Healthy Living in the North

I came for… and I stayed because… with John Short

John sitting on a log on the beach, petting his dog.

John and his dog Pipyr enjoying a visit to one of the local beaches in Masset.

Recently, I noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: John Short, Site Manager for the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital & Health Centre in Masset. John is from Toronto, Ontario, and he first came to Northern Health 10 years ago.

I came for…

I was working as a temporary nurse with a staffing company in 2009 and was placed in Masset for three weeks. Two days into the placement, I had a feeling that I was supposed to be here. It felt like home. I discussed future opportunities with the nurse manager. I worked in nearby communities for the next few months, but came back to Masset. I officially started as a Northern Health employee May 1, 2010.

John posing at the beach, holding a starfish.

You never know what sort of sea creatures you are going to find on Haida Gwaii. John found a starfish on one of his adventures around the island.

I stayed because…

I fell in love with the community and people on Haida Gwaii. Living in a small, rural community was very new for me and I quickly became appreciative of the relationships I was building. My partner relocated with me and was creating his own experiences. We’ve been fortunate to have developed many meaningful relationships. By chance, we developed a strong friendship with a local Haida elder (matriarch) that led to both of us being adopted into her clan. We continue to have a close relationship with her and her adult children and many cousins. We had a naming potlatch and I was given the name dangid giigang, which means “always smiling.”

There was a lot of potential for career advancement in Masset. The nurse manager that hired me recognized my leadership potential. She invested time to orientate me to her role so I could cover her vacations and provide support to the department. This motivated me to further develop my leadership skills. After she retired, I was hired as the nurse manager. I was in that position for two years until the opportunity to be the site director came up.

Moving to Masset has been a great adventure. I look forward to coming to work every day. I love seeing when others develop their own connection to Masset. After getting our matriarch’s blessing, we acquired property outside of town and we plan to build our forever home while we live off-grid on the property. We are settlers here and don’t see ourselves ever wanting to leave Masset. This is home. I am very thankful that a temporary nursing assignment brought me here.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.


The Boon Docs: Excuses

The Boon Docs comic, "excuses," by Caroline Shooner, frame 1 of 3.

The Boon Docs comic, "excuses," by Caroline Shooner, frame 2 of 3.

The Boon Docs comic, "excuses," by Caroline Shooner, frame 3 of 3.

About the Boon Docs:

The Boon Docs is a comic about practicing medicine in a small town. It’s about raising chickens and having sheep instead of a lawnmower. It’s about being nice to your neighbours (or else). But don’t be fooled: it is not always simple or idyllic. There are hungry bears and peckish raccoons out there. Rumors get around faster than the ambulance, and the store often runs out of milk.

Caroline Shooner

About Caroline Shooner

Originally from Montreal, Dr. Caroline Shooner joined the Queen Charlotte medical team in 2007 and has been living and practicing as a family physician on Haida Gwaii ever since. Caroline is interested in how the arts and humanities can help promote health and allow us to look more critically and meaningfully at how we practice medicine. In 2015, she completed an MSc in Medical Humanities at King’s College London. During that year, she was introduced to the field of Graphic Medicine and started creating a series of cartoons inspired by the comic side of small town medicine: The Boon Docs.


The Boon Docs: No Trespassing

Boon Docs comic, "no trespassing," by Caroline Shooner.
The Boon Docs comic, “no trespassing,” by Dr. Caroline Shooner.

About the Boon Docs:

The Boon Docs is a comic about practicing medicine in a small town. It’s about raising chickens and having sheep instead of a lawnmower. It’s about being nice to your neighbours (or else). But don’t be fooled: it is not always simple or idyllic. There are hungry bears and peckish raccoons out there. Rumors get around faster than the ambulance, and the store often runs out of milk.

Caroline Shooner

About Caroline Shooner

Originally from Montreal, Dr. Caroline Shooner joined the Queen Charlotte medical team in 2007 and has been living and practicing as a family physician on Haida Gwaii ever since. Caroline is interested in how the arts and humanities can help promote health and allow us to look more critically and meaningfully at how we practice medicine. In 2015, she completed an MSc in Medical Humanities at King’s College London. During that year, she was introduced to the field of Graphic Medicine and started creating a series of cartoons inspired by the comic side of small town medicine: The Boon Docs.


Haida Gwaii Hospital has first Haida language lesson with NH staff

A group of people standing outside the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre.

The Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP) visited staff at the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre in Queen Charlotte on November 30 for a learning lunch and their first Haida language lesson.

There was an impressive turnout, with about 40 staff in attendance. Luu (Kevin Borserio, language teacher) led the staff in an accessible lesson, with the elders demonstrating proper use of language.

“It was a heart-warming experience,” said Dr.Morton, a family practitioner. Staff look forward to many more lessons in the future.

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.


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.


Staff profile: Shelly Crack

Certificate presented to staff person.

Shelly Crack recently celebrated 10 years of service with Northern Health!

In every issue of A Healthier You, I have the pleasure of profiling a member of Northern Health’s amazing and diverse staff team. For our recent issue on local food, one name kept popping up when I was looking across our vast region for staff members with a passion in this area: Shelly Crack, a community dietitian on Haida Gwaii.

Shelly is a champion of local food who, amongst other things, works with local schools to support students to grow, harvest, prepare, and eat healthy, local food. She recently celebrated ten years of service with Northern Health and was also recently presented, along with fellow Northern Health staff member Christopher Horner, with a 2015 Citizen of the Year Award by the Masset Haida Lions Club.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to connect with Shelly to learn more about her interest in local food, her life on Haida Gwaii, and the programs that she supports. This profile was originally published in the May 2015 issue of A Healthier You.

Family photo

Shelly’s family values growing, gathering, and eating local food.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Northern Health.

For the last 10 years, I have been a community dietitian on Haida Gwaii. This is my first job out of school and I love it! After seven years of travelling and working between Hazelton and Haida Gwaii, I settled on the north end of Haida Gwaii where I currently live with my wife, our two children and an incredible community of friends.

Amongst other things that I do as the community dietitian, about five years ago I began to connect with the provincial Farm to School program. Through that program, we connect directly with local producers to bring food grown, harvested, gathered, and hunted on Haida Gwaii into schools. At this point, every school on island is engaged with Local Food to School and some schools have local ingredients included in every menu item.

We recently received a Healthy Communities grant from Northern Health to grow this program. We’ll be able to bring local, traditional food into the hospital for special events, continue to support local hot lunch and experiential learning programs, and create a local food pantry in Masset where local food can be sourced, sold, processed, preserved, and distributed to food programs.

In addition to being the community dietitian, I also coordinate the chronic disease management program in Masset. Working in both of these roles is motivating because as a dietitian, I work directly with individuals with chronic disease and with the local food system aiming to improve nutrition of the entire community. For me, healthy, local, sustainable food is one of the key tools that we have to combat chronic illness.

Family in a kayak

During a three-week paddling trip of Gwaii Haanas National Park, Shelly, her wife, and two year old daughter dehydrated 21 days’ worth of food – most of which came from their garden!

What are some of the best features of Haida Gwaii and the north coast that support local food?

Local food is deeply valued on Haida Gwaii – it is one of the reasons why people live here! It is so amazing to see how my interest and passion for local food is matched with other peoples’ energy. The local food movement is happening island-wide and so many people – the Haida, local fisheries, teachers, students and others – are involved in bringing local food programs to life. There’s just so much momentum!

This is also a beautiful place for food! There are hundreds of pounds of chanterelles in our forests and an amazing bounty of fish and seafood. When I was pregnant with my son, my wife, two year old daughter and I paddled in Gwaii Haanas National Park. The trek took us three weeks and to prepare, we dehydrated 21 days’ worth of food, most of it taken right from our garden. We fished and ate locally the whole way!

Two plates with local food items

Mushrooms, berries, and bountiful fish and seafood are just some of the local food options on Haida Gwaii, “a beautiful place for food”, where local food is deeply valued.

What do you do to live a healthy life?

My family values growing, gathering, and eating food but in addition to local food, I stay active. Whether it’s biking to work, walking on the beach, practising yoga, kayaking, or camping on weekends, I love the peacefulness that sets Haida Gwaii apart from busy centres.

My community also supports my health. My family shares land, a garden, food preparation, and child care responsibilities with another family. This co-operative support and strong social connectedness on Haida Gwaii supports health.

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.)


Wellness Warriors

Sign on the outside of the Wellness House

The Wellness Warriors gather weekly at the Wellness House in Masset to nurture wellness.

It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday and so the space at the Wellness House (across the road from the Masset library) opens up. It always does, like breathing, and when it does, people gather here with intention. Tonight, there is the usual bustle in the kitchen: people joking and laughing. Someone is looking for a can opener – turns out we left it at camp this summer. Someone else runs off to get cream for the coffee; we should have told them to get a can opener, too! Venison stew simmers on the stove (Haw’aa to the cook); someone else made rice. I brought homemade fermented pickles (again!) and we all know who brought the salad. The energy in the room is comfortable, welcoming, safe, and fun. We are the Wellness Warriors.

After dinner, and the kinds of discussions that dinners seem to inspire, we form a circle in the living room. Passing the feather around, we all speak and bring ourselves into the room together. This circle is the heart of us warriors: pumping vitality through the community of wellness we are creating. There is much courage and much kindness that happens in this circle. It transforms us.

Colorful four-canvas art image of multi-coloured yin-yang symbol with feathers and other shapes

An image of a yin-yang (balance) with four coloured feathers (wholeness and diversity) hanging down. This image is broken down into separate canvases that we pass to our left every 10 minutes or so. As they go around, we each contribute shapes and colours in dialogue with the other shapes and colours on the canvas. The art reflects our group intention: everyone is contributing to the process of creating something beautiful – something that is more than the sum of its parts. You could call that something wellness and we, its warriors.

Then, fed, connected, and present, we delve into the activity of the week. The group determines what it does: picking berries, making candles, talking about colonialism, searching for crabs, discussing shame, playing charades, or any number of other things. This evening, we have decided to work on an art project that we will exhibit at the annual All Island Art Show. Someone plugs their iPod into the speakers and the energy in the room shifts again as we delve into creativity.

The Wellness Warriors is a weekly gathering of people focused on nurturing wellness. The group, originally modelled after the Adult Addictions Day Treatment Program, evolved over the past three years to dynamically fit the context of our community’s particular needs and resources. The group is facilitated through a strong partnership between the Haida Health Centre and Northern Health as well as through the support of other community partners like the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace and the various guests and contributors who have come and shared with the group over the years. Most notably, however, the group functions through the participation of the people who come to the group, who champion the group’s wellness orientation, and who support the values of nonjudgmental acceptance, connectedness, confidentiality, and respect. The Wellness Warriors is a truly community-based, non-hierarchal, client-focused, client-driven, open group that is both nourishing and transformational.

Want to learn more about the Wellness Warriors? Check out this presentation I gave as part of a webinar series last year.

Four members of the group pose outside of the community building

Members of the Wellness Warriors team gather outside of the Wellness House.

Who are some of the Northern Health team members involved with the Wellness Warriors? My bio is in the author section of this post but two other team members are:

Sandra Dan (far left in the photo) is a mental health and addiction counsellor with the Old Massett Haida Health Centre. She is originally from Sto:lo Nation in the Lower Mainland of B.C. Sandra has lived in Old Massett, Haida Gwaii since 1985. She is married to a Nisgaa/Haida from Old Massett and is mother/stepmother of four, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother of one. Sandra worked in the field of social services and child welfare in downtown Vancouver for 10 years, social development in Old Massett for six and a half years, and as social work team leader for Khowutzun Tribes for one year before starting with mental health and addictions for Old Massett Haida Health in 1984. Sandra’s interests include walking the beach, gathering food, beading and leatherwork, coffee with her buds, reading, and watching good movies.

Darlene M. Stoddard (far right in photo) is a life skills worker with Northern Health mental health and addictions. Darlene comes from the east coast of Canada. She graduated from New Brunswick Community College in 2010 as a patient care aide in acute care. Since graduating – and even before college – Darlene has supported clients with mental illnesses, some who suffered with dual diagnoses. She is also extremely skilled at working with adolescents who suffer from the autism spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Darlene feels privileged and honoured to have recently been able to accept the position of Life Skills Worker II with Northern Health.

Dan Binnema

About Dan Binnema

Dan is a father of two young children, living happily on Haida Gwaii. Seven years ago, he quit a great job with the mobile crisis response team in Calgary, spent a summer canoeing across northern Canada with his pregnant wife, became a father, and moved with his family to Haida Gwaii, the islands of his dreams. He has been working in Masset as a mental health and addictions clinician with Northern Health for just over six years, with no plans of leaving. In his time in Masset, he has become increasingly connected to the land, the food it offers, and the community it nourishes. This connectedness spills over into his work as a clinician, most notably within the community of the Wellness Warriors group.


Biking to work between islands

Biking to work

Heather, on the ferry from Sandspit, during her daily bike ride to work.

When I was asked to contribute to the NH blog, I actually accepted the invitation before I knew what I was going to write. Encouraging health in the workplace? How can we add health in the workplace? How is  ‘health’ defined by each of us? Healthy eating? Exercise? How do I incorporate healthy in my workday?

Well, I work in Queen Charlotte City but live in Sandspit. That means my commute consists of 12km to the ferry terminal, a 30-minute ferry ride and another 5km to the hospital in Queen Charlotte. I could drive or bike. I made the choice to bike to work for two reasons. First, it would save me cash by walking onto the ferry versus driving and secondly, I could add some movement into my day before and after each work day.

Here’s a typical day, riding my bike to work:

I reach for my alarm, turn it off, roll over and open my eyes. September is  not quite as bright in the morning as in July, but there’s still light streaming into my bedroom from the rising sun. I put my biking outfit on, make some coffee, grab my pre-made lunch  and pack my backpack. I make my favorite breakfast smoothie and toss it too into my pack. It’s 7:15 am. I walk to the end of my driveway with my ride. My morning commute has started. I start to peddle the 12km. The road is quiet and to my right for 12km is the ocean. The water is Caribbean blue, calm and the beach is empty and peaceful. Throughout the summer I was fortunate to witness various berries changing colours, the day-old fawns playing, whales around Onward Point and river otters crossing the road before the other morning traffic. On the mighty Kwuna, I enjoy my coffee and morning chat with friends all while watching seagulls and porpoises pass by. The ferry docks at the Skidegate Terminal and I continue my ride into Queen Charlotte with sunshine warming my back and highlighting Sleeping Beauty Mountain in front of me. When I reach my destination I feel energized and happy to be there. I get to do the reverse at the end of the day.

Biking to work is just one way that I incorporate ‘health’ into my workday. How do you?

Heather Brule

About Heather Brule

Heather lives, works and plays on Haida Gwaii. She has worked for Northern Health since 2012 in the Rehabilitation department as a therapy aide. At work, she assists the physical therapist as well as works with the long-term care residents to provide various forms of recreation. She's active in the community and enjoys teaching various fitness classes over the past few years. In her spare time she can be found running, hiking, biking, crafting, reading, diving and enjoying the ocean via fishing, surfing and paddle boarding.
(Heather no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


A gap in health promotion for a specific population

Caution deer

What should we caution deer on Haida Gwaii about?

Recently I took a trip to Haida Gwaii with my theatre group. Part of our work involved travelling along the beautiful shore road between the communities of Skidegate and Massett, a trip that takes over an hour of driving. Along the way, we noticed many of the small deer that inhabit the island grazing along the roadside. We also passed a very large yellow sign with a deer silhouette and the words “Caution Deer” in big block letters.

It occurred to us that some kind soul had posted the sign to engage passing motorists, both drivers and passengers, encouraging action for the benefit of the deer population. We discussed this directive to “Caution Deer” at length. What should we caution them about? Some of our group opted for warnings about hunters or keeping fawns away from eagles. Clearly they were not taking the “Caution Deer” ask seriously. A vigorous discussion ensued.

Of course the obvious risk factors came to mind. We wondered if the deer were eating a balanced diet. It would appear from all the grazing we witnessed that they consume a lot of grasses and other plants. There was a lot of that available so food security seemed moot. There may be a concern with contamination and pollutants from dining so close to the road, however.  Before a truly meaningful program of cautioning deer about nutrition could take place it seems we would need a detailed research regimen to determine dietary needs and availability. On a positive note, there were often groups of deer grazing together. This underscores the positive social value of communal meal sharing.

From the look of the creatures and from the way they moved it did not seem that sedentary behavior was a concern so encouraging an active lifestyle would likely be preaching to the choir. Still there may be opportunity to collaboratively assess and develop a broader range of healthy movement and integrate it into their day to day behavior.

We did not see any indication of tobacco use among the deer so that too is either of no concern or is well hidden. (Pedro was the dissenting opinion in this as he noted some cigarette butts along the shoulder of the road but these could have been from other wildlife. Again this provides a rich potential area for study). Other substance use also was not evident. The island does support a range of hallucinogenic mushrooms but we saw no evidence of use among the deer population. (This may be a seasonal problem not manifested at this time of year. Again, further study is required.)

One area that seems to offer ample room for intervention and possible positive outcome is in the field of injury prevention. After all, the deer were spending what seemed like a great deal of time near roadways, which offer a high risk for unfortunate interaction. Also we saw a number of deer running and jumping over fences and obstacles. None of them were wearing any protective gear!

As a group we settled on our caution to the deer to be “look both ways before crossing the highway” and “don’t drink the sea water.” (One of our group had tasted it and insisted on including this warning.) These are not an entirely satisfactory set of cautions to be sure, but it was the best we could manage on such short notice.

In retrospect, it’s worth thinking about the overall health of the deer population of Haida Gwaii and considering how we could promote positive behavior in how they live, eat, run, play and interact. Doing so would have the obvious benefit of preventing disease and disability among the deer population but it could also improve the overall quality of life for the deer and for those humans fortunate enough to encounter them in the future.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.