MT in the NWT
Written by Jennifer Stranart
Oh look, there’s a herd of caribou! The single otter aircraft banked hard and descended in a winding spiral towards the earth to give the women a better look at the barrenland beauties. The already green RMT reached for another sick bag and projected her pleasure at the sudden change in altitude. Darlene tried to convey reassurance as she passed her another bag but tried not to look, for fear of following suit. Such was the introduction to massage therapy in the Northwest Territories to a locum therapist from B.C.
Massage therapy came to the Northwest Territories in 1987 with the arrival of Darlene Robertson, B.Sc., B Ed., RMT., my friend and business partner.
Darlene worked hard at educating the public and professionals to the benefits of massage therapy.
As many services were hard to get, especially at that time, in the north, there was more openness to alternative practices than were being experienced in the south. Darlene’s hard work and excellent reputation are really responsible for many Yellowknifers thinking of massage therapy first when they are injured, sore or just looking to relax.
Yellowknife is a town built on mining and the underground miners are some of the toughest guys you will ever meet; but when crippled by a back injury, they would come in out of desperation and leave as convinced advocates. Many of them now look at their co-workers as if they have three heads if they’ve
never gone for a massage.
Every spring we co-host a Women’s Spa Weekend out at beautiful Blachford Lake Lodge. It’s a place accessible only by plane or snowmobile, about a 20-minute flight from Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories. Women enjoy massage treatments and workshops in massage, aromatherapy, abdominal
training and spend their free time skiing in the warm spring sunshine and sipping wine in the hot tub.
This is just one of the various exciting and different opportunities that come with practicing massage therapy in the Northwest Territories.
I have flown out to a caribou hunting camp above the treeline in the fall to treat the owner.
Seeing the tundra come alive like fire over the few days it takes to change from the green of the short summer to the flames of fall is a magical experience I will never forget.
Enduring the inevitable harassment at being the only vegetarian in a caribou hunting camp, and, ironically, taking the photo of a hunter with the owner and his kill that became part of next year’s advertising campaign.
I have flown up to Inuvik near the Arctic coast to provide massage for the health care and social workers as part of their spring break and, as a result, got to drive the ice road to Tuktoyuktuk and go kite skiing on the Arctic Ocean.
Darlene and I have treated a dog team at the World Championship Dog Derby and I have gone out to the stables and treated some of the horses.
Some of the smaller communities in the Territories have RMTs on an intermittent basis – usually a spouse is transferred to that community (RCMP for example) and, while they are posted there, that community
has massage therapy services, but they rarely stay.
One of our locums went out to Rae Lakes to provide treatment to the elders of that community. Well, I guess there were elders coming out from behind every tree and she worked hard that weekend. The elders were grateful to her for her healing hands and a gift of a caribou hip arrived for her at the clinic the following week. I’m sure that’s the most interesting tip she has received in her career.
One of the qualities you must have as a therapist working in the North is flexibility, and I don’t mean stretching. Throughout the year, we suffer from frequent power outages that usually last 20 minutes or so but can be several hours. We are fortunate that we have one of the few businesses in the building that can continue operating during this time. We just light some candles, keep going and enjoy the ambiance.
Also, you may be called upon to book a client in the supermarket when they run into you in the produce aisle. Or, as many of our clients work together, you must be prepared for anyone from their office to show up for a given appointment. If your booked client has a meeting come up, they will often give it to or trade it with one of their co-workers.
Interestingly, we can predict the seasons by the treatments we are providing: the days start getting longer and the sun warmer from about March – April. As the sun warms up the snow, it goes from sandpaper to an ice rink and we spend about eight weeks every spring treating pelvic upslips and QL spasm from slips and falls on this spring snow and ice.
Fall brings colder temperatures and neck problems. Northerners loath saying goodbye to summer and tend to stay in denial about how cold it actually is outside. This leads to ‘the turtle’ posture as everyone pulls their necks down into their collars to keep from freezing while refusing to wear a scarf. Then the summer comes around with the midnight sun, and the greatest concern of the clients is what we can use to help their black-fly bites stop itching (lavender, lavender, lavender).
Our association sets up a tent at the Folk on the Rocks music festival in July as a fund-raiser. While
massage itself is a big draw to the concert-goers, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that we doctor our massage oil with essential oils effective in repelling mosquitoes!
Massage therapy in the North is rewarding and challenging. Although the climate certainly isn’t for everyone, it provides opportunities that few massage therapists get to experience in their career.
The north is filled with interesting characters and some of the friendliest people I have met in my life.
Although I was born and raised in Toronto, I can honestly say that coming up here, was coming home.