Healthy Living in the North

IMAGINE Grants: Making space for youth in Quesnel

Youth play a variety of tabletop games, like air hockey and a basketball game.

Sometimes teenagers get a bad rap. Maybe it’s the loud music, or the tendency to travel in packs, but they’re often regarded with undeserved suspicion. And even when they do get into trouble, they often aren’t bad kids, just bored kids. When Rebekah Harding of Reformation House in Quesnel looked at the youth in her community, she saw that many of them had barriers to accessing sports like hockey or soccer, and no safe place to hang out. To keep young people from drifting into substance use and other potentially dangerous choices, she decided to take action.

Reformation House’s youth lounge: creating a safe space for teens in Quesnel

In fall of 2018, Reformation House applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant to establish a youth lounge in downtown Quesnel. The safe, clean space where kids could gather and hang out would offer games, activities, and snacks. The group purchased a variety of game tables, installed a TV and a concession, and opened their doors in January 2019.

The response was amazing. From the beginning, it was clear that kids were responding to having a space to call their own. Youth from Quesnel and other communities came to play pool and foosball, watch movies, sing karaoke, and just chill. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive – more than one visitor said that if it wasn’t for the lounge, they likely wouldn’t leave their home at all except to go to school.

Improving the health of teens and the community: the work continues

While there’s still lots of work to be done, Reformation House is committed to continuing their work on the youth lounge. Future plans include developing new partnerships in the community, expanding marketing, and making the space available for event rentals. The IMAGINE Community Grants program is proud to support groups who take steps to make their communities healthier places!

IMAGINE grant applications open in September

The application window for IMAGINE Community Grants opens on September 1 and closes September 30, 2019. The program accepts applications that promote health in a wide range of areas, including:

  • Physical activity
  • Healthy eating
  • Community food security
  • Injury prevention and safety
  • Mental health and wellness
  • Prevention of substance harms
  • Smoking and vaping reduction
  • Healthy aging
  • Healthy schools
  • …and more!

For more information, visit the IMAGINE Community Grants webpage today!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.


Sedentary Behaviours – They’re not all created equal!

The sun sets over water in the distance. The sky is blue and gold punctuated by clouds. In the foreground, a silhouette watches the beautiful scene.

Some sedentary behaviours are good for your well-being, like taking in a soothing sunset.

The new smoking.” Sedentary time (time spent in a sitting or lying position while expending very little energy) has come under fire for its negative health effects lately. While there are certainly significant health risks associated with time spent being sedentary, calling it “the new smoking” is a bit of a scare tactic – smoking is still riskier.

At this point, you might be starting to doubt my intentions. After all, my job is to promote increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour in the name of better health. Fear not! I’ll get there yet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years of age:

This is really exciting because the WHO took the evidence used in the development of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4), reviewed more evidence, and reinforced these main messages:

  • Kids need to get a good amount and variety of physical activity each day.
    • For those under one year, being active several times a day including floor-based play and tummy time.
    • For kids between one to two years of age, at least three hours at any intensity throughout the day.
    • For kids between three to four years of age, at least three hours, including at least one hour of higher intensity activity throughout the day.
  • Kids need to get enough – and good quality – sleep!
    • For those under one year, the recommendation is 12-17 hours including naps.
    • For ages one to two, 11-14 hours.
    • For ages three to four, 10-13 hours.
  • Kids need to spend less (or limited) time being restrained and sitting in front of screens.
    • Translation? Not being stuck in a stroller or car seat for more than one hour at a time. Screen time isn’t recommended for children under two years, and it’s recommended to limit sedentary screen time to no more than one hour for kids aged between two and four.

Here’s what I really appreciate about this last part, and what I think actually applies to all ages: the recommendation is to replace restrained and sedentary screen time with more physical activity, while still ensuring a good quality sleep. However, it doesn’t tell us to avoid all sedentary time completely. In fact, this concept recognizes that there are a number of sedentary activities (particularly in the early, developmental years, but also for all ages) that are very valuable from a holistic wellness perspective.

For children, these higher quality sedentary activities include quiet play, reading, creative storytelling and interacting with caregivers, etc. For adults, things like reading a book, creating something, making music, or working on a puzzle can contribute to our overall wellness by expanding our minds and focusing on something positive.

So, what I’m saying is this: yes, for the sake of our health, we need to sit less and move more. However, not all sedentary behaviours are terrible or need to be eliminated completely. Generally, the sedentary behaviours that we, as a society, need to get a handle on are the ones involving staring at screens and numbing our brains. This is not to say that we should never watch TV or movies, or scroll through social media; we just need to be mindful of it, and try to swap out some of these activities in favour of moving our bodies more. We need to recognize the difference between those sedentary activities that leave you feeling sluggish and dull versus those that leave you inspired and peaceful. Do less of what dulls you, and more of what inspires you, for a balanced, healthy life!

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.


It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!


Surviving and thriving Phys. Ed-in school and beyond!

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Social connections and a supportive environment are key elements of a successful physical activity program.

As a teen, Physical Education (PE) was my most dreaded class. I went to a very small school, whose focus was not on developing physical literacy skills, and so I missed out on the chance to really explore a variety of sports and activities. I was mediocre at best in the few team sports I did try, so by the time I made the transition into a larger high school with more opportunities, I didn’t have the skills to “make the team.”

At my new school, I had one semester left of mandatory PE class, and this is where my anxiety really bloomed. Not only did I lack the basic skills that most of my classmates had from receiving more vigorous PE training growing up, but I was painfully shy and failing to fit in with the “cool crowd,” while also struggling with the oh-so-common issue of body image. Intimidated and nauseous are two of the best words to describe me in this setting.

In time, I established a solid group of friends, but I couldn’t be done with PE soon enough. The irony of the fact that my current job is to promote increased physical activity is not lost on me! Then again, how many adolescent girls actually liked PE? My interest in physical activity came in later years, and for that I count myself lucky, because that’s clearly not always the case.

woman running

Everyone is unique and needs the opportunity to try different activities to find the right fit for them.

Generally, physical activity levels start dropping in teen years, and the drop is much greater for girls than for boys. A recent study showed that only 2% of Canadian girls between the ages of 12 and 17 are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity! Why is that? There are many possible reasons for decreasing physical activity levels in adolescent girls (check yes to all that apply, or applied, to you):

  • Lifestyle changes: Getting a drivers’ license, improving technology allowing instant communication, and the increasing need to “fit in” with friends can all add up to less activity.
  • Lack of time: Physical activity is often the first thing to go as teens begin to feel increasing pressure to get good grades, while juggling multiple other commitments such as jobs in and outside of the home, family, and time with friends.
  • Lack of access: Physical activity opportunities tend to decrease in high school. Transportation and cost (of equipment as well as to sign up) are also barriers.
  • Feeling self-conscious and/or unskilled: In addition to regular old body image related self-consciousness, there’s also the anxiety that comes with not knowing how to play a sport well, or even at all. If you combine any of the above with a little “healthy competition,” this can be a recipe for disaster. A negative experience can make participants way less likely to be interested in “giving it another go.”

Children and youth who grow up being active are more likely to become active adults. So, how can we make physical activity and sport a more positive experience for youth, setting them up to develop healthy, active lifestyles that will follow them into adulthood? Here are a few ideas that are applicable to all young participants:

soccer player shaking mans hand

Recognizing the positive impact of physical activity on mental well-being supports the development of life-long participation.

  • Focus on fun! There is a time and place for competition – some people thrive on it – but if physical activity and sport are not made to be enjoyable when first introduced, repeat customers will be far less likely. Creating a low-pressure environment that focuses on building skills and having fun will help individuals feel more confident in a group setting.
  • Variety! In order to find our niche, we need to be able to try a variety of activities to find what fits our interests and abilities best. Again, if we find something we enjoy, we are far more likely to stick with it. Also, introducing new activities allows individuals to learn the skills together, so no one person should be significantly better (or worse) than the rest.
  • Focus on feeling good, not looking good or losing weight: Physical activity releases endorphins that make you feel fantastic, so as well as improving your overall health and getting stronger, it also boosts your mood and self-esteem.
  • Encourage physical activity and healthy choices during leisure time, with family, friends, or individually: Opportunities for participation often disappear altogether after graduation from high school. Having some involvement that is not dependent on the school setting helps smooth the transition into an active adult life.

What motivates you to stay active in the midst of the whirlwind that is daily life? Do you have any ideas for how we can support our younger counterparts to have the confidence and desire to participate in more physical activity and sport?

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.


Take the clue… don’t do the chew!

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

Thlittle boy up for bat baseballis is the slogan that a little leaguer from Darien, Connecticut submitted to win a spit tobacco education program slogan contest. It was part of an awareness campaign to help young people avoid the harmful effects of spit tobacco that causes oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and nicotine addiction.

In our northern BC region, the use of smokeless/chewing tobacco is most prevalent in young men; they often start using these products when they are teens and involved in team sports. Once they are hooked, it’s hard to stop.

Although there are fewer people smoking cigarettes in Canada, the sales of smokeless tobacco have remained relatively unchanged over the last 15 years.

Tobacco companies target young people with messages to promote their products and often associate spit tobacco with sports. They have spent millions of dollars per year to promote their products to teen boys to make them believe they cannot be real men unless they chew.boy leaning against fence

We can help break the association of spit tobacco with sports such as baseball and hockey. Major league baseball recognizes health risks of chewing tobacco and almost half of their stadiums are now tobacco free. Rogers Centre in Toronto is next!

Both of my grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, who live in Prince George, are playing baseball this season and I am happy that I have not observed the use of spit tobacco on the field or in the stands.

Let’s “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park!”

In this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco.



Growing local food in Fort Nelson

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.


The sun shines on a greenhouse built for youth and family programs in Fort Nelson. The greenhouse was funded by an IMAGINE grant.

Sometimes when groups are looking at the healthy eating and food security needs in their community, the idea of applying for “seed funding” from the IMAGINE Community Grants program is taken very literally. Other times, especially in a region where the growing season is “short in days but long in daylight hours,” those seeds need just a little more help.

That’s what the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality was proposing with their Youth Sustainability Greenhouse Project, which got an IMAGINE grant in the spring of 2016. As the Regional Municipality looked for ways to involve more youth and families in local food production in Fort Nelson (they had already put in a few raised garden beds in 2015), building a greenhouse was an excellent way to address a need, promote healthy outcomes, and create a project that would last.

Youth working in a greenhouse

Young people in the Summer Fun Program planted, cared for, and harvested vegetables from seed.

The greenhouse they built, which was used by young people in the local Summer Fun Program, served two primary purposes, according to project coordinator Krista Vandersteen:

  1. Local food: “Youth in the program planted, cared for and harvested vegetables from both the garden and the greenhouse. Participants planted various vegetables from seed, including carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, garlic, and green onion … The greenhouse allowed the participants to actively grow vegetables that they could not in the adjacent garden.”
  2. Education: “Once per week, the Northern Rockies Sustainability Coordinator visited the program to teach participants different lessons regarding food growth and [food] security. The children also learned about healthy eating and why vegetables are important in their diet. 135 youth participated throughout the summer, learning about multiple topics such as composting 101, using a rain barrel, and the importance of bees … Parents enjoyed that the program contained a practical educational component that their children may not be receiving in school.”

Now that the greenhouse has been funded and built with the support of an IMAGINE grant, the new gardening and education parts of the Summer Fun Program will be continuing annually.

The bumper crop that resulted from the greenhouse and the talented young gardeners also created the chance for a unique partnership. “When the project ended,” said Vandersteen, “the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality was left with extra produce that had not been eaten or used in programming. An effort was made to reach out to the local food bank as perishable food is often difficult to acquire.” Now, the project organizers are working with the local food bank to set up a partnership for next year. “As extra produce is harvested throughout the growing season,” said Vandersteen, “it will be donated to the food bank. The partnership will help to ensure no produce is wasted, and is going to people in need.”

It’s clear that in Fort Nelson, the IMAGINE Community Grant seed funding has grown into something pretty impressive!

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. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

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.)


“My whole life changed the day I started to smoke”

no smoking symbol

For many smokers addiction starts at a young age

“Hey, when did you start?” Bryan looks up. “When I was 13-I’m 20 now and I’m hooked.”

As we acknowledge National Non Smoking Week this week, our attention turns to youth. Nearly all tobacco use* begins during youth and progresses during young adulthood, according to the 2014 US Surgeon General Report.

What does Bryan want to say to kids who are smoking or thinking about trying it?

“Hey, that’s easy. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I’ve spent a ton of money on cigarettes. They stink. I can’t get apartments because I smoke, can’t get jobs, heck, I can’t get a girlfriend! I thought when I started I could stop whenever I wanted. I didn’t get the fact that nicotine is addictive. It controls me, I can’t control it. I was cut from the hockey team my senior year because smoking affected my ability to play the game. When I stopped playing hockey, I also was cut out from a lot of my friends. My whole life changed the day I started to smoke. I wish I knew how addictive smoking was.”

Help teens choose to say no to tobacco use. Help them be tobacco free for life. Choose now!

If you know a teen who uses tobacco, help them: tell them about QuitNow services and the BC Smoking Cessation Program. They can access free counselling by phone, text or email and free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers.

*In this blog post and in most public health messaging, ‘tobacco’ is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in BC for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.


Teachers and parents can support children to avoid tobacco use!

If kids didn’t start smoking, the problematic use of tobacco would be a thing of the past before the end of this century!

Kids learn from an early age that tobacco is bad for their health yet every day there are young people in Canada taking their first puffs. Most smokers start using tobacco before their 19th birthday, at an average age of 13. It’s obvious that education about the harmful effects of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco is not enough to stop kids from trying tobacco.

If you’re a teacher, maybe some of your students started smoking over the summer and they’re now suffering withdrawal in your classroom!

Some teens are persuaded to try tobacco by their peers if they are more influenced by this group than their parents. They may not be aware that the first puffs of a cigarette or a flavoured cigar may lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Three out of four young smokers will continue to smoke into adulthood.

How can you support children and youth in your community to avoid tobacco use?

How can you support children and youth in your community to avoid tobacco use?

It only takes a few cigarettes to make changes in the teenage brain, leading to cravings and continued use of tobacco. Even though many teens do not smoke daily, they still have difficulty quitting.

Teachers and parents can support children to avoid tobacco use with conversations about:

You have a role in supporting a tobacco free community! Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial use of smoke, tobacco and other legal sacred plants and recognizes the benefits of traditional and spiritual uses can outweigh the potential harms.

For more info, check out QuitNow or email

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.


Teachers! Don’t just blow smoke – Cut through the smoke screen!

Outside of school building with sign that says "Student Drop Off Ahead"

With kids back in school, teachers are uniquely placed to prevent smoking amongst youth. Reg shares some great tips for teachers!

While the prospect of youth starting to smoke is concerning, there’s some great news from the 2012-13 Youth Smoking Survey. The percentage of Canadian youth who currently smoke and the percentage of youth in British Columbia who have ever tried a cigarette have both declined.

Unfortunately, some youth will start using tobacco. Teachers play an important role in educating students about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

If you’re a teacher, when you talk about tobacco, remember the following:

  • Start talking about tobacco early in the school year. Don’t wait until it becomes a problem on the school grounds before addressing it. Ensure that your school has a clear policy on tobacco and that it’s clearly communicated.
  • Speak to your students as intelligent people who can make good decisions. Don’t speak down to them or try to intimidate them into not using tobacco – rather than starting a genuine conversation around tobacco, this is more likely to create barriers.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how much your students know about tobacco. Most students are likely aware that tobacco is harmful, but might underestimate the health risks or long-term consequences of tobacco use. Be creative and engage your students in exploring the harms of tobacco use. Use a biology class to look at what using tobacco does to the body. Explore other alternatives for dealing with things like peer pressure or stress as part of a social studies class.

According to the Youth Smoking Survey, the average age a young person tries a cigarette is 13.6 years old. As a teacher, you are at the right place and in the right time to address it!

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.


Leaving a legacy: the Nordic Ski Initiative

Cross-country skiers going down a hill.

The IMAGINE: Legacy Grants are one of many ways that Northern Health worked to create a healthy legacy for the 2015 Canada Winter Games in northern B.C. New skis for the Nordic Ski Initiative in Dawson Creek means healthier, more active kids in the school district!

When the 2015 Canada Winter Games came to Prince George, they brought a symphony of action to the city – the cheers from fans watching hockey in Kin 1, the hustle and bustle of added traffic on Highway 97, athletes and their parents from across the nation wandering the streets of downtown, and, of course, the celebration of competition in Canada. But what will happen as this two week chorus fades with the Games’ closing ceremony on March 1? How will the Games be remembered and what will their legacy be – not only in Prince George, but throughout all of northern B.C.?

To ensure that the legacy is a healthy one that embodies the spirit of physical activity that the Games represent, Northern Health created the IMAGINE: Legacy Grants stream in 2014, which funded 89 projects for a total of nearly $280,000. Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants have a long tradition of funding health promotion projects led by community partners including northern groups, organizations, schools, and districts, that 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 addressing modifiable risk factors.

One such community partner is School District 59’s Brad Booker. Brad lives in Dawson Creek and has one of the world’s coolest jobs. He’s the vice principal – outdoor and experiential education, which means he gets paid to ensure children are engaged in outdoor activity and physical activity. In other words, Brad makes being healthy fun! Brad, who began cross-country skiing as a hobby five years ago, started the Nordic Ski Initiative – a program that allows teachers to sign out cross-country ski equipment for use by their class for one week intervals – to combat inactivity in youth. When speaking with Brad, his passion for cross-country skiing, the outdoors, and his work becomes clear; however, his enthusiasm is tempered when discussing the current state of children’s health. “It’s not looking good for young people,” said Brad. “If we can pull kids away from screens for just a little while every day, we’re helping.”

Brad said that he started the Nordic Ski Initiative to help fill the demand in the community: “Cross-country skiing is part of the culture in the southeast Peace. We have a great nordic ski club with lots of families and lots of groomed tracks around town. A lot of them are in public parks that are attached to schools, so it’s easy for kids to ski during school time.” With School District 59 owning its own track setter, there is an abundance of cross-country tracks near or on school grounds where teachers can take their classes.

Cross-country skiers in an open field with a blue sky.

It’s easy to see how “nature comes alive for kids” when they’re skiing! With the support of the IMAGINE: Legacy Grants program, the Nordic Ski Initiative will keep promoting sport and physical activity long after the 2015 Canada Winter Games have gone!

Despite cross-country skiing’s place in the community, the cost of quality equipment means that it is not readily available to everyone. Recalling why he did not take up the sport at an earlier age, Brad blames the equipment, “I tried it as a kid, but my equipment was no good and I didn’t enjoy it.” Through the IMAGINE: Legacy Grants, Northern Health has helped fund Brad’s “ski library,” providing $3,000 towards the Nordic Ski Initiative’s purchase of new equipment. “Ski equipment doesn’t become dated quickly,” said Brad of the legacy that this program and funding provide, “The equipment lasts a generation. A single pair of skis might see 30-plus kids, helping them find a new passion and a new sport. The great thing about cross-country skiing is that you can do it at any age – kids to 70- and 80-year-olds. It can be a lifelong sport.”

Greeted with enthusiasm by students, teachers, and the community, the program’s biggest hurdle is people’s attitudes towards winter. “I think a lot of people prefer to not go out in the winter time,” said Brad. “Getting kids excited at an early age is critical [in overcoming this perception]. Instilling in kids that winter is not a cold, desolate time is important. It’s also when nature comes alive for kids,” he continued, building his case. “Looking at tracks, appreciating nature – you are connected with what’s around you; it’s something peaceful.” Brad walks the pro-winter walk, too. His involvement with the program goes beyond managing its inventory as he accompanies students during their first lesson to teach them the skills they’ll need to stay safe while still having fun on the track.

Along with the physical activity that kids are getting through the Nordic Ski Initiative, Brad and his colleagues at School District 59 have noticed a change their behaviour. “The big impact that I see, and that I hear about from teachers, is that kids have gotten rid of energy. But more than that, they’ve calmed down. That’s having a positive impact on their schooling.”

Improved health, better grades, and a new, active hobby for life – these are the types of positive changes that defined the purpose of the IMAGINE: Legacy Grants when Northern Health first planned them. Seeing the impact of this project, and the others like it, ensures that the Canada Winter Games will reach beyond their time and space in Prince George, leaving a healthy legacy that the north can be proud of for generations to come.

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.