Healthy Living in the North

Crunching the numbers to protect our health

To shed some light on a topic that is so often out of view, occurring at the level of tiny particles, I spoke with air quality meteorologist Gail Roth. She took me through a day in the life of someone who spends a lot of time amidst tiny particles with big health impacts!

How do we measure air quality?

The Ministry of Environment has two types of monitors, continuous and non-continuous, that are set up in communities all over B.C. We monitor all sorts of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and more.

Because it’s the air pollutant that most often exceeds provincial objectives, a primary area of concern is particulate matter pollution – the tiniest of particles in the air that can get stuck deep in our lungs. These are called PM2.5 – particulate matter (PM) that is 2.5 micrometres or smaller in diameter. For comparison, a human hair is approximately 60 micrometres in diameter. PM2.5 is largely generated from combustion sources (e.g., vehicles, residential wood burnings, industrial processes).

We also monitor PM10 (particulate matter that is smaller than 10 micrometres). These larger particles are mostly caused by big particles like road dust, wood dust, or pollen being broken down.

In both cases, we measure how many of these particles there are in one cubic metre of air. You’ll see this reported as micrograms per metre cubed: µg/m³.

Fire crews assessing wildfire from a helicopter

Although specific smoke conditions might change because of wind, fire behaviour, and temperature, a smoky skies advisory in your area means you can expect higher levels of particulate matter pollution. Photo courtesy of BC Wildfire Service.

What is an air quality advisory?

The provincial objective for PM2.5 levels in a 24-hour period is 25 µg/m³. When a community gets above or close to this level, we issue an air quality advisory. This lets people know that their breathing may be affected and that they should be taking action to protect their health and reduce their emissions. The annual objective, which we use to monitor long term PM2.5 levels, is 8 µg/m³.

The provincial objective for PM10 levels in a 24-hour period is 50 µg/m³. When a community gets above or close to this level, we issue a dust advisory.

If there’s a forest fire in your area, you may also see a smoky skies advisory. Although specific smoke conditions might change because of wind, fire behaviour, and temperature, a smoky skies advisory in your area means you can expect higher levels of particulate matter pollution.

What actions can I take to protect myself during these advisories?

We include these actions right in the advisories, so they can be a helpful tool in protecting your health. The overarching goal of these actions is to reduce your exposure to the poor air. Some specific actions include:

  • Avoid roads with heavy traffic and areas with wood smoke
  • Reduce or stop physical activity if breathing becomes difficult

Further actions, including staying indoors and running air cleaners, may be needed for those who are more sensitive, like seniors, children, and people with underlying medical conditions.

What else do air quality meteorologists do?

In addition to monitoring air quality and issuing public reports and advisories, there are two other main parts to our work:

  1. Technical reviews: As an example, when an industry applies for a permit for a project that might have air pollution emissions, we review the application and evaluate its potential impact on air quality in the local community and surrounding area.
  2. Supporting local airshed management groups: We help to start these groups and translate technical air quality information for them. Local members drive the groups and we’re a resource for them, providing support on the science side.

Where can I learn about advisories in my community?

I’d encourage everyone to visit bcairquality.ca. Whenever an advisory is in place, it will appear as a link on the homepage. Even if there’s no advisory, you can still find current air quality conditions for where you live as well as great resources.


More information

Do you have respiratory sensitivities or want to take extra precautions during wildfire smoke events?

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that portable air cleaners (equipped with HEPA filters or electrostatic precipitators) are effective at reducing indoor particulate matter concentrations and the associated health effects during short smoke events.

Be sure to research products before purchasing a portable air cleaner! Learn about the type of unit you’re purchasing and the proper sizing for your space. On these devices, you’ll notice a number called the clean air delivery rate (CADR) – if you’re concerned about wildfire smoke, the CADR rating for tobacco smoke is the most relevant to look at.

When using a portable air cleaner, limit the entry of outdoor air. Keep in mind when you’re indoors and using a portable air cleaner, however, that there can be risks from increased heat and indoor-generated air pollutants.


A version of this article was originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about healthy lungs – on ISSUU!

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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Pulmonary rehabilitation in Prince George

Patient on exercise bicycle monitored by physiotherapist

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a well-established, well-researched intervention to help people with chronic pulmonary diseases cope with shortness of breath, develop activity tolerance, and improve quality of life.

When Dianne Gagne first arrived to take part in the new pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George, she had to stop twice to catch her breath en route from the parking lot of the YMCA to the room inside where the program is run. “I couldn’t even shower without getting short of breath,” shared Gagne, whose shortness of breath is caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other complications stemming from a fungal infection of her lungs that first appeared in her 20s.

Robin Roots, a physiotherapist, has seen this before. “For many people with a diagnosis of chronic pulmonary disease,” said Roots, “simply going to Walmart is not an option because of the walking requirement. They are left winded, short of breath, and unable to function.”

It is these challenges and more that the pulmonary rehabilitation program – a partnership between the YMCA of Northern BC, the UBC Department of Physical Therapy, and Northern Health – is working to address. And so far, as Dianne Gagne can attest, it seems to be working. “By the end, I could park and walk up to the room,” said Gagne. “I may never have my full lung function back – I was once an avid cross-country skier – but I’m noticing improvements. I can now do my daily chores without any issues and I’m walking for a full half-hour on the treadmill.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a well-established, well-researched intervention to help people with chronic pulmonary diseases cope with shortness of breath, develop activity tolerance, and improve quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation includes both an exercise component and education relating to proper disease management delivered by a team of health professionals, including physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, pharmacists, dietitians, respiratory therapists, and specialists.

“Exercise is really the distinguishing feature of this specialized program,” said Roots. “Each participant is assessed and receives an individualized program which is fully supervised. Participants take part in high intensity lower limb aerobic training, strengthening, and balance exercises. Because most participants are on oxygen and many are quite deconditioned, this exercise needs to be very closely monitored. We’ve got some participants on bicycles, some on arm cycles, some on treadmills. It’s all about understanding how much their body can do and designing exercises that increase their ability to take on daily living activities.”

For Gagne, the individualized program really stood out. “They scrutinize you very carefully,” said Gagne. “They would measure my oxygen levels, pulse, and blood pressure before and after exercises. If my oxygen saturation would fall below a certain level, the physiotherapists would stop me. They didn’t push me to do more than I could, but they did challenge me to do as much as I could! The exercise regimes they develop are specific to each individual. Some people were doing 2-3 minutes of activity, others were doing 45. The physiotherapists and students explain things at every step – they would tell me why I would be doing certain exercises.”

The pulmonary rehabilitation program has clearly had a positive impact on Gagne and the other participants. “Participants set their own goals,” said Roots, “and we try to get them there.” For many, the goal is simply to be able to better manage shortness of breath and to function day-to-day without getting short of breath – goals which can significantly improve quality of life. For Roots, however, the research points to an important system level benefit of the pulmonary rehabilitation program. “Research has shown that pulmonary rehabilitation can decrease emergency room visits for acute acerbations of COPD by 40 per cent. We know that there are approximately 300 hospitalizations for COPD per year in Prince George and that the average length of stay for someone with an acute exacerbation is nine days. There is also a readmission rate of 13 per cent. If we can reduce the number of ER visits and prevent hospitalizations, we can save the system a lot of resources.”

Gagne agreed: “This program is a preventive measure. It keeps you out of the hospital and teaches you how to look after your condition on your own.”

The pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George is an eight week program, with a cohort of 10-15 participants getting together twice weekly for exercises and education. Anyone with a diagnosis of chronic pulmonary disease can join the program, you just need to complete a pulmonary function test. You can access the rehabilitation program through your physician – ask them about it or tell them about it! Participants have come from as far as Smithers and work is underway to look at how the program can be made more accessible to people living outside of Prince George.

Patients on exercise bicycles monitored by physiotherapist

With one in four people likely to develop COPD in northern B.C., pulmonary rehabilitation programs have the potential to have a massive impact.

According to Roots, the pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George, which has received a lot of support from local respirologists Dr. Sharla Olsen and Dr. John Smith, is unique for a few reasons:

  • It represents a partnership between three organizations (a partnership that has also created a second program: cardiac rehabilitation).
  • UBC trains physiotherapy students in northern B.C. and the rehabilitation program offers a valuable site for clinical placements (“It’s win-win,” said Roots). The students provide a valuable service to the program participants while at the same time being trained under the supervision of a licensed physiotherapist.
  • While many pulmonary rehabilitation programs are run out of hospitals, this program is based in the community. This can help encourage participants to think about maintaining the gains they make in the program through active lifestyle opportunities right in the community.
  • The partnership has allowed for the program to be offered at very low cost to participants – just a $10 membership fee.

Both Roots and Gagne have a similar goal: they want more people to know about the program! With one in four people likely to develop COPD in northern B.C., pulmonary rehabilitation programs have the potential to have a massive impact.

“Without the program,” reflected Gagne, “I would be sitting at home, continually going downhill. And though these changes take time, I keep telling my doctors how fantastic the program was. I would like for more people to know about this program – it is available and is really helpful.”

COPD Support Group

Many participants in the pulmonary rehabilitation program see each other one more time each week through the Prince George COPD Support Group. I asked the group to tell me a bit about themselves and this is what the group’s treasurer, Nancy, shared:

The Prince George COPD Support Group, also known as the SOBs (Short of Breaths) gives those diagnosed with COPD (and any other lung issues) a place to learn how to cope with an unforgiving disease. Our group gets exercise directions from a licensed physiotherapist, who also gives informative chats on various issues related to the lungs. As members are all living with the same issues, we have a wealth of lay knowledge to fall back on and share with each other. We have coffee days where we often bring in speakers on a variety of subjects, which goes a long way towards educating us all. We are a dedicated group of boomers helping others as they help us. We are a fun group and invite new members to join – bringing a friend or family member is always welcome!

The group meets every Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the AiMHi Gymnasium in Prince George (950 Kerry Street).

What you need to know: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Although COPD is the most prevalent condition amongst pulmonary rehabilitation program participants, the program accepts people with any chronic pulmonary disease. Ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation.

From HealthLinkBC.ca:

  • COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.
  • COPD is most often caused by smoking. Other possible causes include long-term exposure to lung irritants, neonatal lung disease, and genetic factors.
  • COPD gets worse over time. While you can’t undo the damage to your lungs, you can take steps to prevent more damage and to feel better.
  • The main symptoms are a long-lasting cough, mucus that comes up when you cough, and shortness of breath.
  • At times, symptoms can flare up and become much worse. This is called a COPD exacerbation and can range from mild to life-threatening.

According to the Canadian Lung Association, “chronic lung disease accounts for more than 6% of annual health-care costs in Canada, and COPD is the leading cause of hospitalization.” COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. The Canadian Thoracic Society reports that a 2008 study “conservatively estimated the total cost of COPD hospitalizations at $1.5 billion a year.”


A version of this article was originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about healthy lungs – on ISSUU!

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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Podcasters, meteorologists, physiotherapists, wildfire fighters, and more: The many faces of healthy lungs!

Magazine cover with physiotherapy student and pulmonary rehabilitation client.

Healthy lungs take centre stage in the latest issue of Healthier You magazine!

In reading through the latest issue of Healthier You, it becomes clear that respiratory health is a significant issue in northern B.C.

What is also clear, however, is just how many diverse programs, people, communities, and partners are coming together to better understand and take action on this issue. We can all play a role in promoting health, protecting healthy environments, and preventing lung disease!

Take a look through the latest issue of the magazine online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

Here are just a few of the healthy lung stories you can read in Healthier You magazine:

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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8-1-1 & PAL: Physical activity in the north – the opportunities are endless!

Woman on a bicycle

Need some inspiration or support for World Physical Activity Day? HealthLink BC now includes qualified exercise professionals and physical activity information!

Exercise professionals have joined the suite of services available via HealthLinkBC! Now, no matter where you live in northern B.C., if you’re looking to make a lifestyle change this year but you’re not sure where to start, HealthLinkBC can help!

HealthLinkBC is a completely free resource that provides access to invaluable health information and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week either online, via mobile app, or by simply dialling 8-1-1 from your phone. Until recently, the health professionals available to the public via HealthLinkBC included health services navigators, nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists. The HealthLink team has now expanded to include exercise professionals from the Physical Activity Line.

What to expect

When you dial 8-1-1, you’ll be greeted by a health services navigator who will provide you with general health information and advice and/or connect you with the appropriate health care professional to address your concern. You have the option of either creating a profile or remaining anonymous during your conversation, so it’s a very “low risk” conversation.

If you are phoning for physical activity advice, the exercise professionals are a great resource for evidence-based information for all ages and abilities. They are equipped to provide general physical activity screening; information on healthy living; advice on how to get and stay active; individualized physical activity prescriptions; and referrals to physical activity programs available in your local area. I wasn’t sure that this would be the case for residents of smaller communities in northern B.C., but the nice gentleman I spoke to assured me that if there are resources and programs available, they will locate them for any area of B.C.

For example, if you’re calling from Vanderhoof, they may inform you about the accessible paths with nearby playground at Riverside Park, the cross-country ski trails at the Nechako Valley Sporting Association grounds, or the drop-in badminton club that meets at the local high school.

The exercise professionals will also provide comprehensive assistance with facilitating and supporting behaviour change, including advice on overcoming barriers, setting realistic goals, and even coming up with a backup plan to prevent or correct a relapse into unhealthy habits.

Considering the number and the remoteness of communities in northern B.C., it’s pretty amazing that today’s technology makes the region and its opportunities and services so much smaller and easier to navigate.

More information

  • Translation services are available in more than 130 languages
  • Services for those who are hearing impaired are available by dialling 7-1-1

Who is available when?

  • Health services navigators & nurses: 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year
  • Dietitians & exercise professionals: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Pharmacists: 7 days/week, 5 p.m. – 9 a.m. (when a community pharmacist is unavailable)

A version of this article was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about shrinking geography and accessible services – on ISSUU!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

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

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Overcoming a vast northern landscape

Magazine cover

The latest issue of Healthier You profiles people, programs, and ideas that overcome northern B.C.’s vast geography.

There’s no denying that northern B.C. is enormous! In fact, the area served by Northern Health covers about two-thirds of the province!

This geography brings with it all sorts unique recreation opportunities and, for many people, the chance to walk directly out of your front door into stunning natural environments.

That said, the size and remoteness of northern B.C. can create challenges, too. In the latest issue of Healthier You magazine, we’re looking at programs, ideas, and people who are taking on this challenge head-on!

Learn how technology, travel programs, partnerships, and northern ideas are “shrinking geography”:

In addition to sharing stories about all sorts of unique programs that connect people to services across our region, the magazine also lets you know how to access these services.

Take a look through the latest issue of the magazine online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

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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New issue of Healthier You: Community grants in action!

Magazine cover

The winter issue of Healthier You magazine is all about community grants in action.

What does it mean to support “healthy people in healthy communities”? That’s one of the questions that the latest issue of Healthier You magazine sets out to answer!

I really enjoyed reading through this issue and learning about the different ways that communities are taking actions that promote health and prevent disease.

Curious about what that means?

Take a look through the issue and you’ll find:

  • A local approach to preventing injury and promoting active transportation (Village of Queen Charlotte’s Bike Repair and Safety Program).
  • The Food Secure Kids program in the northeast challenging you to learn about food security through the experiences of students who are enjoying the taste of a carrot that they planted and grew themselves.
  • Local ideas that support healthier early years through Children First funded programs in Mackenzie & area, Prince George, Quesnel, and the Robson & Canoe Valleys.

Once these projects and others get you inspired to connect into healthy community projects where you live, don’t miss the issue’s handy information on:

Take a look through these stories online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

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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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.

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Building spaces where everyone can play

Playground

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, SandyM@QuesnelCDC.com

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.)

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“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 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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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.

Boardwalk

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 a Communications Advisor with the Health Promotions Team at Northern Health. Born and raised in southern B.C., Andrea now embraces the North in large part for all the fun, healthy activities and opportunities uniquely accessible in our region including snowboarding, cross-country skiing, outdoor skating, wild berry picking, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing and the bracing experience of jogging in the snow!

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