Healthy Living in the North

Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

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.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


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 next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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Exploring the outdoors! Geocaching in Hudson’s Hope

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.


Family geocaching

Get outdoors and give geocaching a try this summer! The Playground of the Peace is a great spot to try this activity!

What’s geocaching? Community members in Hudson’s Hope know!

The District of Hudson’s Hope received an IMAGINE Community Grant in 2015 and were able to start a community geocaching program for residents and visitors to the area. It’s a great way to be active, connect with friends and strangers, and enjoy the outdoors!

So, what is it?

The District describes geocaching as

a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates [using a GPS receiver or a mobile device] and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

The District of Hudson’s Hope Geo-Adventure is a series of hidden geocaches in the Hudson’s Hope region. Residents and visitors alike can search for all the caches and complete the Geo-Adventure Passport to receive prizes.

In 2015, the District of Hudson’s Hope applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant and they used the funds from their successful application to purchase caches, GPS units, and trackable coins to get their program started. The goal for the project was to increase awareness of geocaching and to get people outdoors exploring nature, all while promoting healthy living. Another goal was to develop a recreational program that could increase tourism to the area.

Looking back, Becky Mercereau with the District of Hudson’s Hope reflects on the program:

The greatest impact was getting community members outdoors and enjoying active living. There are now 29 geocaches within our boundary, which is an increase from the 9 that were already created here at the beginning of the year. People who joined us in the treasure hunting really enjoyed all the locations; they found them while enjoying the wonderful outdoors of our Playground of the Peace.

Geocaching coins

The District of Hudson’s Hope used their IMAGINE Community Grant funding to purchase trackable coins and build their Geo-Adventure!

Want to try something new this summer? Head to Hudson’s Hope and complete their Geo-Adventure! For more information on geocaching in Hudson’s Hope, visit the District’s geocaching website. For more information about geocaching, join the world’s largest treasure hunt!

If the success of geocaching in the District of Hudson’s Hope has you thinking about active living projects for your community, get your project ready for the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants! The next call for applications will be September 19, 2016.


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 next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 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.

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IMAGINE grant: CHAAPS Summer Camps

Two horses with riders in riding arena.

The Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS) gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with all sorts of health benefits!

If the bond between rider and horse is understood anywhere in northern B.C., Quesnel is certainly a top candidate. Host of the Quesnel Rodeo – one of the largest annual rodeos in Western Canada – the town is also home to events by the Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS), a group that highlights the same relationship you’d see at the rodeo, but with slightly less fanfare and a very different purpose. CHAAPS gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with:

  • Physical and mental exercise and stimulation in a safe and secure environment
  • Education and hands-on experience handling an animal
  • Emotional well-being

It also offers the bond mentioned above. “The companionship of animals decreases loneliness and stimulates conversation,” said Angela Mezzatesta, program director with CHAAPS, “By encouraging touch and giving program participants a responsive animal to work with, interaction with them motivates physical reactions that are very necessary and important in humans. Many times, animals give attention to a person who otherwise might not receive as much. They stimulate exercise, encourage laughter, and facilitate social contact. These benefits add up to an improved sense of well-being.”

Two girls grooming a horse with support from adult.

CHAAPS is making a difference in the community! What types of initiatives support healthy communities where you live?

A recipient of a 2014 IMAGINE grant, CHAAPS operates on a shoestring budget, providing a series of summer camps as well as daily riding sessions to its participants. Regardless of budget, the program is clearly making a difference in the community, one person at a time. “The program helped an 8 year old girl develop patience, build empathy and awareness, and care for others,” said Angela, “Her mother says she’s seen her daughter grow from coming to CHAAPS, telling us:

She sits – this is hard for her – on this horse and is in control of this big thing. It’s living so she can feel it breathing. She has to concentrate her attention – which is very short – and she does this when she is riding. We haven’t been able to get her to do this in other settings. This improves her focusing ability, which is one of our goals. By coming here, she’s learned to be gentle and take care of animals, not scare them. Attending the program has helped her to settle down and be more mindful of living creatures and this is now transferring to others who are around her.

Woman in wheelchair petting a horse.

CHAAPS has been making a difference through therapeutic riding programs in Quesnel since 2008.

Helping people in Quesnel since 2008, CHAAPS is a certified member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA), a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement, and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of horses. CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification and offers accreditation to therapeutic riding centres. Additionally, CHAAPS is a member of the BC Therapeutic Riding Association (BCTRA) and the Horse Council of BC (HCBC).


About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.

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IMAGINE: Legacy Grants – Deadline Extended to July 11

IMAGINE grantsLast month, we told you about the great opportunity to apply for an IMAGINE: Legacy Grant (see previous post). You have one more week to send us your applications – the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 11!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for northern B.C. communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to be inspired by the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and apply for funding towards a health promotion or disease/injury-prevention project that will help improve health through physical activity. Apply now! As a reminder, here are the details:

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Deadline for applications has been extended to July 11, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community 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 also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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)

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New IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available

IMAGINE grantsWe are very pleased to launch a new season of IMAGINE grant funding opportunities to help improve the health and well-being of those living, working, learning and playing in northern BC.

From February 13 to March 1, 2015, Prince George and Northern British Columbia will be host to the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Northern BC communities are presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northerners that lasts beyond the two-week event. We hope that the Games will inspire and motivate communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to take action towards efforts to improve health through physical activity.

If you have a great idea for a health promotion or disease or injury prevention project within the Northern Health region of BC, we invite you to apply for funding now.

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Applications are being accepted until July 7, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community 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 also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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)

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Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants available

Sheila and Jane, partnering for healthier communities

Sheila Gordon-Payne, health service administrator for Prince Rupert, and Jane Boutette. They are happy to announce the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, available to support projects aimed at improving health and wellness of youth or seniors in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.What makes a healthy community? What’s my role in helping to create a healthy environment in the place where I live and work?

[July 31, 2014 editor’s note: The deadline for applications has been extended to October 15, 2014!]

What makes a healthy community? What’s my role in helping to create a healthy environment in the place where I live and work?

I first really thought about these questions while I was working at a local food bank during my summers off from nursing school. During my time there, I met people from all walks of life who were doing their best to get by in tough circumstances. On top of their financial troubles, many were also facing significant health challenges and I was eager to complete my studies and find a way to “really help.”

After graduating, I took a job in the Northwest Territories working as a rural acute care nurse and spent my days in the emergency department, mostly looking after people with preventable injuries and complications from chronic conditions. Many of the people I helped had similar challenges to the clients I worked with at the food bank: too little money, too much stress and limited resources to cope with it all.

After a particularly long shift, I decided to head out on my bike for some much needed exercise and I found myself reflecting back on my time at the food bank. I was struck with the thought that I still hadn’t found a way to “really help.” I was proud of the work that I was doing but the reality was starting to set in that as a nurse, I didn’t have the capacity to provide the kind of supports that my clients really needed in order to live healthier lives. In fact, the health care system on its own didn’t even have this capacity. Those simple realizations set me on the path to a career in public health and ultimately, to the work that I am now doing with the Healthy Communities Integration Committee in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.

“With rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others – or, in a word, partnership.” -Paul Farmer

Several years ago, Sheila Gordon-Payne, the Health Services Administrator for Prince Rupert (pictured here with me before another post-work bike ride!), approached me and some colleagues at Northern Health with the task of pulling together a group of community stakeholders to talk about the challenges that we face as a community and to begin some conversation about what we might do to start addressing them. We had representatives from Northern Health, the Transition House, First Nations Communities, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the RCMP, the City, the Senior’s Center, the School District and even the Salvation Army food bank! We called ourselves the Healthy Communities Integration Committee and came to the table as equal partners, each with a part to play in making our community a healthier place to be. We poured over community data and health status indicators for our areas and learned a lot about our local strengths and challenges. In the end, we chose two key focus areas to start our work: youth and seniors.

Today, we are very excited to announce the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, available through our Healthy Communities Integration Committee. These grants of up to $3000 are available to support grassroots, multi-sectoral approaches aimed at improving the health and wellness of youth and/or seniors in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.  We are looking for proposals that will support collaboration and partnerships and that will have the potential to make a positive impact on seniors and youth.

The deadline for applications is June 3, 2014.

For more information on the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, the application process, and opportunities in other northern B.C. communities, please email us at:  healthycommunities@northernhealth.ca

Jane Boutette

About Jane Boutette

Jane Boutette is a Public Health Nursing Program Manager for Northern Health. She provides front line clinical and administrative leadership for nurses working in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. She has a BSc in nursing and a master’s of sience in public health research. Jane is passionate about public health and has a strong interest in community development. In her spare time she loves to be outside at the local ski hill, on the running trails or on a bike!

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