Healthy Living in the North

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Northern Health welcomes the Canada Winter Games to northern B.C.

Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich with Spirit the caribou mascot

Northern Health is pleased to welcome all of the Canada Winter Games athletes, officials, volunteers, supporters, and visitors to our beautiful region.

After many months of planning and preparation, it is exciting that the Canada Winter Games have arrived in northern British Columbia!

Northern Health is privileged to be an official community partner of the 2015 Canada Winter Games. I am pleased to welcome all of the athletes, officials, volunteers, supporters, and visitors to our beautiful region. I hope that you take the opportunity to explore the many aspects of our communities that make northern B.C. a wonderful place to live, work, and play.

In addition to extending a warm welcome, I want to say thank you to all of those involved in the Canada Winter Games, from the athletes vying for gold to the volunteers keeping the events running smoothly. You inspire us all to be more active, to connect to our communities, and to live healthier lives.

Whether you are competing, cheering, volunteering, or simply soaking up the atmosphere, I encourage you to keep your eyes open for Northern Health staff. Our team – including our newest team member, Spirit – will be at various games venues with information and resources to help you to stay active, prevent injuries, play tobacco-free, and eat well. If you aren’t able to make it out to the venues, check the Northern Health Matters blog regularly for Games-inspired tips and tricks to help you live a healthier, more active life.

For Northern Health, the Canada Winter Games will not end on March 1st. We have been working in partnership with other organizations to ensure that the Games leave a healthy legacy for all northerners into the future. After the medals have been handed out and the streets quiet down, our work will continue. Look for projects supported by IMAGINE: Legacy grants in your community, watch for local businesses supporting breastfeeding through the Growing for Gold campaign, and see Community Health Stars being recognized in your town.

I hope that you enjoy the Canada Winter Games and the healthy legacy that this event will leave in northern B.C.!


Tales from the Man Cave: Winter blahs and humbugs

Sunset at a snowy tree farm

Feeling “unjolly” over the holidays can be especially difficult because everyone else can seem so joyful. This year, if you are feeling down, lonely, or isolated, talk to others about how you are feeling.

We don’t need a Charles Dickens story to realize that we all suffer from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future at times. In fact, the holiday season can unfortunately be a reminder for some that life in the past, present, or future was, is, or may be far from jolly.

This is a time when people remember loved ones lost. It is also a time of darkening skies and lower levels of sun. What’s worse, if you are feeling down this season, you can feel like a misfit – why is everybody going around celebrating and talking about doing good deeds?

Two holiday periods in my life stand out as pretty rough. The first is when I was looking after a dying woman who passed away as my hospital shift ended on Christmas Eve. When I got home, all I could do was cry as the children opened their presents. The other was when my kitchen caught fire during the week of Christmas and covered my house in soot. Both times, I felt seriously unjolly and, with so many others celebrating, like a misfit, too. It’s hard to be the life and soul of the party when you feel like that.

So, how can you cope with the holiday season if you are experiencing depression or loneliness?

If you are feeling very low in mood, find your sleep to be disturbed, can’t be bothered to do things, and feel as though everything is drudgery, then you may be suffering from depression. A counsellor or your doctor can help during this difficult period. Talk to someone. Don’t stay isolated and alone. Crisis lines are available throughout B.C. if you need to talk to someone confidentially, 24/7/365. In northern B.C., dial 250-563-1214, 1-888-562-1214, or visit the Crisis Prevention, Intervention & Information Centre for Northern BC. There is also a B.C.-wide line. For that, dial 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), 310-6789, or visit the Crisis Line Association of BC.

You can’t be a party animal when you are feeling sad, depressed, lonely, or isolated – and the holiday season may make this worse. But perhaps Dickens has something to offer after all: even if your whole being is crying out to be old Scrooge, engage with others, talk to others about how you’re feeling, and try to take part in all of the different activities that the holidays can offer.


Foodie Friday: Winter baking

Rural driveway lined with snow and frost

Warm baking tastes that much better on frosty winter days and cold nights! When you are baking, keep an eye out for sugar and fat content. Healthy baking options high in fibre and low in added sugar do exist! (Photo by Northern Health staff member Shellie O’Brien)

The winter weather has officially landed and with it, I find myself wanting to do more baking. On these cold wintery nights, there is nothing better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a warm baked good right out of the oven.

Unfortunately, many baked goods can be high in sugar and fat and low in fibre, which is why I make an effort to seek out healthier recipes for baked goods that are still as delicious as the originals!

This recipe is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas and makes a great snack or dessert option. It can also be part of a quick breakfast when paired with something like fruit and yogurt to create a balanced meal! These bars are high in fibre and low in added sugar, but what’s even better is that they come together in less than 30 minutes including prep and cook time!

Chocolate PB Chip Oat Bars (from the Real Life RD)


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup sugar (original recipe calls for coconut palm sugar)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 over-ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup milk (original recipe calls for almond milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips or peanut butter chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Line an 8” x 8” baking pan with greased parchment paper.
  3. Process your oats into a flour using a blender or food processor.
  4. Add your oat flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda to a bowl. Add the mashed banana, milk, and vanilla and gently stir until almost completely mixed. Fold in your chocolate chips. Spread onto baking pan.
  5. Bake the bars for 18-20 minutes or until the center is set and cooked through.
  6. Remove the bars from the pan by lifting out the parchment paper. Let the bars cool completely before slicing into squares.

Foodie Friday: The sweet and savory side to winter squash

Several types a squash are shown.

The variety of squash types gives you versatility in your meal planning.

The Sweet and Savory Side to Winter Squash

Much to my delight, winter squash have always marked the arrival of Fall. These festive vegetables are actually harvested in early fall and stored throughout the winter. There are so many varieties to choose from—acorn, butternut, kabocha, buttercup, hubbard and more. They often make me wonder why pumpkins get all the glory this time of year!

But with their hard rind, tough flesh, and often knobbly appearance it is not surprising that preparing winter squash might seem like a daunting task. With a few tips, you will be surprised at how easy it is to incorporate this hearty vegetable into your Fall and Winter meal repertoire!

Preparing Winter Squash

Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You could also cut in quarters, wedges, or cubes. If the squash is too hard to slice, microwave on high for 3 minutes or look for pre-cut pieces at the grocery store.

Cooking Winter Squash

Just like a potato, there are many different ways to cook winter squash. They can be baked, steamed, stir-fried, microwaved, stuffed, or roasted. Roasting winter squash enhances flavour and is my preferred method because there is no peeling or chopping required! Simply bake in a lightly oiled roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until tender. Once the squash is done, you can easily scoop out the soft flesh.

Enjoying Winter Squash

There are endless ways to transform your winter squash into a delicious and healthy meal – both savory and sweet! Each type of squash offers a unique flavour, but can be easily substituted for one another in any recipe. Here are a few ideas:

Savory Side:

  • Make a colourful alterative to mash potatoes
  •  Use it for burrito filling – try  squash, black beans, avocado, and cheese
  • Add to your favourite pasta dish – toss diced roasted squash with pasta, olive oil and parmesan  or add pureed squash to homemade mac and cheese for a surprisingly creamy sauce
  • Add roasted squash  to soups, stews, or chilli – try pureeing baked squash with vegetable broth, and low-fat milk or soymilk for a delicious soup
  • Top a salad with roasted squash for a light meal – pairs well with dark greens, walnuts, cranberries and feta cheese
  • Create an edible bowl for leftovers with twice-baked stuffed squash

Sweet Side:

  • Enjoy with chopped nuts, cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup for an easy and nutritious dessert
  • Mix with yogurt and pumpkin spice and layer with granola for a new take on yogurt parfait
  • Try squash for breakfast on oatmeal, pancakes or waffles

So, I challenge you to try a new winter squash recipe this Fall!


Choose your path and volunteer for the Canada Winter Games

Members of the Games' medical staff

Members of the Games’ medical staff (from left to right): Hedy Conwright, Venue Medical Lead; Joanne Archer, Chief Nurse; Janet Ames, Chief Medical Officer; Brian Farrance, Chief Therapist; Carolyn Bouchard, Polyclinic Lead

“Choose your path, leave your tracks and journey with us.” This motto for the 2015 Canada Winter Games calls all northerners to share their skills and passion in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the nation. At the Canada Games House in Prince George we are acutely aware of the countdown clock, which reminds us that we are just 12 months away from the largest multi-sport and cultural festival ever held in northern British Columbia!

What I was surprised to learn when I started working for the 2015 Games is that this Canada Games is volunteer led. From sport to transportation and everything in between, volunteers are working hard in each department of the 2015 Games.

Medical volunteers have the opportunity to help plan medical services, as well as deliver medical services to athletes at sport venues and the athlete medical clinic, the Polyclinic, at 2015 Games time. Physicians, therapists, and nurses from across the north are needed to provide these important services. Offering bilingual services is part of our mandate so there are also opportunities for bilingual medical volunteers to get involved in the 2015 Games.

Dr. Janet Ames, Chief Medical Officer with the Games, explains some of the worries she comes across when recruiting medical volunteers: “Medical professionals are often concerned about volunteering for events such as the Canada Winter Games. They express concern about not having the experience to handle sport medicine problems and may lack in field experience. Many of the problems at major games are ones they see in their own practices every day, especially the problems assessed at the Polyclinic.”

Volunteering at the 2015 Games offers medical volunteers an incredible opportunity to develop event coverage skills and to learn from the best. Dr. Ames, who has worked at past Canada Games and Olympics explains: “In terms of event coverage, if medical personnel want to gain experience we will place them in the field with more experienced first responders. There are physicians and therapists coming to the Games from all over Canada who have a great deal of experience on the field. Canada Games has always been a great place to learn new skills from those with more experience.”

Not only does working as a medical volunteer offer the opportunity to be a part of the 2015 Games, but the skills learned will create a legacy for medical event coverage in our region. The Canada Games medical committee recognizes these amazing opportunities and encourages northern doctors, therapists and nurses to join them now for 2015.

We hope you will choose your path, leave your tracks and join us in this journey as we host the nation from February 13 to March 1, 2015.

For more information on volunteering for medical and non-medical opportunities, visit the 2015 Canada Winter Games volunteer sign-up page.


Winter’s healthy opportunities

Julia snacks as she walks on a winter trail.

Enjoying a snack on a winter trail.

I must admit, when the first snowflakes fell this year, my face lit up with an ear-to-ear grin. Driving to work after the first snowfall and seeing children walking to school together, bundled in their matching snowsuits and scarves with the same grins that I had, made me so excited for this winter. I lived in Vancouver for the last two years where real winter just doesn’t happen. I had missed the feeling of waking to find myself in my own Christmas snow globe.

This is my first winter in northern BC and while I mentally prepare myself for its length, I can’t help but be excited about all there is to do. I got my first set of cross-country skis at the local ski swap and am looking forward to becoming a more competent and well-balanced cross-country skier. I borrow snowshoes from friends and enjoy taking walks through the same forests that I love to hike through in the spring, summer, and fall. I’ve also decided to continue running outdoors through the winter, which has required the addition of grips for my sneakers, cozy clothes, a headlamp, and some reflectors!

Winter here seems so different than the winters I had growing up in Ontario and at university in Montreal. I think it’s because, in the north, so much of what we do in our spare time is outdoors. On the weekends and after work or school, we go play outside, changing our whole range of options and activities. That’s exciting to me!

We can trade in our swimsuits for snowsuits, our canoes for cross-country skis, add snowshoes to our hiking boots, and grippers to our sneakers- all of this changing our outdoor experience and the potential for fun outside!

We have so many great places to explore at our fingertips: mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, hiking trails, walking trails, ski hills, and so much more! Our exploration of these places takes different forms in each season, and that’s what makes winter great: it challenges us to interact with our surroundings in new ways.

When I started working with the 2015 Canada Winter Games, their slogan “we are winter” resonated with me. In the north, it seems that there is a true sense of pride in thriving during the long, cold, snowy winters. Northerners are up to the challenge of taking on the winter climate, of enjoying sport, and activity with family and friends in our snowy landscapes. I am so looking forward to next winter when we will welcome the country and show them what “we are winter” really means.


Stay safe for winter fun

winter safety; injury prevention

Being safe and having fun

Winter is among us. Like it or not, the snow, ice and chilly temperatures are among us for a little while yet. I’m not naturally a winter person and if it were up to me, I would hibernate with the bears when the daylight dwindles. Unfortunately, I can’t do this because I have a mortgage to pay.

In the past, I’ve tried to hibernate as much as I could in the winter months, but it never really supported my health. I’d find myself not getting much activity and slinking quickly into cabin fever. This winter, I’ve challenged myself to spend more time being active outdoors in daylight hours.

Promote health and wellness this winter: move more, play more, laugh more and connect more with our friends, family, community and nature. But, stay safe to have fitness fun!

Overall, I am trying to see opportunities to stay fun, fit and active without a membership fee, so the outdoors presents plenty of opportunities: from shovelling my driveway, sledding down the local hill, or blowing the dust off my snowshoes – I am up for the challenge!

However, being active outside in the elements can also pose a risk. The roads are icy and you can slip to bump your head pretty easily. I had the chance to connect with Densie Foucher, Injury Prevention Coordinator at Northern Health to learn more about staying safe for winter fun and we talked a bit about concussions.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury; it can be any blow to the head, face, neck or body that causes a sudden shaking or jarring of the brain inside the skull. You do not need to lose consciousness to have had a concussion.

How can I tell if I might have a concussion?

  • Physically, you might have a headache, be nauseated or vomit, be dizzy, have blurred vision, be fatigued or have low energy, be sensitive to light or noise, or lose consciousness.
  • Mentally, you might be generally confused or be a little foggy in memory, or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
  • Emotionally, you might be more emotional, irritable, sad, nervous or anxious.

What should I do if I think I have a concussion?

  • Immediately remove yourself from activity, whether that is school, work or sports.
  • Do not drive.
  • Have someone take you for medical attention. Your health care professional will provide you with important instructions. Be sure to follow them carefully.

 How can I prevent concussions?

  • Protective equipment can reduce the risk and severity of head injury.
  • Keep the certified gear well-maintained, use the right equipment for the sport or activity, and be sure it fits properly.
  • Know about the risks and make sure that safety rules are followed and enforced.
  • Preventing a concussion and head injury is most successful when everyone is involved. This includes players, parents, coaches, teammates and colleagues.

Before you think you can just “shake off” a concussion, stop and think about the potential impact. Be aware of concussions and their risks and know how they can be prevented. For information and tips, visit

As the seasons change and your outdoor activities change, too, do you consider what safety measures you should be taking? How do you find ways to stay safe and have winter fun?


Bringing together a 2015 Canada Winter Games medical team

The 2015 Canada Winter Games Medical Team.

The 2015 Canada Winter Games Medical Team.

Over the last couple months I’ve had the pleasure of working with Janet Ames, Chief Medical Officer, Brian Farrance, Chief Therapist and Joanne Archer, Chief Nurse as they plan for the medical coverage of the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

Between them, these three have volunteered medical services at over 30 games from the Vancouver Olympics to the Pan American Games in Cuba; from the Commonwealth Games in Victoria to the Nagano Olympics as well as a myriad of Canada Games including Halifax, Grand Prairie, PEI and Saskatoon! Suffice to say, there are some impressive and lengthy resumes for this medical team!

Janet, Brian and Joanne are eager to share with you what they love about volunteering at sports events in the hopes that health care professionals across the north will be inspired to join them in providing medical coverage for the 2015 Games.

As Brian recalls his long list of medical involvement in sports events he notes what a special opportunity the Canada Games are:

“This will be my seventh Canada Games and I consider these games the most fun of all with a great opportunity to learn from more experienced therapists, those with different experiences and to pass on my knowledge to those just starting out.”

Providing medical support at a Game’s event provides a unique and exciting work opportunity for physicians, therapists and nurses. Joanne speaks very highly of her experience providing medical support for Track and Field events at the Commonwealth Games:

“During the actual competition week it was really exciting to be watching and cheering on the various athletes I had come to know and become fond of. Sometimes I’m not sure who was more nervous or excited – them or me. There were a few injuries, especially in the hurdles and I got in the habit of just assuming I would have to run out and help someone from the track, so when they were in the “starting position” I was as well.”

The 2015 Canada Winter Games will offer opportunities to learn and teach, prepare and respond, as well as to witness athletic performances of young Canadians rising to the top of their sport. As Janet notes,

“Along the way I have been privileged to be present at some of the most amazing athletic performances and a number of heartbreaks.  The job of the physician at these events is to be present and resourceful no matter what the issue.”

Whether you have a great deal of experience in sports medicine or are new to sports event coverage, Janet, Brian and Joanne welcome health care professionals across the north to join them on the Medical Team for the 2015 Canada Winter Games .

“We hope you decide to join the team, and for some, start your love of event coverage.”Brian, Janet & Joanne

If you are interested in volunteering and want to stay up-to-date with information please contact:

Physicians: Janet Ames, Chief Medical Officer at

Nurses: Joanne Archer, Chief Nurse at

Physio and athletic therapists: Brian Farrance, Chief Therapist at


Staying surefooted in the winter: Seniors’ Fall Prevention Awareness

fall prevention awareness week poster

(Click the image for a larger version)

I love this time of year.  My brain tells me I should be grumpy with the colder, shorter days of November but I always get a thrill when I bundle up and get outside to walk my dog and breathe in the crisp, still air. The quiet calm after a fresh snowfall and the crunch under my feet as we tread across the frosted ground never ceases to remind me what a beautiful part of the world I live in.

I am, however, also aware that while I’m out enjoying the seasonal changes in my community, it’s often a challenge to stay safely on my feet.  Slippery, winter conditions pose an additional challenge to seniors trying to prevent a fall while still staying healthy and active.

Icy conditions are not the only fall-related risk factor. This week, November 5-11, is the 6th annual Seniors’ Fall Prevention Awareness Week in B.C. It’s an opportunity to learn about maintaining balance for healthy, active aging.

Here are some great resources around fall prevention that we should all know and share with seniors that we know:

As you can see, there are a number of actions you can take to keep yourself, and those you care about, on steady feet and aging well.  Check out the Seniors’ Fall Prevention Awareness Week in BC website for more information on activities and resources.


Fort St. John doctor brings new frostbite treatment to Northern BC

Dr. Wilkie and a woman stand beside each other outdoors. Dr. Wilkie holds a toddler.

Thanks to Dr. Wilkie (left), there should be less amputations due to frostbite this winter.

Few things can put an end to winter activities as fast as frostbite, but thanks to one Fort St. John doctor, Northern Health may soon have a better way of treating it.

Dr. Jamie Wilkie, a recent graduate of the UBC Family Medicine residency program, saw a need during his residency in Fort St. John to improve how we are dealing with frostbite.

“I previously lived and worked in Hay River [in the Northwest Territories], have dogsledded in the Yukon, and guided canoe trips in all three territories,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I have personally and professionally seen the impacts of frostbite and related exposure injuries.”

Frostbite treatment became the focus of Dr. Wilkie’s resident scholar project. He collaborated with Jessica Brecknock, Regional Medication Use Management Pharmacist, and Kendra Clary, Med Systems Pharmacy Technician, to create a prepackaged treatment plan (order set) for use of the drug iloprost in severe frostbite cases.

“The literature for the use of iloprost in severe frostbite shows a significant decrease in the need for amputations,” says Dr. Wilkie. “The goal of this project is to improve access to the best evidence-based treatments for severe frostbite in Northern BC.”

Northern Health approved this protocol, and it will be available for use this winter. Dr. Wilkie believes this is the first frostbite order set for iloprost in BC.

Dr. Wilkie moved to Fort St. John in June 2017 and is enjoying all the outdoor opportunities the area has to offer. He and his wife have been hiking around places such as Tumbler Ridge, Hudson Hope, and in Stone Mountain Provincial Park to name a few. They have canoed on the Peace River, and done lots of fishing.

“I knew that I loved the North and the access to fishing, hunting, hiking, and sledding,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I wanted to be in a small town and I wanted to practice full-scope family medicine. I looked at residencies all over the US and Canada, and only Fort St. John checked all those boxes.

“I also really like the people. They are hard working, generous, and generally very appreciative of having physicians in town.”