Healing arts fare well

🕔Sep 22, 2005

“It was the energy,” says Dr. Kathy Graham, a naturopathic doctor who was drawn to resettle her family and holistic practice in Smithers after a busy life in southern Ontario.

In the mid 1990s, Dr. Graham, her husband Bill, and two daughters, put their belongings into storage, jumped in the car, and went looking for a new home. “We did it on gut feeling and intuition,” she says. “We drove across country. Every time there was a fork in the road we just turned whatever way felt right.”

At Prince George the collective decision was to go left. “When we hit Smithers, we looked at each other and felt, ‘This is it.’” Soon they had feasted on Saskatoon berries, dined at fine, healthy restaurants, hiked up breathtaking mountains, and discovered, through the local health food store, a large and very active healing arts community.

“It felt like an oasis,” says Graham. A decade later she regularly refers clients from her thriving naturopathic practice on Main Street Smithers to the wealth of local alternative healers, physiotherapists, massage therapists, rolfers and energy workers who make up one of the most vibrant healing arts communities in the province.

For the past 15 years the Bulkley Valley has been a Mecca for alternative healers. It boasts an open-minded medical community that actively supports complementary medicine. Midwives and doulas are welcome at Bulkley Valley Hospital to support women during childbirth. Local doctors frequently direct patients to chiropractors, yoga teachers, and counsellors.

On April 23, these healing arts practitioners are coming together for the second annual Smithers Wellness Fair. The fair is designed to be a user-friendly introduction to the alternative health care world, plus the healthy lifestyle choices that are available in the valley. People can browse through booths and displays, sample food, drop in on talks throughout the day, and participate in practical demonstrations in body movement. Riding the success of a strong, supportive turnout from the community in 2004, the scope of 2005’s fair is broadened to include outdoor recreation, organic gardening and community support groups.

The Wellness Fair is also a chance for practitioners to meet and connect face-to-face, a valuable opportunity and energy boost for folks who are often running solo practices from their own homes.

Mickey Brandvold, owner of Nature’s Pantry and a Wellness Fair organizer, thinks one reason for the interest in complementary medicine here may be the influence of European immigrants who were already steeped in herbology and homeopathy in their home countries.

“A lot of the people in our store are from Dutch, Swiss and German backgrounds, and buy the whole wheat flours, for instance,” she says. “They were used to a farm life and all the good things that go with it. We have brought many things in to the store at their request and others in the community have had the opportunity to try them.”

There’s also the economic viability of the area and a high education level, says Brandvold, adding she’s heard the Bulkley Valley has the highest number of PhD’s per capita in the province. “People can afford alternative therapies, and they’re open to new choices that still aren’t covered by the medical services plan.”

Another reason is the lively musical culture that has coalesced around Smithers’ Midsummer Festival, says Jean Christian, a herbalist, musician, meditation teacher and practitioner of homeopathy who settled in the area decades ago.

“Twenty two years ago the Festival drew people who wanted to live their lives around music, the arts, and a quality lifestyle for their children,” she explains. Now thousands gather in June in Smithers and throughout the summer at festivals across the northwest that the larger group has helped to spawn.

“The artistic nature of this community really lends itself to healing arts. People come here who are interested in exploring creativity.”

A huge influence is the groundwork that was laid by a number of key individuals who paved the way for alternative healers today.

Brandvold and Christian both point to Dr. Biz Bastian, a midwife and holistic doctor with great respect in the medical community, and to Deborah Buri, a dietary counsellor and holistic lifestyle coach, as well as to Barri Blix, a massage therapist. They were all sole practitioners in their fields for years, but as they worked they built a wide base of support.

“There are some really strong founders for alternate medicine here,” says Christian. “They did a lot of work. They opened doors.”

A decade since her arrival, Graham marvels daily at the beauty of Hudson Bay Mountain. “I feel incredible gratitude. The energy here is intuitively what we felt.

“I can’t believe how many alternative-minded people there are in this community. The Wellness Fair last spring really connected people as a group that sees a more a more holistic picture of health—body, mind and soul.”

Smithers Wellness Fair is Saturday, April 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Smithers Secondary School. For more information, please call 847-3943 or 847-3953.