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Polar Bike Project

June 15, 2018

Donating to our Indigenous communities

Riding a bicycle is a shared childhood memory for many. Close your eyes and try to recollect your own first, wobbly strides—perhaps followed by tumbles and scrapes—and, finally, the freedom of wind in your face and an open road ahead. For a number of Indigenous children in Canada’s Nunavut territory, these memories have only recently become possible, thanks to a non-profit organization that is bringing bicycles to local community children.

The Polar Bike Project started in 2015 after its founders, Alison and Tim Harper, moved to Kugluktuk, Nunavut, for Tim’s job with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). There, Alison spotted a young boy assembling a bicycle using pieces from two separate bikes.

“He didn’t have any air in his tires, so I told him to meet me at the youth center after school and I would fill them on one condition: we had to go on a bike ride together,” says Alison.

The next day, he was ready and waiting—with seven friends. Alison took the children on a two-hour bike ride, and she soon started riding with the local youth regularly. But there was a clear problem: the community needed more bikes. Those who didn’t have a bike would switch off with those who did—or just run beside.

Alison asked her Facebook friends for help, and individuals in her network from Invermere, British Columbia, to Calgary, Alberta, responded immediately, saying they had bikes and money they wanted to send.

“I contacted Buffalo Airways, which flies to Kugluktuk out of Yellowknife often, and they said they would be happy to ship bikes free of charge,” Alison says. Since then, the Polar Bike Project has donated 345 bikes, and Alison has raised more than $7,400 in personal donations through a gofundme page she established to support related community education.

“We make sure all the donated bikes are up to safety standards,” says Alison. “If we get bikes that aren’t rideable, we strip them for parts.”

Government organizations, including Income Assistance, Family Services, schools, and the RCMP, have partnered with the Polar Bike Project to help identify families in need of bikes. Bigger bikes are given to parents and youth mentors, so families and community members can ride together. Once the bikes are dispersed, the Polar Bike Project team supports recipients with information on basic bike maintenance, riding techniques, and safety. The team also organizes a weekly bike ride in the warmer months.

“We’re already in the Northwest Territories, and we’ll be expanding into the Yukon this summer,” Alison says. To make this all happen, the Polar Bike Project requires help from community leaders. Stantec has provided the Polar Bike Project with $11,500 since 2015, with additional funding earmarked for later this year.

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