Transformative citizens

This year's inductees as Citizens of the Year by the Prince George Community Foundation truly are four of the best this city has to offer.

Every year, the Citizens of the Year are accomplished and dedicated residents but the 2018 group is particularly impressive because they have changed the city's landscape for the better.

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Nancy and Pat Harris, Charles Jago and Les Waldie have not just made Prince George better, they were behind permanent additions to the city that continue to benefit local residents.

For those with physical challenges that limit them from access to certain buildings and places in the community or restrict them from doing certain things, Nancy and Pat Harris have been the fiercest advocates for fairness. They have always emphasized that they don't seek special treatment for themselves or others, they simply want fair and equal access for everyone.

They have championed improved access for public facilities and outdoor trails in particular. Their work has directly or indirectly inspired the elevator access to the airport's main terminal from the long-term parking lot, the boardwalk at the Ancient Forest and the universal access trail at Tabor Mountain. They took part in an accessibility audit of local, regional and provincial parks, identifying barriers for individuals with mobility challenges, such as steep trails, soft, uneven ground and the lack of curb drops from paved trails and sidewalks. Changes are being made to many of those parks, including Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park, thanks to that audit.

They have fearlessly spoken up and challenged architects, engineers, city planners and bylaw enforcement officers. The Wood Innovation and Design Centre may be an engineering marvel but they called out those who created and approved a new local building that did little for accessibility beyond the minimum standards of the building code.

Like the Harrises, Jago has also challenged authority and those who told him it couldn't be done. While he was UNBC president, Prince George held an emergency health care rally in 2000 to demand the provincial government do something about the horrible shortage of doctors and specialists in the city and across the region. Jago led the charge on a long-term solution to the problem in the form of the Northern Medical Program, where doctors could be trained at UNBC under the auspices of the UBC medical school. UBC and the Ministry of Advanced Education resisted the idea but Jago, with community and political backing, made them believe.

The Northern Sport Centre at UNBC bears his name in thanks for that accomplishment.

Waldie has also paid no mind to naysayers during his four-plus decades of community service. The highlight of that record is co-chairing the successful bid for the 2015 Canada Winter Games, beating out strong pitches from Kamloops and Kelowna. Held the same year as Prince George's centennial, the Games were focused on developing the facilities and community capacity necessary for a successful second century.

Same goes for his work lining up major supporters for the Kordyban Lodge. That accommodation facility for those receiving ongoing cancer treatment may have the Kordyban family name but it has Waldie's fingerprints all over it.

Waldie, Jago and the Harrises have certainly inspired so many other residents with their service but it's how they transformed Prince George, helping the city evolve, that endures.

To celebrate their accomplishments, the Prince George Community Foundation's annual Citizens of the Year dinner is set for Friday, Oct. 12 at the Coast Inn of the North. Tickets are now on sale at the hotel and on the community foundation's website.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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