Healthy Living in the North

The journey to 100% mobile-friendly sites at Northern Health

Northern Health's Indigenous Health site displayed on a variety of devices.

Northern Health’s sites – all mobile-friendly on all the devices!

In 2016, which feels like an eternity ago, the Northern Health web team embarked on what became a three-year journey of enlightenment as we moved all the external websites over to a new and mobile-friendly platform called Drupal.

The entire project actually began several years before when it became obvious that we needed to make some big changes to our public-facing websites. They weren’t keeping up to the rapidly growing mobile world and didn’t work very well on mobile devices.

Drupal has been around since 2001, but our team had never worked with it. To familiarize ourselves with this framework and technology, we set out a pilot project: developing on Drupal 8.

After the successful launch of the pilot in early 2017, we moved ahead with the daunting task of bringing all our existing websites over to the new platform. After dedicating many hours and conquering steep learning curves, we launched the first two sites, and, in the summer of 2018. and followed soon after in early 2019.


The old websites were not accessible to visitors with disabilities, especially our aging population. A website is accessible when its content is available to everyone, regardless of any visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairment. BC is expected to introduce legislation on accessibility in 2024. We’ve been proactive, working towards having completely accessible websites when the legislation comes in to place.

Some of the changes we’ve made to make the sites more accessible are:

  • Larger font sizes.
  • Colour combinations that work for colour-blind visitors or visitors with aging eyesight.
  • Coding in the backend that lets blind or visually impaired users listen to the page using a screen reader.
  • Making sure someone can navigate the site with just a keyboard.


All of the new websites are fully responsive, meaning whatever device you’re viewing it on, the content will flow and adapt to fit the screen. On a desktop computer the display may have three columns across the page where on a mobile phone the display will flow into one column.

We now proudly have more visitors accessing on a mobile phone or tablet than we do on a desktop computer. For example, in May of this year, 116,390 people visited 85,871 of those visits came from mobile phones and only 21,030 from desktop computers, with the remaining 9,224 visits coming from tablets.­

A table and pie chart display the number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type (mobile - 85,871 (73.95%), desktop - 21,030 (18.11%), tablet - 9,224 (7.94%)).

The number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type for May 2019.

While we celebrated and embraced these mobile-friendly, ascendible “new arrivals” like loving parents, we secretly knew the real work was just about to begin!

A collage of four updated Northern Health sites.

Northern Health’s updated and mobile-friendly sites have similar templates for familiar user experiences.

Improved experience

Another important reason for making these changes was to update aging site content, much of which was out-of-date, hard to navigate, and not focused on what our visitors or patients required.

We needed to create an easier way for visitors to find the information they require. We dedicated a lot of time to simplify the menus and make information easy and intuitive to find. All of our facilities are now available from the “Locations” tab on the main navigation menu.

The NH Communications team also worked with the Patient Voices Network in the areas of Mental Health and Substance Use, Home and Community Care, Chronic Diseases, and Primary and Community Care to find out what information patients want to see on our website and how they can find it easily. We have endeavoured to make sure this information has been presented in the best way possible.

We’re also working to ensure the content on our sites has been written in plain language, which makes it easy to read and understand.

If you have any questions or feedback about the new sites, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Rosemary Dolman, Regional Manager, Web Services.

Darren Smit

About Darren Smit

Darren is the NH Web Specialist on the Communications team. He is a creative at heart, with passion for photography, graphic design, typography, and more. During the past 17 years, he has traveled to over 80 countries worldwide, and he lives in Prince George with his wife and son.


Partnering to make nature more accessible

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.

People on nature trail

Access North Days encouraged seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions.

This past July, I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the expanded Great-West Life Mobility Trail, located at the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society (TMRS) Dougherty Creek Trail, just south of Prince George. The event was hosted by the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society and Spinal Cord Injury BC to coincide with Spinal Cord Injury BC’s Access North Day. The IMAGINE grants program has partnered with both of these groups doing great things to support universal access to outdoor recreation in our region.

During the grand opening event, there were a number of people in wheelchairs or with walking supports who were able to enjoy the trail with their family and friends. They could access all parts of the trail without any obstacles. It was great to see everyone enjoying nature on such a beautiful trail!

Who’s involved?

  • TMRS is a not-for-profit organization made up of volunteers who are dedicated to the maintenance and growth of Tabor Mountain as a recreational facility for everyone to enjoy. Eight local and provincial recreational clubs are also society members. They are users of the trails and have a vested interest in the protection and maintenance of the area. TMRS received an IMAGINE Legacy grant in 2015 to support the purchase of marketing and promotion supplies to promote the amazing outdoor trail network and opportunities that this group of volunteers have been working on.

“The Great-West Life Mobility Nature Trail was created for seniors and mobility challenged individuals to experience the great outdoors in a safe and friendly environment … The exposure to the community and visitors to the community through our strategy of using your grant (IMAGINE) for marketing has created results beyond our expectations.” -Randy Ellenchuk, President, Tabor Mountain Recreation Society.

  • Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC) helps people with spinal cord injury and related physical disabilities adjust, adapt, and thrive as they deal with a new injury or struggle with the ongoing challenges of living and aging with a disability. SCI BC received an IMAGINE grant this past spring to support Access North Day celebrations taking place throughout the north. The purpose of the events was to encourage seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions. Another focus of the project was to build capacity through networking and sharing knowledge about universal design and accessibility, which is why the partnership with Tabor Mountain Recreation Society proved to be an excellent match!

A trail accessible for everyone

Fast forward to our recent Thanksgiving long weekend and I took the opportunity to visit the Dougherty Creek Trail again.

This time, I brought my mom and our dogs for the walk and it was just as great as the first time I had visited! For my mom, who has a chronic disease and cannot walk trails that have even minor elevation changes, this one is perfect for her. The walking paths are very smooth and flat, and there are a number of benches, picnic tables, and gazebos along the way. It really is accessible for everyone and it’s a bonus that it can accommodate our furry friends.

I should also mention that a fun feature to the trail is the many little figures and gnomes that are hidden along the trail paths to find. We actually went around twice and noticed different items each time!

As Northern Health’s lead for community granting, being invited to attend community events or visit project locations is one of the best parts of my role. Seeing the impact of the IMAGINE funds at the community level and watching project ideas grow into these great initiatives really makes me happy to be part of this work. I feel like this story is especially wonderful to share because it shows what can be done through the power of community partnerships and when groups are committed to work together to achieve common goals that will improve the health of the community.

Keep your eye on both of these organizations – I bet they have more ideas planned for our region!

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen?

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 are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is October 31, 2016.

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.


“The village helped to raise our child”: A Smithers family reflects

Young man sitting in a restaurant wearing a Sport Chek uniform

With the support of a microboard and various community members, Jesse recently joined the workforce in Smithers.

When you walk into Sport Chek in Smithers and see Jesse Clegg unpacking garments and hanging gear, you may not realize the significance of that moment.

You may not realize the number of people, programs, time, and advocacy that created that moment. You may not realize that moment wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago, or that it shines a light on some ongoing challenges facing families. You may not realize that what you’re seeing is a powerful example of a healthy family supported by a healthy community.

And this is exactly why Jesse’s story is so important to share.

“When you have a child with a disability,” said Anita Clegg, Jesse’s mother, “there are no days off.” Jesse, now 21 years old, was born and raised in Smithers. Jesse has Down syndrome and, throughout his life, the Clegg family was committed to breaking ground in the community. “We put ourselves and Jesse out there,” shared Anita, “because it was important for us to show that everyone has abilities. As people learn more and connect with Jesse, we’ve seen shifts in thinking.”

When Anita says that “the village helped to raise our child,” this is not a cliché. While Jesse’s parents continue to assume a strong advocacy role, the impact of community members, organizations, and businesses on Jesse’s life is profound.

Consider the local bowling alley …

“Anything round that moved, Jesse was on it!” said Anita. “So bowling was a good fit. Jesse couldn’t start with Special Olympics until he was a teenager so, when he was 10, we asked about joining the town league. The bowling alley was very supportive and Jesse joined a team with typical kids. One year, he was the high scorer for the teen youth league! Jesse still loves to bowl and the bowling alley is a safe, welcoming, and familiar place for him.”

… and the pediatrician …

“Our pediatrician truly went to bat for Jesse. He understood Jesse’s needs, made connections that others wouldn’t have made, and helped to advocate for Jesse from birth right until he turned 18.”

Young man holding a wrench

In addition to being an artist and photographer, Jesse has taken up industrial iron furniture making.

… and the family friend …

“Safe and reliable respite is so important for families,” shared Anita. “We were very fortunate to have a family friend offer to take Jesse one day each week, starting in his last year of high school. They started out by just playing cards with me around but now they spend the afternoon together. Jesse has dinner with her family.”

… and the local business owner …

“Jesse is now in the workforce,” said Anita, “and that involved a lot of people coming together. It was a lengthy process but well worth it! When we told Jesse that the employment plan was going to be possible, his exact words were: ‘Everything is perfect!’ This process started with Jesse’s microboard (nine family members and community members) working with Jesse to create a picture of his skills, interests, and strengths. Jesse shared that he’d love to work at Sport Chek – which came out of the blue to us since he’d never been there! Our local WorkBC office asked the manager if they’d be interested in a supportive employment opportunity. The manager instantly said yes and went even further, integrating Jesse as a full team member, without a support person. His colleagues trained him and have been fantastic – many of them knew Jesse from school.”

Young man sanding stool top.

Jesse puts the finishing touches on a bar stool he built.

These supportive community experiences, however, also point to some of the challenges that Jesse’s story illuminates:

  • Access to health and social services is an important determinant of health. Unfortunately, Jesse’s pediatrician – whose role cannot be understated – recently retired. Anita identified this, along with some other changes to local social service delivery, as a challenge.
  • Respite for families is crucial. The Cleggs benefited from the generosity and support of their friend. Unfortunately, Anita shares that funding for organized respite and semi-independent housing for young adults with disabilities is being spread thinner and thinner.
  • Jesse’s new work life is a fine example of how integration has made a huge difference for him. This hasn’t always been the case. As Jesse made his way through the school system, the Cleggs experienced both integration and segregation, often changing based on policy and funding. They chose to home-school Jesse for a period of time when the school system was unable to meet his needs.

What does this boil down to for Anita Clegg?

“Smithers is a wonderful place and an amazingly generous community. My son knows way more people than I do,” she laughed, “and people watch out for him. There are just a few missing pieces, especially for some of the day-to-day, nitty-gritty challenges of raising a child with a disability.”

Concepts like healthy and inclusive communities can be hard to define, but in Jesse’s case, they are clear and their impact is profound. It’s the friend offering respite, the welcoming bowling team, and the local business eager to offer him work.

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:


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.)


Ditching the can opener: Tools, services, and tips to make healthy, homemade meals accessible

This article was co-authored by Rebecca Larson, registered dietitian, and Valerie Pagdin, occupational therapist.

Person cutting apple with one hand.

A rocker knife and cutting board with pins and suction cups makes cutting fruits and vegetables safe and accessible.

When you have a disability, making healthy meals at home can present additional challenges. Fatigue and difficulty with jars and utensils can create barriers to cooking. But there are ways to make cooking a bit easier so that everyone can enjoy healthy, homemade meals:

  • Buy frozen or pre-cut vegetables or fruit so that the preparation is already done.
  • Look for items that don’t require a can opener. Containers with screw tops (like some fruit and peanut butter) or those that are in pouches (yogurt or tuna) are easier to open.
  • Get your milk in a jug. Two litre plastic jugs with handles are easier to hold and pour than a milk carton.
  • Buy cheese and bread that are pre-sliced or have the deli or bakery slice them for you.

There are also many tools that can help you maintain your independence in shopping and cooking tasks. Using utensils with larger handles, cutting boards with suction cups to hold them to the countertop, or a mobility device to help you walk or carry items more easily can make a big difference in your ability to buy what you want and cook it the way you like it. An occupational therapist can assess your needs and help you find solutions that work for you in the kitchen. Ask your physician or primary care provider for a referral to an occupational therapist.

Accessible eating utensils.

Contact an occupational therapist to learn more about tools to make homemade meals more accessible – tools like weighted spoons, high-rimmed plates, and tremor spoons.

If transportation is a challenge, many grocery stores and service groups have grocery delivery options. Meals on Wheels is available in many communities and can provide meals if meal preparation is difficult or if you need a break. Food boxes, which contain fresh vegetables delivered on a regular basis, are available in some communities and may be an option to consider. Your local home and community care department can connect you to these programs.

If you need additional suggestions or help to make homemade meals more accessible, contact HealthLink BC Dietitian Services by dialling 8-1-1.

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:


Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.


Building spaces where everyone can play


Healthy community projects don’t happen overnight. Quesnel’s first accessible playground – with a grand opening scheduled for September 15, 2016 – provides a blueprint for success.

Brooke and MacKenzie are twin sisters who cannot play together at Quesnel’s playgrounds. While MacKenzie scampers up and down stairs and slides, Brooke’s chase stops the moment her wheelchair gets stuck in the pea gravel. To help the girls play together, Brooke’s parents carry her around the playground.

Brooke and MacKenzie’s situation is hardly unique, and neither is the fact that Quesnel didn’t, until recently, have any accessible playgrounds. Chances are the playground closest to you has pea gravel, steps, ladders, and other features that make it difficult for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Because it’s not just Brooke and MacKenzie who can’t play together. It’s the family with the baby stroller that can’t roll through the gravel to watch their toddler go down the slide; it’s the grandparents with walkers who are left watching grandkids from afar when a ledge gets in the way; it’s the children with leg braces who can only look on as their friends race over traditionally uneven surfaces.

But this is all about to change in Quesnel and, as it turns out, the answer to the question, “how can Brooke and MacKenzie play together?” provides a valuable blueprint of how a healthy community project can take shape in your town.

Two people assembling playground equipment.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground was a project four years in the making for Sandy Meidlinger (right), who was involved in the project team that made it happen.

Fresh from the excitement of a long-awaited playground build event on May 28, 2016, I chatted with Sandy Meidlinger with the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre, who tells the story from here:

This project started in 2012 when Brooke and MacKenzie’s mom came to me and asked for help to get an accessible playground built in Quesnel. I’m a member of the Parent Child Resource Team (a group of service providers and parents) and we agreed this would be a valuable long-term project for us to take on. Having a team was crucial! Our committee included parents, health care professionals, local agencies, government and school district representatives, and others.

When we asked community members for letters of support for this project, the response was overwhelming! Why? Until now, there was no playground in Quesnel accessible to people with mobility needs. I’m talking baby strollers, walkers, leg braces, scooters, and more. In Quesnel alone, there are over 100 children who, because of complex developmental profiles, can’t participate in many play activities on typical playgrounds. These kids are cut off from a typical family activity of playing at the park. An accessible playground increases physical activity levels for everyone, promotes inclusive family enjoyment, and helps children with mobility issues develop independence.

Volunteers assembling playground

On the day of the build, 25 volunteers and professionals came together to assemble the park.

Our first step was to present to the City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District joint planning committee. Both groups agreed in principle to support the idea. Connecting with government early was key to getting support for things later in the process like ongoing playground inspection and maintenance. There’s a wonderful legacy component to this project, too, as the city has committed to incorporating accessible aspects into all future park updates.

With government support in place, we looked for a location. The Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre had an old playground in disrepair so we asked about making this the site of the new playground. The Centre and their governing bodies were on board! This location was ideal because it’s central and on a bus route; the Centre will be using the playground daily for inclusive programs; and they offer accessible parking, doors, and washrooms.

Levelling rubber surface.

The recycled rubber surface replaced pea gravel, which is difficult to use for those with mobility needs.

The next step was to research playground developers. We settled on Habitat Systems. They took our ideas and created a design. We then asked therapists, play specialists, parents, and children about the plan; Habitat tweaked the design. The final proposal was about more than just mobility – there are sensory toys, considerations for visual impairments, and other equipment for integrated, inclusive play.

We then started the long and sometimes frustrating work of fundraising. We wrote lots of grant proposals; I presented to local agencies; we wrote letters to local businesses; and we all chatted with anyone interested in accessibility. Our generous community really stepped up! We managed to fundraise over $200,000!

We finally got to the day of the build. About 25 volunteers and professionals spent 13 hours assembling the park. The recycled rubber surface was poured the following week. The park is open for use this summer and our grand opening is scheduled for September 15!

It’s hard to believe that it took four years but MacKenzie and Brooke – and hundreds of other Quesnel residents – are now able to play together! We now have a space where everyone can play.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground is still fundraising for its last few pieces. To support this project with a tax-deductible donation, contact Sandy Meidlinger at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre: 250-992-2481,

For project photos and a list of donors, visit the Quesnel Accessible Playground on Facebook.

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:


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.)


“Our solution was the boardwalk”: How a local hiking group provided everyone with the opportunity to enjoy a natural wonder

Man carrying plank

Volunteer Mitch Olineck carries a boardwalk plank.

One of the things that northern B.C. residents commonly appreciate about living in this area is our close proximity and easy access to nature and outdoor activities, like skiing, camping and hiking.

Unfortunately, this “easy access” doesn’t always extend to everyone and truly experiencing nature can be a difficult, even impossible, task for some. This is why the Prince George hiking club, the Caledonia Ramblers, undertook the ambitious project of building a universal boardwalk for the Ancient Forest, a popular trail system 113 km east of Prince George that features huge ancient cedar trees that are protected as part of B.C.’s rare inland rainforest.

“There has to be an equal playing field for all our citizens,” said Nowell Senior, Caledonia Ramblers President, “so all citizens have an opportunity to live a wholesome, inclusive life.”

Senior has been president of the hiking club for eight years and was a member for 10 years before that. He has seen the boardwalk, as well as the original Ancient Forest trail, come alive from initial idea through to extensive planning and final development.

Four hikers at trail entrance.

Hikers (from left to right) Nowell Senior, Gwen and Bjorn Norheim, and Don Austin at the entrance to the universal boardwalk.

The idea for the Ancient Forest nature loop trail was conjured up 10 years ago and was built in a six week period over the summer of 2006. The Ramblers knew the area was beautiful, with its unique stands of large, ancient cedar, but Senior and the hiking club never anticipated just how popular it would become.

“Each year, more and more people were coming out to the nature trail,” said Senior. “When we realized just how popular the Ancient Forest trail had become, we were aware of those in our community who could not have that experience, and our solution was the boardwalk.”

So, in 2010, the club began exploring the idea of the universal boardwalk and approached local and provincial sponsors. The response was “completely supportive and positive,” said Senior. The 450 metre boardwalk that would provide full access to the Ancient Forest would become a reality.

The project came to fruition thanks to the contributions of many generous sponsors and 200 volunteers. The volunteers helped to build and even carried a total of 60 tons of lumber (by hand!) from the parking lot to the furthest point of the eventual boardwalk (in order to have it safely tucked away after delivery).

Four seasons and 6,500 volunteer hours later, the universal boardwalk was completed in the fall of 2013. It is now a separate trail – fully wheelchair accessible with rest areas and benches along the way – that goes to a viewing platform above a stream and provides a lovely view of the cedars. In 2015, the Ancient Forest welcomed over 15,000 visitors, and the boardwalk was renamed the Nowell Senior Universal Boardwalk to recognize his amazing contribution and dedication to the project.

“I think that going out to nature, we get reacquainted with the natural part of our world,” said Senior, on the importance of being active outdoors. “We’re natural beings that depend on nature. We can sometimes become separated from it, and as a result we’re not living as wholesome a life as we could.”

Senior encourages others to look at their communities and find ways to improve their accessibility, whether it’s providing better access to a park or creating a better mobility trail. His advice to get started: “Form a group of like-minded people who feel the same way… Put the idea out to organizations and entities that could be helpful in promoting such a venture.”

Now, Senior says the Ramblers are going forward with more awareness of the need for inclusivity. “I would hope the enthusiasm with which the Caledonia Ramblers have approached providing full access to nature would be contagious and effect more groups to become involved in that work.”

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:


Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)


From trail to town: How one accessible project led to greater change in Old Massett

Boardwalk in Naikoon Park

When local officials began to improve the famous Tow Hill trail, they decided to prioritize accessibility. Now, “you can wheel all the way down the boardwalk … When the West wind is blowing and the waves are crashing, [visitors] may have the salt spray on their faces … this is very exciting.”

Naikoon Park on Haida Gwaii is a wild and pristine coastal site in the traditional territory of the Haida Nation. Naikoon has long been a place of spiritual and cultural importance for Haida people. Visitors seek it out for the long stretches of unspoiled beach, coastal rainforests, dunes, and wetlands.

A few years ago local officials looked to improve the trails in Naikoon (namely the famous Tow Hill trail) and decided to prioritize accessibility. Ultimately, learning about accessibility went beyond the trail – the whole community continues to benefit from a new perspective in building and development.

John Disney is the Economic Development Officer with Old Massett Village Council and took up the duty to make a wholly new trail type for Naikoon.

We decided to work together [with the Province of BC and accessibility advocates] to run the park in a manner that would be attractive and all-inclusive. On that actual site [Tow Hill], we’ve rebuilt the whole thing. That was our first attempt at launching this new approach and seeing what the result would be.

John Disney, Cecil Brown (Deputy Chief Councillor, Old Massett Village Council), and Rick Hansen enjoy Tow Hill Trail.

One of the first visitors to the new trail was Rick Hansen, who provided his “stamp of approval” and encouraged local officials to continue making other parts of the park accessible.

The first person we took out there, when we first opened it, was Rick Hansen! His face was just beaming! He was up onto the boardwalk and down the beach; we could hardly keep up to him. He told us it was great and he said, ‘You’ve got to keep going in this direction.’ He gave us his stamp of approval!

You can take a virtual hike before you even arrive! Once you’re here, you can wheel all the way down the boardwalk, ending at a platform right on the rocks. Visitors can go up to a sign and feel the braille, or hear a story from one of the on-site ‘talking signs’ in English or Haida. When the West wind is blowing and the waves are crashing, they may have the salt spray on their faces … this is very exciting.

It’s not like Stanley Park here. It’s pristine, it’s raw, and when you’re out, you’re out in the elements. I don’t know why people have ever thought that those living with disabilities aren’t interested in that – they crave it. How can they find it? That’s what we’re learning now.

The positive reception has been gratifying for Disney and his team who toiled on making this project a reality, from securing support and funds, to boardwalk design and the tough work of building it. In fact, support for this project has been so strong that further work on park trails will carry on with a similar focus, extending the wilderness experience for all people in new ways:

I can’t wait to tell you this! Another trail branching off of the current, accessible one is the start of an old homestead trail. It crosses over the island to the east coast. We were going to just upgrade it but I thought to consider making that trail accessible too. I worried that it may be too long, so I called up Rick Hansen and asked him if the idea was insane. He wouldn’t even let me finish my sentence; he said, ‘John, build it!’ So we’re moving forward with this dream. We’re going to build a 10 km trail through pristine old-growth forests and marshlands, ending on the Hecate Strait beaches – and you’re going to be able to do the whole thing in a wheelchair.

The old trail had a bunch of steps, now they’ll have to be turned into ramps so that you can wheel up them, or push a buggy up them. You can ride your bike up them! Suddenly options open up.


One accessible project has led to greater change and a new lens on projects in Old Massett.

Disney makes it clear that learning about accessibility has deeply impacted his work – and his service has impacted many aspects of visitor and community life:

To tell the truth, I never really understood that there’s a segment of our society that can’t get to these places. It never occurred to me, but now it has and it’s a different way of looking at things. Accessibility is now one of the things we take into consideration when we build. When we build a cabin, is it accessible? Has it got a ramp? We built a 12-unit apartment for the community a few years ago and ensured that one whole floor was accessible. We wanted to be sure that the kitchen, the bathrooms, and everything worked for people in wheelchairs.

Whenever we are building something new we have to make it accessible. We have to be aware that whatever it is, there are people who will want to use it that were never were able to before. I’ve gained a new understanding and it’s brought me a lot of gratification too, to know that now I’ve learned this, I can do something about it.

More information:

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

Andrea Palmer

About Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is the Communications Lead for Capital Projects at Northern Health. She’s happy in all four seasons in Northern BC and loves getting out into the wild with her family. Andrea is a Southern transplant who came to the North “for just one year” to attend UNBC… more than twenty years ago. Suffice it to say the academic and professional opportunities, wild spaces, and open-hearted people are what make the North home for Andrea. Sunny winter skies and fresh powder for days don’t hurt either.