Monthly Archives: November 2018

Story Untold: “People Need to Be Heard When They’re Sick”

Story Untold with Melanie Wood

When Melanie Wood set out to tell the story of the HOpe Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia, she didn’t know what to expect. A documentary filmmaker based in Vancouver, she had been used to telling stories of people whose voices had often been neglected. Her documentary A Stranger In Our Home told the story of two teenage victims of internet predators. Another documentary,, shone a light on cybersex addiction and was a finalist at the New York Film Festival.

“I like to tell stories of people who don’t normally have a voice,” says Wood. “That’s the thing I enjoy, is going to ordinary people who I think have an interesting perspective on something that we’re not talking about.”

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When she was floated the idea of filming a documentary on the lives of the people within the HOpe Centre, an inpatient and outpatient mental health clinic, she jumped at the chance.

“People still carry a lot of shame and stigma around being ill, and I think one of the reasons that happens is because they look at the people who [are held up as examples]. Yes, the public wants to hear from someone who’s got a mental illness, but they want to hear from them after they’ve just got a medal at the Olympics,” says Wood.

“The people who’ve achieved something don’t make us uncomfortable. We love heroes. But it’s the discomfort — the feeling of being uncomfortable around people who are still struggling — that I think helps us shift. I think we can make the biggest change when we are ourselves in a state of discomfort.”

In producing Living in HOpe, a four-part documentary series for the Knowledge Network, Wood would end up spending over a year at the HOpe Centre, profiling the lives of people with severe mental health challenges, along with the team of nurses and physicians who work with them every day. A meticulous planner by nature, she soon learned that her filmmaking habits would have to adapt.

“[That] first day, I had a list of things we were going to shoot, and not a single one of them happened,” she laughs. “Nothing.”

Instead of sticking to the plan, Wood and her colleagues listened — and ended up with a new depth of stories they might never have gotten otherwise.

“People need to be heard when they’re sick,” she says. “That’s how we can make the most change in our mental health treatment. If we all try and protect everyone and say, ‘you’re not fit to be seen by us until you’re better,’ what does that say to that person?”

“I didn’t want it to be an us and them,” she adds, “I wanted this to be, ‘this could be my sister, my daughter, my mother.’”

Through her year at the HOpe Centre, Wood found her own perceptions changing — her unconscious assumptions challenged.

“The illness isn’t the person; the person is the person,” she says. “Everyone is just struggling to do the best that they can. That’s what it is.”

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Story Untold: “If We Waited Until Everything Was Perfect, We’d Never Start”

Story Untold with Rick Hansen

When Rick Hansen set out to wheel around the world on his Man in Motion World Tour in 1985, he had hoped the tour would start off with a bang — just maybe a different kind than the one he got. Mere moments into wheeling out of the parking lot of Vancouver’s Oakridge Mall on a journey that would span over 40,000 kilometres, Hansen’s support vehicle hit the ceiling of the parkade exit, sending equipment flying from the top of the roof.

“The box [on the roof] shattered, and the wheelchair equipment spilled all over the road,” says Hansen, “and these waving, cheering, 200 well-wishers looked in stunned disbelief and thought, ‘He’s going around the world in a wheelchair, and he can’t even get out of the parking lot.’”

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Such was the beginning of Hansen’s tour, which would span two years and 34 countries in the name of promoting accessibility and finding a cure for spinal cord injury. Paralyzed at the age of 15 after hitching a ride in the back of a pickup truck that lost control, Hansen had become a world-class athlete by the time of the tour, having won 19 international wheelchair marathons, along with earning six Paralympic medals and winning three world championships.

It wasn’t always that way for Hansen, a native of Port Alberni and later Williams Lake, British Columbia; in the early days after the injury, he had wrestled with resentment and blame.

“You can imagine all the things that I kind of went through in my head,” he says. “I had to reframe and challenge those perceptions and those assumptions, and [realize] they were the source of my pain. Not the use of my legs, not the broken back.”

“I had to reframe and challenge those perceptions and those assumptions, and [realize] they were the source of my pain. Not the use of my legs, not the broken back.” – Rick Hansen

One of the earliest mentors for Hansen was Stan Stronge, a man considered the “granddaddy of wheelchair sports.” At the time, Stronge managed the Vancouver Cable Cars, a wheelchair basketball team that Hansen would join and later recruit Terry Fox to.

“[Stronge] made me realize that nowhere in the definition of an athlete does it say you need to use your legs in order to be one,” says Hansen.

As Fox embarked on his Marathon of Hope in 1980, Hansen began to think about his own dreams of wheeling around the world.

“I thought, ‘Maybe what I should do is try to pay it forward by doing something extraordinary that would shock people to rethink and move from disability to ability.’ Show what was possible if you could remove barriers in people’s lives, and to do something that was seemingly impossible, which would be to push a wheelchair around the world,” says Hansen.

By March of 1985, he was on the road — first through the United States, and then into Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia, Eastern Asia, and then back through the United States and across Canada. Hansen wheeled an average of 85 kilometres a day, the equivalent of a double-marathon. From the start, there were challenges.

“I thought, ‘Maybe what I should do is try to pay it forward by doing something extraordinary that would shock people to rethink and move from disability to ability.’” – Rick Hansen

“The self-doubts are always there that you’re battling, and that’s your biggest challenge,” he says. “You’re ill, and then you’re injured, and you’re hearing that you’re out of money, and you don’t know if you can go another two weeks without shutting the tour down. All of those things are real, but the other things are, well, why are we here? Well, we made it another day, another 113 kilometres.”

By the time Hansen returned to Vancouver, he had spent two years, two months, and two days on the road.

“I broke through that banner, and the sign behind me said, ‘Welcome Home, Rick. The End is Just the Beginning.’ And I kind of laughed that off,” says Hansen. “I was going, ‘Yeah right, I’m finished, man. I’m done.’”

The tour had raised $26 million for spinal cord research and accessibility initiatives. Hansen thought he might return to competitive racing, but after his first practice session, he was spent.

“I guess what I needed, and I didn’t realize it at the time, was to reframe, because I had been trying to live an old goal I set two years earlier, and I hadn’t had enough space to decompress and to really absorb the enormity of what happened to me on the tour,” he says. “I’d seen the barriers and the real scope and size of the mountain to climb. The tour was just a baby step forward, and we had so far to go, and I really felt in some way compelled to want to find my way to be part of that journey and to continue to move forward.”

“The tour was just a baby step forward, and we had so far to go.” – Rick Hansen

Hansen’s alma mater, the University of British Columbia, offered him a job to continue his work as a champion for accessibility and inclusion. In 1988, Hansen started the Rick Hansen Foundation to continue the work he’d begun with the Man in Motion World Tour.

“The reality is that there was a long way to go when I finished the Man in Motion Tour. Mostly, people thought of spinal cord research as a bit of a fantasy to find a cure,” says Hansen. “And of course, accessibility was still considered largely a charitable endeavor to support people with disabilities.”

In the years since, the Rick Hansen Foundation has continued advocating for the removal of barriers for people with disabilities, raising over $300 million for spinal cord research and accessibility initiatives. In 2008, the Rick Hansen Institute was formed to lead global collaboration in spinal cord injury research.

“Here I am, 31 years later, after the end of the Man in Motion Tour, and I’m just so grateful for the experience. I’m so grateful for the people who have influenced my life and helped me to stay on this course to keep moving forward toward the ultramarathon of social change,” says Hansen.

“We’ll keep driving that forward so the 1.3 billion people on the planet today living with a disability will not feel they need to be cured in order to be whole as human beings,” he adds. “I know we’ll get there.”

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Out to Sea


The first wave hits like a boxer’s jab, sending shivers down my back and into the farthest reaches of my wetsuit. Late October in British Columbia’s Clayoquot Sound, the Pacific Ocean’s temperature sits just under 54 degrees Fahrenheit — cold enough to knock the body unconscious in as little as an hour. To avoid this fate, I’m decked out in a four-millimetre wetsuit, complete with boots, gloves, and a neoprene hood — more or less like a poor man’s Frozone from The Incredibles. Strapped to my ankle, my surfboard’s tether hangs like a prisoner’s ball and chain.

There’s something masochistic about the act of surfing. Few disciplines require you to confront wave after wave, failure after failure, until you get a chance at success. Even putting on a wetsuit is fraught with the potential for embarrassment: Everything is skin-tight, and each leg pulled through the neoprene feels one slight misstep away from turning you into a Jenga tower.

I didn’t necessarily want to be here. I’d been there, done that already — and found that I wasn’t much good on a surfboard. I’d like to think I occasionally learn from my mistakes. Going on a road trip to Tofino with one of my oldest friends, though, it felt like a foregone conclusion. When in Rome, so they say.

Oft-repeated is the phrase that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result — so why, then, am I here in late October? In surfing, as in life, some things keep calling you back, no matter the consequences.


The first time I became mesmerized by surfing, I was ten years old and watching Saturday morning cartoons. Nickelodeon’s Rocket Power brought the lives of four friends from Ocean Shores, California into my world, where surfing went hand-in-hand with childhood adventure. The gang went skateboarding, rollerblading, snowboarding, and mountain biking when they weren’t on the beach. I tried them all, as kids do, but surfing remained the Holy Grail — the one sport I had no access to. I was landlocked in Southern Ontario, where surfing meant browsing on the web, not dancing with the waves; from my home in Waterloo, the sun-kissed beaches of California seemed a world away.

The rest of the fads — skateboarding, snowboarding, and the like — came and went, but surfing remained: the one curiosity never satisfied. It stayed unchecked on my chicken scratch bucket list for years: Learn how to surf. It was as much a promise to live somewhere that surfing was a possibility as it was to learn the sport itself.

Kennedy Lake

The drive to Tofino is about five hours north and west of Victoria. Beyond the lumber city of Port Alberni, the road meanders through mountain passes where the fall colours turn the trees to rich reds and golden yellows. My friend and I had rented an SUV on a Wednesday, with plans of sticking around until Friday. Caffeine flowing and music blasting, we arrived in Ucluelet by nightfall.

The point of the trip was to visit another friend from home, who had been teaching surfing lessons for the past few weeks on the island. Holed up in a cramped hostel, he was waking up every morning to greet the waves and help new recruits find their feet on the water. We got into town past the time that most restaurants had closed their doors. Instead, we wolfed down greasy pizza and slept in the SUV.


I was 22 and on a whirlwind tour of Europe when I finally had the chance to surf.

Just west of Lisbon, where the coast of Portugal meets the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Cascais draws surfers from around the world to its shores. Tall, rock-strewn cliffs overlook wide, sandy beaches where waves break and the sun shines from April to November. Like most twenty-somethings in Europe, I was ready to find myself through anything and everything I’d never experienced. When surfing was tossed around at the hostel as an idea of something to do, of course I agreed.

On that first day, I booked a private lesson with two Albertans and a Swiss-German. From Lisbon’s Praça dos Restauradores, we piled into our instructor’s hatchback and set off for the coast, knees folded against the back of the driver’s seat. Blond-haired and well-tanned, Diogo told us how he wintered in Brazil and had been teaching in Lisbon for years. In the sheltered cove off the western tip of Portugal, he prompted us with calls of “vai, vai” when the timing was right to push off our chest and ride the wave. I failed at first, but by the afternoon — and after repeated practice — I had found a modicum of success. Gliding around in the whitewash, I was hooked.

From then on, I told myself, I was a surfer — if not in appearance, then at least in spirit. Given the chance, I would get out on the water again and pick up where I left off.

My next opportunity would prove more difficult.


The name Tofino comes from the Spanish. In 1792, navy commanders Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés dubbed the inlet in honour of Captain Vincent Tofiño. The commanders’ names continue to bear a mark on British Columbia to this day: Both Galiano Island and Valdes Island line the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland; the northernmost tip of Galiano Island — barely a kilometre away from Valdes Island, as it were — is known as Dionisio Point.

The first to live near present-day Tofino were the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. For thousands of years, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have lived on Meares Island, fishing for salmon and halibut, and hunting sea lions and whales. Before the Europeans’ arrival, it’s estimated that Nuu-chah-nulth numbered as many as 100,000 across Vancouver Island. Today, membership is approximately 10,000.


“The sea was angry that day, my friends.
Like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.”
– George Costanza, Seinfeld


Far across the Atlantic from Portugal, on the cloudy shores of Nova Scotia, the pebbled beaches of Lawrencetown dare surfers and swimmers to venture into the chilly waters a half-hour’s drive outside of Halifax. I was 24 and visiting another longtime friend when I made my return to surfing. He already owned a wetsuit and had been a half-dozen times since moving to the East Coast; I arrived feeling like an expert after my three-hour lesson in Portugal some 15 months prior. I was in for a rude awakening.

Atlantic Canada is a graveyard for shipwrecks. Some estimates suggest as many as 25,000 are found off the shores of Nova Scotia alone. Eight can be found near Lawrencetown, each one of them dreams dashed against the rocks, vessels vanquished by the power of the sea. When a full-blown ship couldn’t handle the swells, what chance did I stand with a surfboard?

We rented boards in the morning, three of us — another friend coming along for the ride — suiting up for the Atlantic cold and venturing into the murk. My feet, bootless and exposed, went numb within seconds; my hands and face were soon to follow. The waves were gentle at first, then came at a feverish pace, the intervals of calm too brief to recover from one wave and ready yourself for the next.

I thought this way, that is, until I spotted my friend riding beside me.

Few things are as infuriating to the fragile ego as seeing a friend succeed at something while you flounder helplessly. I watched as my friend rode wave after wave, while my greatest success involved limiting the amount of seawater I swallowed. On the surfboard, I was Pete Best, and I was watching Ringo hamming it up with the Beatles. It all made me sick.

Ucluelet“Sick!” My friend grinned as we pulled up to the sheltered parking lot of Cox Bay Beach, a beautiful stretch of shoreline just south of Tofino, on the northern border of Pacific Rim National Park. We had woken early that morning, tossing sleeping bags into the backseat and scarfing down cinnamon rolls for breakfast before renting boards in town. The rental agent had told us the swells would be good here. Already, the parking lot had filled with camper vans, and a half-dozen surfers were either donning wetsuits or returning from early morning sessions.

The stoke, as they say, was high.

We took turns changing in the backseat of the SUV, cramming feet into pant legs and wrestling with the neoprene until we’d emerged, suited up, already tired from the ordeal. An October chill hung in the air, carrying the faint noise of waves through the forest that separated the beach from the lot. A path led through the woods, gravel-bottomed and bordered by rocks covered in moss. We picked up our boards and followed the crashing of the waves.


It says something of my stubbornness — or perhaps of my Halifax friend’s grating charm — that the next time I went surfing, it was with him once again. This time, we had traded the shores of Nova Scotia for the warmth of Australia’s Byron Bay. On the eastern tip of the continent, about 100 kilometres south of the Gold Coast, we rented boards and wetsuits and lugged them to the water’s edge. In Byron Bay, as in much of coastal Australia, surfing is something of a cultural identity, and to my friend, the thought of visiting without taking part in the experience was inconceivable. I suppose I was ready for it, too — albeit keenly aware of the potential for another embarrassing outing.

For beginning surfers, there’s a sweet spot known as the whitewash: the area closer to shore where the waves break, and it’s possible to ride them all the way back to the shallows. The goal here isn’t to carve from left to right, merely to stay upright and enjoy the pull of the ocean. It’s the whitewash I had been used to in Portugal. Here in Australia, my friend was on the lookout for something bigger.

We paddled out past the shallows, into the realm where unbroken waves surged from the distant horizon of the Pacific. The music from the beach faded to the background, replaced by the din of the ocean. When we’d rented our boards, we had been warned of riptides that would pull surfers out and away from the shore, dumping them in the middle of the sea. The rental agent told us never to fight the current — the ones who did were the ones who ended up in trouble, exhausted and stranded.

“Man, these waves are huge! This is awesome!” My friend smiled from ear to ear.

I gripped my board’s edges and held on as the swells carried us up and down. More worrisome than the riptide, another spectre lurked: Between 2014 and 2016, when we visited, the stretch of coastline between Byron Bay and Evans Head had seen 11 shark attacks, two of them fatal. I did double-takes at anything resembling a shadow in the water.

Schooner Cove

The first steps into the water at Cox Bay Beach come with a bit of trepidation. Just how cold will this be? The wetsuit does its job, holding out against the frozen fingers of the tide. My only weakness is a zipper that continues to come undone, exposing my back to the ocean’s full force.

We make our way past the shallows, into the waters where the waves start to break. It’s been nearly two years since the last time I donned a wetsuit, and the motions return slowly. Chest down. Paddle. Pop.

My friend catches the first few waves, and I watch with envy, wondering if I’ll be in for another day of failure. Soon, though, I catch a break — an easy, gentle wave that carries me a good twenty feet. Another wave follows, and I catch that one, too. Before long, we’re trading runs and cheering each other on, laughing at each other’s wipeouts. The water is ice-cold, but the wetsuits are warm, and the last thing on my mind is leaving.

We spend hours in the ocean, soaking in the moment — Thursday morning, and we’re surfing in the Pacific. Sometime during the day, I realize my face is frozen — I haven’t stopped smiling all morning.

I guess I’m a masochist, too.

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Story Untold: “[Finding Big Country] Is Sort Of the Perfect Story”

Story Untold with Kat Jayme

Whatever happened to Bryant Reeves?

For most of filmmaker Kat Jayme’s life, the question existed without an answer. A longtime basketball fan who came of age watching the Vancouver Grizzlies, she set out to find the team’s most elusive and forgotten star.

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In Finding Big Country, which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Jayme relives the Grizzlies era in Vancouver, along with the impact of the team’s most well-known player. With a signature buzz cut and massive frame, Big Country defined the Grizzlies’ tenure in Canada, as both a fan favourite and pariah.

“He was the biggest guy on the court, I knew he was our franchise player, and as a kid, he had the coolest nickname,” she says. “You don’t forget that.”

In six seasons with the Grizzlies, Reeves averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds, but became plagued by injuries, playing just 25 games in the lockout-shortened season of 1998-99. By the time the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis, the seven-foot centre had disappeared from the game, and seemingly vanished without a trace.

“[Reeves] was considered like the holy grail of interviews in Vancouver, because no one had seen or heard of him since the Grizzlies left town.” – Kat Jayme

“There were a lot of rumours as to what happened [with the Grizzlies] — a lot of finger-pointing, I think. But when they left, they really left,” says Jayme. “Like, there were no more remnants of the Grizzlies in Vancouver. And with Bryant, he kind of just disappeared.”

“After speaking to so many reporters here in Vancouver,” she adds, “he was considered like the holy grail of interviews in Vancouver, because no one had seen or heard of him since the Grizzlies left town.”

An accomplished filmmaker with a love for basketball, Jayme had found what she’d been looking for: a killer story.

How does a seven-footer disappear? And how do you find someone who’d prefer to avoid the spotlight? Jayme called former players and executives, and the answer was always the same: None of them had heard from Big Country. On a lark, she discovered a story a reporter had written in Oklahoma. Jayme’s quest led her to Reeves’ hometown of Gans, population 312.

“There’s no stoplight. You can literally drive through it in 30 seconds,” she says. “I just started calling everyone, and word got around finally that, ‘Hey Bryant, there’s this girl from Vancouver who’s calling everyone, and she wants to make a film about you.’ When I spoke to Bryant, he told me, ‘You have my friends to thank, because they’re the ones who really vouched for you.’”

What does one say to their childhood hero? How much can you expect? In Reeves, Jayme finds a quiet and kind soul who has found new life running a cattle ranch.

“He was kind of a scapegoat at one point. I think we’re changing that narrative now,” she says. “He’s just so proud to be a Vancouver Grizzly, and I loved learning that about him.”

“He was kind of a scapegoat at one point. I think we’re changing that narrative now.” – Kat Jayme

Longtime Grizzlies fans will remember the years of athletes overlooking Vancouver — players like Steve Francis refusing to suit up for the team. Reeves, says Jayme, was the opposite:

“Back then, there were so many players who did not want to play for us — who didn’t want anything to do with Vancouver — so it was really cool to find out that he wanted to be here, he liked it here.”

Finding Big Country has seen a tremendous response from hoops fans since its premiere, with more screenings on the way in Toronto and Oklahoma.

Could Vancouver support a basketball team today?

“Oh yeah. For sure,” says Jayme. “And I think that’s one of the main goals of this film is to get the conversation going to bring a team back here. We’ve had four sold-out screenings in Vancouver already, and I think that just goes to show the appetite [for basketball]. Vancouver is a basketball city, more now than it was in the late nineties when the team was here. I think it’s a matter of time.”

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