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TEDx breaks trail in Whitehorse

The first TEDx conference North of 60 is coming to Whitehorse in January. Fittingly, the conference's theme is "Breaking Trail. "You can approach it in a number of different ways," organizer Nigel Allan said of the overarching idea.

The first TEDx conference North of 60 is coming to Whitehorse in January.

Fittingly, the conference’s theme is “Breaking Trail.”

“You can approach it in a number of different ways,” organizer Nigel Allan said of the overarching idea.

It evokes typical Yukon wilderness images. “But it’s also about how people are breaking trail in different ways, in the work that they’re doing and the ideas that they’re presenting. ... Maybe looking ahead and identifying ways that we can move forward that are new and innovative and exciting, that kind of thing.”

He first became interested in organizing a TEDx event a few years ago when he was doing communications work for the World Wildlife Federation. Planning for the event began in the summer. It takes a few months to bring everything together, he said.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, was founded in 1984. At the annual conference in Long Beach, Calif., leading thinkers are invited to speak for 18 minutes. Speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, and even children on occasion.

The TEDGlobal conference is held each year in Oxford, United Kingdom. People across the globe can watch videos uploaded daily to

TEDx events are independent, locally-organized events. The Whitehorse event will focus on people who are involved in projects that are pushing boundaries, said Allan.

But doing something different may just mean pursuing a life-long passion. That’s been the case for Andrea Simpson-Fowler, founder of Leaping Feats Dance Studio. Simpson-Fowler will be presenting on Dancing Through Life.”

It was an easy choice for her, and not just because she’s made similar presentations before. She loves Whitehorse. Her life’s work is in the Yukon, she said. But it wasn’t always this way - her family moved here from Indiana when she was growing up. She was used to having easy access to dance workshops in Detroit and Chicago. Being in Whitehorse as a youth “was a huge struggle,” she said. Her dancing helped her find community, and she’s spent much of her life using dance to provide community for others, particularly youth.


But more can be done - she’d like to see the community focus more on children, she said. “We need to focus on making spaces for people to gather to nurture children so they can grow up and be good citizens,” she said.

That’s important, because as Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health has seen, not all trails broken here have positive consequences. His TEDx talk will explore how the North’s culture of risk influences health. He sees the outcomes of risky behaviour in the territory’s high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and drug abuse and serious injuries because of dangerous activities.

“Behind it, there’s something going on with attitudes or normalized behaviours,” he said. He’s not entirely sure what’s behind all of it -“cabin fever” could be a factor, he said, laughing. But he wants to explore the topic more generally.

“Instead of just looking at risk factors associated with road crashes, are there common factors that lead to high levels of risk-taking in the North?” he said.

The territory’s small size can lead to innovations in public health, he said. It can be hard to gather statistics - the population may not be large enough to draw meaningful conclusions. But the small population could allow for opportunities to address determinants of health, like housing, early childhood education and food security, in innovative ways.

“We should be able to achieve this if we could work, the public working with government broadly. It’s not the Department of Health’s approach to fix the health of the population,” he said. “Health is the responsibility of all of Yukon government, and how could we achieve a thriving, prosperous society.”

But he’s not expecting any cure-all solutions to come from his presentation, he said.

“I guess it’s pretty ambitious to think that a single talk is going to change anything in terms of the ways we do things in the Yukon. But I think there’s an importance in ideas, and to listening to new ideas and maybe there are one or two things that I might say that might generate more important ideas. Perhaps there are some kernels there that people with reflection and discussion can come back and say, ‘Well what about this?’ Or, ‘Did you think about this?’

“I’m hoping that whatever I say would not be the final word, but would be the beginning of the conversation in a certain way about how we approach risk and what we can do about it, what we can do differently.”

That’s one of the most valuable things about TED, said Allan. It’s why he’s “hooked” on the talks himself. He may not agree with everything each speaker says, but “it’s important to disagree and have those conversations,” he said.

Other scheduled speakers for the Whitehorse conversation include Marilyn Jenson, Keith Halliday, Greg Hare, Dr. Dennis Embry, Stephanie Dixon, Justin Ferbey, Heather Grantham and Judah Pollack. The conference will be on Sat. Jan. 5 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Registration for the all-day event begins at 9:30 a.m. Tickets are $50, or $30 for students, and can be purchased at Arts Underground or the Yukon Arts Centre. Lunch, as well as morning and afternoon tea, will be provided at the event.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at