Alison Harper has inspired children in the Nunavut town of Kugluktuk to participate in community bike rides

Kugluktuk children inspire bike culture up north

Alison Harper was thrilled by the rolling success of a community bicycle ride with the children in Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

Alison Harper was thrilled by the rolling success of a community bicycle ride with the children in Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

The former Columbia Valley resident and her husband, RCMP Const. Tim Harper, are collecting used bikes and financial contributions to give to needy families on the forgotten frontier.

“We just moved from Invermere to the Kugluktuk RCMP Detachment back in July,” said Ms. Harper. “Obviously, in the valley, we rode our bikes tons. We have a huge love for biking and so we brought up two fat tire bikes.”

In September, she became the youth co-ordinator for the new Kugluktuk Youth Centre and rides her bike to work every day. But there was one day in Ms. Harper’s life that changed everything for the weeks to come in Kugluktuk.

“I’m known as the girl with the fat tires around town,” she said with a chuckle. “The (kids) would always comment (about my bike) and they would always go riding in these harsh Arctic winters. And then in the dirt and the sand and the saltwater in the summers and the springs.

“The one day I didn’t ride my bike to work, there was a group of boys that stopped and asked me where my bike was.”

When she explained the weather was too cold and mucky to ride a bike to work, the boys protested.

“One of the boys was like, ‘Aw, that’s no excuse,’ and ‘Hey, look at my new bike’,” said Ms. Harper giggling.

She complimented the child’s new wheels and quickly learned the bike had come from the dump.

“A bike is better than no bike,” said Ms. Harper. “And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, but the only problem is I don’t have any air in my tires.’”

Ms. Harper offered to use her own pump to fill the tires on his bike at the youth centre in exchange for a shared bike ride.

“The other five boys who were with him all agreed,” she said. “They promised to meet me at work at 5 p.m. for a bike ride, and they all did. From that day on, they showed up every day at 4 p.m. for a bike ride. Mud everywhere, but they were just so excited to go for a bike ride together.”

The promise all six boys made to Ms. Harper became a popular community activity shortly

thereafter.

The number of children who show up for group bikes rides gains traction every week.

Now, there are 16 children who arrive for bike rides every Wednesday and Saturday.

“Some of the kids who don’t have bikes will run along beside us because they just want to be part of a group,” said Ms. Harper. “Some of these kids unfortunately don’t get that attention at home so if I can provide that for an hour or two hours of riding in the week, so be it.”

Children who can’t afford bikes check the dump regularly and show up for the rides anyways.

“The dump is the place,” she said. “It’s about five kilometres from here, and we go out there all the time. I have to adjust because the kids up here are very resilient — they will ride in anything and everything for weather. They don’t care. They play outside all the time, even if it’s cold and rainy.”

In addition, Ms. Harper has been teaching them about bike maintenance with parts they can find at the dump.

Ms. Harper is working with Ridley’s Cycle in Calgary to help bring donated used bikes to needy children in Kugluktuk.

Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sgt. Marko Shehovac has agreed to accept bike donations at the Invermere RCMP Detachment and volunteer Tabatha Mercer is going to help transport the bikes to Ridley’s Cycle, who will take them up to Edmonton, then ship everything out to Nunavut.

For more information about making a donation, contact Tabatha Mercer at 250-409-4079 and visit gofundme.com/PolarBikeProject.

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