By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

In perhaps as little as a year’s time from now, Canal Flats will once again have a medical clinic. 

The village has not had its own medical clinic, with in-person physician services, for many years, but that should change in late 2022, thanks to sustained efforts from the mayor, village staff and Interior Health.

The village recently announced the return of a clinic on its Facebook page, explaining that it would be located in the basement of the Columbia Discovery Centre (the building that also contains the municipal village office), which will need to be renovated. 

The bulk of that refit will be paid for by the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grants for Local Governments (a joint federal and provincial government grant). Once complete, the clinic will include an examination room and adult day services, as well as a video tele-health portal. The village is aiming to have the clinic open at some point in the second half of 2022. 

“I have been working on this for awhile, going back to before I was a mayor, when I was councillor, for close to five years,” Canal Flats mayor, Karl Sterzer, told the Pioneer. “It’s important because we live in a small community. We’re in the mountains, the weather can make travel difficult, especially in the winter, and not everybody has a good car.”

Sterzer noted that Canal Flats residents who need to go Invermere for a medical appointment have a 100 kilometre round trip drive, and those going to a Cranbrook appointment have a more than 150 kilometres round trip. 

“Having a medical clinic right here in town is a key factor in the health and wellbeing of our local population,” said Sterzer, pointing out that there have been seniors who have moved away from Canal Flats in the past.

Their main reason for moving was to relocate to somewhere where accessing medical services is more convenient, also relatable to young families with kids who need frequent medical appointments.

Sterzer couldn’t say exactly what operating hours the clinic would have, explaining that “we’re still teasing that out with Interior Health” but thought that opening in the second half of 2022 “is certainly a realistic target.”

Yes, there is some work that needs to be done, but village staff and Interior Health staff have been working hard, and at this point we feel it’s a target we can reach.”

Nobody the Pioneer spoke to could pinpoint exactly when the old Canal Flats medical clinic closed, but Sterzer, recalls his youngest child, who is now 24 years old, getting vaccinated there at age four or five, and said that, as best he remembers, the clinic shut down not too long thereafter.

“If feels incredible to be bringing this service back to Canal Flats. I’m very excited for our community, and very pleased that soon we may not have residents talking about leaving our community for those basic medical needs,” said Sterzer.

Canal Flats chief administrative officer Adrian Bergles echoed Sterzer’s points about the distance from the village to other municipalities, noting it is a 35 to 45 min drive to Invermere, depending on weather conditions, and at least 45 min to Cranbrook and longer if the weather is bad.

“Given our location in relation to other places offering medical services, this clinic is a key service for our community,” Bergles told the Pioneer.

Berlges outlined that the renovations to the Discovery Centre basement, the majority of which are paid through the grant, will total slightly more than $150,000.

“The space is great. It’s has it own separate entrance, it has a lift elevators, and it has accessible washrooms,” said Bergles. “It will be able to operate independently of the village office and the rest of the Discovery Centre.”

The Headwaters Arts Society has been using the basement of the Columbia Discovery Centre as its headquarters for a number of years. Society members that spoke to the Pioneer confirmed that the society is now looking for a new home, but emphasized that they are very pleased that a medical clinic is returning to Canal Flats.

Sterzer said that with the medical clinic soon to be a reality, village staff and councillors are already talking about the next step, which is bringing a pharmacy to Canal Flats.