! If your kids’ school sends us photos or stories about their Bike to School event (email: Healthy.Schools@northernhealth.ca), they could have the chance of having Spirit the Caribou visit their school during International Walk to School Month in October!

Let us know if you’ll be participating in Bike to Work & School Week this year; I hope to see you out there!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Bike season is here: Bike to School and Work Week 2018

Have you got your bike out yet? As the roads clear from snow and gravel, the hustle and bustle of exciting spring activities overwhelms us, and Bike to Work/School Week is a perfect start to the bike season ahead! It’s so easy to get started:

  • Get the bikes out
  • Dust them off
  • Check tires and brakes
  • Put on the helmets
  • Go for a ride!

‘It’s like riding a bike’…….right

Thinking about bike season, I couldn’t help but think of the good times I had as a child, biking with my friends and family.

Taylar riding bike outside.

Me, taking my prized purple bike and streamers for a spin around the neighborhood.

One of my favourite events during the spring in elementary school was the Bike Rodeo! I remember riding my purple bike to school for the rodeo and being so excited to decorate my bike, learn road safety, and ensure my helmet fit perfectly (yes, you can see in the photo that I wore a hockey helmet!). Different stations were set up all around the school with prizes to be won at each: one for helmet fitting, one for road safety, one for bike maintenance, and my favourite one, decorating! I would add decorations to the spokes that made a sweet rhythmic sound as the wheels turned, streamers to the handle bars that flowed in the wind, and any type of glitz, glam or balloons that could make me sparkle in the sun; and then I couldn’t wait to ride my bike around the neighbourhood. When it was all done, we rode through obstacle courses to practice our road skills and safety. Oh my, I get excited just thinking about this again! I rode around all summer with my perfectly decorated bike.

taylar at school bike rodeo.

Lining up to show off my freshly decorated bike at my school Bike Rodeo!

Biking is healthy, low impact, cost effective, good for the environment and FUN. Families and schools can help support safe and active transportation for children and youth on bikes. Here are a few tips to get involved and stay safe:

For schools

Teach road safety: ICBC offers free road safety educational materials for grades k-10 to teach road safety skills and awareness.

Register your school for Bike to School Week: prepare school activities like a Bike Rodeo, celebration stations, or have a school-wide competition.

Have Spirit the Cariboo join your school: share your school experience for Bike to School Week with us at Northern Health (Healthy.Schools@northernhealth.ca) for a chance to have Spirit the Cariboo celebrate International Walk to School (IWALK) Month in October 2018.

For families

Explore your surroundings: check out your city/community website for bike routes, trails, and activities. Plan a safe route for travel and always wear a helmet – it’s the LAW.

Be bike smart: Get your free BikeSense Manual for road safety, bike maintenance, helmet fitting, and more.

Support your child’s school in preparing for Bike to School Week: Parents/PACs can help plan school events for BTSW, start a school or classroom team, or organize a bicycle train.

Get out and enjoy the spring, summer, and fall ahead. Bike to Work/School Week is May 28- June 3 2018, so get those bikes out, start or join a team, and log all of your kilometres to win great prizes from GoByBikeBC.

Taylar Endean

About Taylar Endean

Taylar is a Registered Nurse working in Preventive Public Health. Taylar was born and raised in Prince George and studied at UNBC to earn her degree in Nursing in 2011. She's still living in the North where she tries to embrace everything it has to offer. In her spare time, Taylar loves being outdoors, spending countless weekends at Ness Lake, walking, snowshoeing and skiing. Taylar also enjoys spending time with family and friends, coaching skating, volunteering at community events and just started to learn to crochet. The north is her home, though she does like to take those sunny vacations!

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Therapeutic Recreation: a holistic approach to health

February is Therapeutic Recreation month, and although I don’t currently work in the field, I am very proud to have focused my education and first part of my career on this helping profession. Not many people are familiar with Therapeutic Recreation, also known as Recreation Therapy; it has been confused with such things as sports medicine and physiotherapy, but also has been shrugged off as simply any activity to combat boredom. Let me set the record straight on that, because Recreation Therapists are working non-stop to provide programs that are purposeful and goal-oriented down to an individual level.

Therapeutic Recreation is defined as “a health care profession that utilizes a therapeutic process, involving leisure, recreation and play as a primary tool for each individual to achieve their highest level of independence and quality of life” (CTRA, 2017).

seniors playing floor curling.

Being physically active in a group setting and cheering others on helps form social connections and bolster self-esteem.

Recreation Therapists can be found in a variety of settings, including:

  • Assisted living/seniors’ housing
  • Long term care
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Mental health services
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Day centres
  • Private practice
  • …and many more.

One of the things that (in my mind) makes therapeutic recreation a unique and special field is its truly holistic approach to health. While many health care professions tend to be very targeted to one aspect of a patient’s health, recreation therapy works to improve the health of the person as a whole; they may focus on physical needs, but they may pay just as much attention to the emotional, cognitive, social, and/or spiritual needs that make up a person’s overall quality of life.

There are many benefits related to taking part in physical programming. Many chronic disease symptoms can be avoided, delayed, or better managed through physical activity. Working on maintaining or improving core strength and balance can help reduce the risk of falls. It’s also important to note that the benefits of participating in a physical program extend beyond the obvious goal of maintaining or increasing physical function. Participants may realize they’re gaining social connections as a result of taking part in physical programming as part of a group; they will likely experience a mood boost following participation; realizing they are capable of more than they were previously (or had expected to be) can also do much to bolster confidence and self-esteem.

I was able to catch up with a local Recreation Therapist, Jaymee Webster, to get her perspective on the benefits of therapeutic recreation programming in her work settings of inpatient rehabilitation unit and outpatient geriatric rehabilitation day program.

“Often when individuals are engaged in all aspects of the rehabilitation process they have better outcomes. Through recreation and physical activity our patients have the opportunity to see their progress from other therapies translate to meaningful engagement. For example, an individual working on regaining strength in the upper extremities feels a sense of accomplishment when they are able to score points in a game of floor curling.”

If you know or work with a Recreation Therapist or team providing therapeutic recreation programs, take a moment this month to watch them at work. Their creativity and passion for working to improve the lives of others at an individual level are truly inspiring.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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IMAGINE Grant: Teeing off on Toboggan Hill

Formed in early 2016, the Fort St. John Disc Sports Club set out with the goal of bringing the game of disc golf to Fort St. John. With the support of City Council, the club was able to install a temporary 9-hole disc golf course on Toboggan Hill in July 2016; temporary to ensure that the community was on board and that the location for the course was the right one.

Since the installation of the temporary course, the club has seen a rapid increase in interest in disc golf. Over the past year, volunteer club members have donated instruction time and equipment to local schools and organizations to introduce community youth to the sport.

What is disc golf? It’s much like regular golf but uses a disc (Frisbee) instead of a golf ball and clubs. Players throw the disc from the tee area towards the target, which is a basket. Each throw begins at the spot where your last disc throw landed. The goal of the game is to get your disc to the target in the least amount of throws, just like regular golf!

There’s a major difference between disc golf and regular golf, however: cost. Access to the disc golf course in Fort St. John is free and equipment costs are very affordable compared to other sports. Club members note that with the economic downturn of the region, offering a low cost activity where people and families are able to get outside and enjoy nature while being physically active is a benefit for everyone. The Disc Sports Club does offer yearly memberships for $20 that are directed towards club events and activities and to support course maintenance. Membership privileges also include a custom-made bag tag, BC Disc Sports insurance, and voting rights for the club meetings.

Another difference between the two sports is accessibility. Disc golf is a low-impact sport that can be played by people of all ages and abilities. One of the club members is able to enjoy the activity from her motorized scooter!

man throwing disc at bucket

Disc golf is a perfect recreational summer sport!

With seed funding support from a Northern Health IMAGINE Community Grant in the fall of 2016, the FSJ Disc Club was able to purchase permanent baskets for the course. Club president Clint Warkentin shared a funny story about the day they installed the permanent baskets this May:

On the day of our basket installation, we were informed that there was a bear in the same park as us! The bear hung around all day, following us from hole to hole as we installed the baskets. Police were always near us, making sure we were safe. We never had any close encounters, but it was always on our mind. True northerners, risking our lives for the sake of the community!”

The City of Fort St. John has been very supportive of the project and will be partnering with the club to complete the course to include tee pads, tee signs, and course signs. Community members are also pleased to see positive activity taking place at Toboggan Hill, an area that neighborhood residents had felt needed some improvements.

Neighbouring communities are also taking part in the excitement that disc golf is creating for the region.

Having a permanent course is really good for the whole Peace Region,” said Warkentin. “There are now courses in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie. The partnership between Dawson Creek Disc Golf Club and our club has really been strengthened and we are continuing to work together as partners (and rivals!).”

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We look for applicants that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. 

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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Join the Winter Walk Day Movement – It’s not just for kids!

I start to get antsy this time of year. Warm sunny days tease me, making me “think spring,” but they tend to be quickly followed up by another blast from the deep freeze many of us northerners love to hate. I know it’s tempting to hibernate when the weather is on the chilly side, but most of us – if we’re honest – will admit that we feel so much better physically AND mentally when we make the effort to get out for some activity.

boy playing in snow

Why not plan your own Winter Walk Day event (February 7, 2018 or any date in February that works for schools) to get outside and reach those recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity?

Not that we need an excuse, but we have an excellent opportunity to push ourselves out the door: Winter Walk Day is celebrated by schools across Canada on the first Wednesday of February each year (February 7, 2018). Schools are encouraged to register their Winter Walk Day event in order to receive a Certificate of Participation. If February 7 doesn’t work for you or your school, that’s okay! You have the option to plan and register an event anytime in February.

Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day (more is even better), and the majority of kids are falling short of these recommendations. Walking to school is a great way to fit more activity into everyday life, and leads to so many benefits, including:

  • Improved physical health
  • Improved learning and grades
  • Improved mental health (reducing anxiety, boosting mood, etc.)
  • Decreased traffic congestion, especially around school drop-off zones
  • Improved safety due to less traffic
  • Environmental benefits due to fewer emissions
teen walking to school in snow

Walking to school (or work!) is a great way to fit more activity into everyday life

Even though Winter Walk Day is a school-based initiative, why should students have all the fun?? I’d like to point out that all of the benefits listed above apply to adults in the workplace as well. Arriving at work warm from activity and alert from the fresh air is likely to set you up for a positive and productive day. Who couldn’t use one of those days?

I’m going to strap on my ice grippers and join the winter walk movement on Wednesday, February 7. Who’s with me?

For more information on active transportation, visit:

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Snowshoeing, skating, and safety: the perfect winter day

Last December, my family could not wait for our vacation to start so we could enjoy full days of outdoor activities together! One of my fondest memories was a day we went with a big group of friends to snowshoe on a local lake (this was a year we were fortunate to have temperatures that made the ice more than thick enough for skating parties and games). Wondering how thick the ice should be? Check out the Canadian Red Cross ice safety recommendations!

We filled our backpacks with a picnic and all the gear to go skating on the very frozen lake. The kids were thrilled to swap out snowshoes and backpacks for skates and hockey sticks. They quickly organized themselves into teams and started working up a sweat. The mothers snowshoed laps around them, ever watchful that nobody decided to venture off into the woods.

boy playing hockey on frozen lake

My son taking a shot on the frozen ice!

What struck me was that the kids did not need to be reminded to wear a helmet on the ice, or how to play the game safely. It’s just second nature now to wear the gear and play safe. This made preventing injuries that day effortless. Should there have been a fall on the ice, a couple of us had taken the Concussion Awareness Training Tool that is free online for parents. Just one less thing to be concerned about so we could fully enjoy the day.

Before we snowshoed out, we built a fire on shore to warm our hands and share our potluck-style meal, complete with warm thermoses of tea and hot chocolate. It was a wonderful day in the snow. We all left with cold toes and warm hearts… I can’t wait to do it all over again this winter!

For more information on how to keep your loved ones safe while enjoying all that northern BC winters have to offer, visit:

Natasha Thorne

About Natasha Thorne

After many years in southern B.C., Natasha was drawn back to her hometown of Prince George in 2006 by the lure of extended family, sub-boreal forests, and raising her babes exploring the backwoods of her own childhood. Whether nose in a book or in real life, Natasha is an aspiring world traveller planning overseas vacations so she and her husband can give their two children a wider perspective of living in today's global community. As the full time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention for Northern Health, Natasha is committed to the north and is passionate about supporting the health and well-being of northerners.

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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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