On May 30, 2022, Stan Fraser started out walking from Bella Coola to Winnipeg.
A soft-spoken man, Fraser recalls in steady but powerful words how his own mental health journey has brought him to this place — sitting at a campsite in Williams Lake, en route from Bella Coola to Winnipeg on foot to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health struggles.
Fraser’s life journey, being the third child of 13, and being bullied in school by a teacher, was not an easy one.
“I cried a lot. I didn’t have a way to cope with that,” he said of his younger years.
As a teen, Fraser turned to alcohol and had a daughter in his early 20s. While his daughter was young, he came home one day and went to pick her up, but instead he fell on the toddler and passed out on top of her.
The child’s mother saved his daughter from a potentially very dangerous situation and he said he realized then he had to change.
“I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, but I’m no longer ashamed,” said Fraser.
He has been sober more than 35 years and now he wants to speak out and try to gather support for others suffering mental health challenges.
Fraser, who lives in Chetwynd, B.C., wants to promote the idea each person suffering from mental health challenges is not alone and “silence is not a solution, let your voice be heard.”
He said “people can feel like they’re alone, fighting an endless battle.”
One of the issues he has seen in small centres like Chetwynd and other smaller communities, is when family members go for treatment or are in crisis, they are sent to larger centres, which further isolates them from support and family.
Fraser hopes to raise funds which would go to support family members to travel and stay near people receiving treatment for mental health.
“A lot of times healing is being close to family,” he said, having witnessed himself how isolation can drive depression.
He has set a fundraising goal of $50,000.
Fraser came up with the idea of walking across the country for mental health back in 2016, and was working on a plan. However, circumstances delayed him and then in 2021 he came down with COVID-19 and was hospitalized in intensive care and it has been a long road back to health.
Once the doctors gave him clearance, Fraser resumed the planning to make his way from the west coast to Winnipeg.
While he could have started in an easier place on the western edge of Canada, Fraser wanted to help bring more attention to places outside of Vancouver and larger centres, and chose Bella Coola because he’d never been there and because he thought it was probably another smaller centre needing resources, like Chetwynd.
It was his first time in the valley and he found it beautiful and was impressed by the “good, friendly people” he met there.
He was a bit startled, however, when a grizzly bear he hadn’t noticed down the road bank from him came back to the road from the bushes. He jumped in his support vehicle until the danger passed.
“It was very unique, very green and luscious,” he said, of the valley.
Both he and his wife Heather Irwin were blown away when the community gave him a sendoff and one of the high schools even walked with him for about five kilometres.
“It was amazing,” said Irwin.
When he reached Anahim Lake, two RCMP officers joined him and walked to Nimpo Lake with him.
Fraser was set to leave Williams Lake to head south towards 100 Mile House before heading east to Little Fort and then up to Jasper on his journey.
Fraser’s journey can be followed and supported via his website: www.walkandtalk4mh.com and he is also selling t-shirts in support of his goal of getting people to talk openly about mental health.