There’s something special on the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier that’s travelling from the Coast Guard Base in Victoria to the Arctic.
Roughly 35 bikes have been loaded onto the ship as part of the Polar Bike Project, which donates bicycles to children in isolated communities in the Arctic.
The project started two years ago when avid cyclists Alison Harper and her husband moved from Calgary to Kugluktuk, a community on the shore of the Arctic Ocean with a population of roughly 1,400 people.
Alison would ride her bike nearly everyday to work, but noticed many kids couldn’t afford bikes of their own. Touched by their stories and wanting to help, Alison had a number of bikes ferried up by plane to the community to give to kids.
Kids used the bikes until they grew out of them and then the bikes passed on to the next person. Alison also taught them how to maintain and operate the bikes safely.
Michael Crummy, with the Canadian Coast Guard Victoria base, heard about the project through a local media outlet last year and it immediately struck a chord in his heart.
In his early years with the coast guard, Crummy would travel from one end of the Arctic to the other with the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, doing ice breaking, buoy tending and maintaining beacons for air and nautical navigation. He would stop in various communities such as Kugluktuk during an 18-week period.
“Because it’s so small people get to know you if you go back year after year,” Crummy said. “They remember me because I’m tall. The kids would say ‘hey, tall guy, guess what I did in school this year!’ It’s really cool. It’s an interesting society.”
While he no longer goes out to sea, Crummy decided to give back to the region he is so fond. Last year in less than two weeks, he donated 13 bikes, along with spare parts from coast guard base staff and their families to the project.
This year, roughly 35 bikes, ranging in size from beginner bikes to mountain bikes, are being shipped to children in Taloyoak, Nunavut.
“They’re learning life lessons about responsibility. It’s good for their health, it’s good for the community,” Crummy said, adding it costs nothing for them to transport the bikes there because the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier travels there anyway.
“(Kids) learn that there’s people out there in the rest of Canada who think of them and they become less isolated. We really care about these people.”
In the coming years, Crummy hopes to start a program where local schools collect bikes, take lessons in bike maintenance and then ship those bikes to kids in the Arctic.
For more information about the project visit the Facebook page Polar Bike Project.