» Prince Rupert Prince Rupert | Ecotrust Canada

Ecotrust Canada is dedicated to developing innovative economic solutions that promote environmental sustainability and social equity.

We’re on a mission to scale our impact.

For nearly 25 years, we’ve been developing viable economic innovations based on our belief that healthy economies and resilient communities are built on the connection between human, environmental and economic well-being. And we’re going to keep doing that because our results are extraordinarily compelling.

Through our work in partnership with communities, we’re proving beyond doubt that healthy economies and resilient communities are built hand in hand, based on economic models that embrace the connection between human, environmental, and economic well-being.

2019 has been a year of reflection and refinement. Like others around the world, we have witnessed how easily progress can be unraveled when viable alternatives to broken economic models aren’t readily available.

So now we are committing to scaling our impact to achieve systems change. Our work moving forward is to develop, pilot and replicate innovative economic solutions that enable the emergence of sustainable communities.

And since we’re scaling impact, we need to scale our donor base too!

So over the month of December, we’re going to be sharing stories of impact from our community, stories that prove the possibility of building sustainable, resilient economies that work for community, and stories that we hope will inspire you to become an Ecotrust Canada Monthly Donor.

And since we’re scaling things, we will also scale the impact of your donation!  Until December 31st, a generous match donor will double your gift.

There are unique and momentously important opportunities to scale impact through policy reform and community engagement in 2020. We are committed to pouring our energy into maximizing this moment. So please, help us scale our donor base too by making a one time or monthly donation today.

Dianne Villesèche is one of our Fisheries Project Managers based in Prince Rupert, B.C. After returning from Ecotrust Canada’s first biosampling trip of the season, she shares from her perspective what it’s like to be an at-sea observer with Area A crab fleet. 

As I arrive at dock to board the crab boat Sea Harvest, the skipper is using the crane to load bait and groceries needed for the week. The crew is on deck guiding the containers over and unpacking supplies. I’m super excited, the weather’s great and I’m joining them for a week-long crab biosampling trip in the Hecate Strait. After asking permission, I hop on board and look for spots to store my gear while staying out of everyone’s way as they rush around in preparation to leave.

The Sea Harvest offloading crab in Prince Rupert during the 2019 season. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Ecotrust Canada has provided sustainable and economically viable services for the Area A Crab Fishery for the past nine years. This work is a perfect fit with our mandated vision of supporting community-built solutions that result in more sustainable fisheries.

Four times each year, as per the requirements of the Area A Crab Management Plan, our team conducts biosampling trips aboard vessels within the fleet. The crab data collected is used by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in support of compliance, science, conservation, and management activities. In addition to data collection, we also offer at-sea observer training, such as salmon and crab, which helps build local fisheries knowledge and capacity.

Dianne Villesèche gives Jennifer Paton a refresher course on crab biosampling before Jennifer’s first trip this season. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

As a former commercial fisherwoman in the 80s, I welcome the adventure this work presents to get out of the office and into the field… a little bit of nostalgia for days gone by. When the seas are calm and the sun is shining, the work is extremely enjoyable making the tougher days worthwhile, when you are dealing with rough seas, mountains of paperwork, a cranky crew, pinching crabs, wet clothes, and stinky rain gear.

Such was my time on the Sea Harvest, mostly enjoyable with a splash of rough seas. The first three days were calm with partly sunny skies and brilliant sunsets. There was lots of laughter, great food, and long backbreaking hours. Knowing bad weather was on the horizon, the skipper and crew were working their way through the gear as quickly as possible. My job is to sample one sixth of the total number of traps hauled, which involves collecting and recording data such as sex, shell hardness, injuries, mating marks, size, and other observations including recording and identifying by-catch species.

At-sea observing for the Area A crab fleet on the Hecate Strait. (JENNIFER PATON/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Our fourth day started out flat calm and gray. The sky and the ocean were joined as one. We were tired and sore from the previous 17-hour day so it was a slow 8 a.m. start. An hour into our day the conditions changed, the wind picked up and the seas began to grow. Still we plugged away. Traps were hauled, emptied, rebaited, and set. Crabs were sorted, and roughly one-sixth were sampled.

The seas were rough when Dianne Villesèche conducted the first at-sea observing trip of the season in August 2019. (Dianne Villesèche/ECOTRUST CANADA)

By late afternoon, the seas had grown to four to six metres and the crew decided to head for refuge in Queen Charlotte on Haida Gwaii with a stop along the way to set the last 50 traps still on deck. The crew donned their wet gear and life jackets. I stood at the galley door and recorded video of them setting traps happy it wasn’t me out on deck. Tired, wet and happy, we rode out the storm, slowly making our way to port, and docking after midnight. I took the ferry back to Prince Rupert with a tale to share with the team and Jennifer Paton, an Ecotrust Canada Fisheries Project Manager, who was scheduled to take the next biosampling trip across the Hecate Strait.

READ MORE: Launching a social enterprise where data empowers local fisheries

By Jordan MacDonald, Employment Social Enterprise Project Coordinator

Hecate Strait Employment Development Society (HSEDS) has been assisting the residents of Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte City, Masset, and surrounding communities achieve their employment, training, and settlement goals for more than 25 years.

Since January, I have fulfilled the role of Project Coordinator, Employment Social Enterprise with HSEDS in partnership with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab. The goal of this partnership is to explore employment social enterprise initiatives that HSEDS could undertake to provide experiential learning activities and support its clients to gain hands-on work experience.

Jordan MacDonald is the Employment Social Enterprise Coordinator with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society and Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab in Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Social value

Social enterprises are business organizations that prioritize the creation of social value over profits alone. For an employment social enterprise this means the organization works with its employees to address the barriers to employment they experience and provide training in workplace-specific skills while developing other essential and transferable skills. This approach seeks to provide a supportive work environment where individuals are viewed as employees – not simply clients – and they are able to build the confidence needed to achieve gainful employment in the community.

To date this project has connected with other employment social enterprises to gather best practices in the field. It has also worked within HSEDS to better understand both the programs and services that are offered, as well as the needs and expectations of the people who interact with the organization. A review of employment social enterprise models has also been completed with special attention to ideas that could address the specific needs of Prince Rupert’s labour market.

Tourism and event planning

In the coming months, I will be working with HSEDS to develop an experiential training cohort that will integrate both in-class and community-based learning activities focused on tourism, event planning, and customer service. Through this course participants will learn and complete specific tasks related to working in a retail or tourism environment. This cohort will support the entrepreneurial spirit of Prince Rupert and act as a pilot and learning opportunity for any future retail-based social enterprise activities.

More than 20 cruise ships are visiting Prince Rupert in 2019. (SHANNON LOUGH PHOTO)


While in Prince Rupert I have also had an opportunity take in many of the exciting activities and events that make this community so unique. This includes attending the All Native Basketball Tournament, Salmon Fest, La Cabane à Sucre, and exploring several historic sites and trails along the way.

I have also had the privileged of continuing to participate in several events and conferences relating to my current program of studies. In early June, I attended the Congress of the Humanities where I presented on the connection of university-based refugee resettlement groups to their community contexts.

Innovative approaches

While at Congress, I also attended workshops and sessions hosted by the Association of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, which had specific relevance to the work I am a part of in Prince Rupert. This included the ability for social enterprises to take part in government and business procurement and purchasing activities, youth outcomes in work-integration social enterprises, and strategic planning in the non-profit context.

Each of these areas – whether they be social enterprise, employment, skill development, food literacy, or immigration – are connected through the lens of social innovation. In each of these projects I am working to explore how existing initiatives are socially innovative or can be innovated in some way. Barriers to employment, childhood obesity, and the integration of newcomers pose complex challenges that require socially responsible and innovative approaches and solutions.

READ MORE: Exploring restorative ocean farming in Northern B.C.

READ MORE: Growing a jungle of edible veggies for Indigenous food security


The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

By Morgan Sage, Food Security Project Coordinator

Prince Rupert has a deep connection to local food through its history and culture of fishing. However, locally grown produce is really only available to people who grow it themselves in their own gardens, or gather it from the wild. Growing food in Prince Rupert has its challenges including soil quality, climate, and deer. Many of those problems are mitigated with protected agriculture, or greenhouse growing.

Morgan Sage holds up a bunch of carrots that she grew inside the greenhouse at Rupert Lawn and Garden to provide for members of the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society in Prince Rupert. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

Since this January, I’ve been the Food Security Project coordinator as part of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and my partner organization the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society. The latter owns and operates Rupert Lawn and Garden (RLG) as a social enterprise/business.

RLG has three greenhouses onsite that are used as nurseries and plant sales throughout the growing season. As the spring turns to summer the greenhouses start to empty, leaving unused valuable greenhouse space. My project is using this space to produce food. Because the greenhouses have gravel floors, immovable tables, and is used for different purposes throughout the year, I’m using containers to grow vegetables.

Large scale container gardening is the best way to describe what my project physically looks like. Pots upon pots of tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, peppers and eggplants are filling Greenhouse 3 at RLG. Planting started mid-March and from there everything has exploded. “It looks like a jungle in here!” has been uttered more than once upon someone’s entry into the greenhouse.

Fresh food

The ultimate goal is to increase food security for Nisga’a in Prince Rupert. Recently there was a Nisga’a household survey conducted in Prince Rupert and Port Edward that identified that the number one household need for members is food, and price was the largest barrier to accessing food. Gitmaxmak’ay already has a household food distribution program in place for traditional foods such as oolichan and oolichan grease, herring row, and salmon. This distribution setup will be used to make fresh food grown at RLG available to Nisga’a members.

Just one of the many cucumbers growing from inside the greenhouse. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

However, about half of the produce grown at RLG will be available to purchase by the general public at Rupert Lawn and Garden to help cover some of the costs of production.

So far there have been three harvests of salad greens, that have went to staff at Gitmaxmak’ay and Rupert Lawn and Garden, volunteers for Salmon Fest, and the Elders Fundraiser at the end of May.

Food programs

Even though growing food is the most visible part of the project, I’m aiming to initiate a few programs including a community kitchen where people can cook, eat, and spend time together over food, as well as a program for elders and youth to get their hands dirty at Rupert Lawn and Garden. Elders and youth could also share in the harvest by having their monthly meetings over a meal they helped produce.

Also as part of my project I was able to attend the Northwest Food Action Network’s Food Conference, Food Glorious Food, in Terrace this spring. While there was able to connect in person with some of the Food Action Network’s members; attend sessions on food waste; monitoring fish stocks; and attend workshops on seed starting and community kitchens. This conference highlighted the place-based nature of food security and how important food security is for the Northwest.

Since Morgan Sage planted seeds in the spring the greenhouse dedicated to her project has exploded with edible veggies to distribute to members of the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society. (MORGAN SAGE PHOTO)

READ MORE: The Spirit of Innovation

READ MORE: Exploring restorative ocean farming in Northern B.C.


The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

Theory put into practice in northern B.C.

By Taylor Reidlinger, Restorative Ocean Farming Project Coordinator

Do you feel like the world is changing ever more rapidly? I do. To thrive as humans, we need to address both the effects of climate change and the needs of growing populations. This demands that communities act as stewards of the environment while adapting to its changes.
An exciting initiative that aims to support both community food needs and environmental well-being is restorative ocean farming, an aquaculture practice where seaweeds and shellfish are grown together in vertical ocean plots. Since January, I have been exploring restorative ocean farming — tangibly — in Metlakatla territory.

Shannon Lough photo

Taylor Reidlinger, who is the Restorative Ocean Farming Project Coordinator with Coastal Shellfish and part of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab, holds up a tiny scallop at the facility on the coast of Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Is it feasible?

Working in Prince Rupert with support and guidance from Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL), Coastal Shellfish Corporation, Metlakatla Stewardship Society, and Metlakatla Aquatic Resources, I have been scoping the realm of feasibility to understand what governance structures, business models, and project plans could lead to local positive outcomes through restorative ocean farming.
The main goal is to provide access to wholesome local seafood while reducing the energy inputs, space requirements, and environmental impacts of food production. I also hope that we can lay a foundation for this program that encourages community connection to the environment and to one another, which can help further diversify the local job market and marine economy. By building on Coastal Shellfish’s success in shellfish aquaculture, we are working to design a program that respects Coast Tsimshian heritage and territory and supports the community into the future.

The benefits

Shellfish aquaculture produces delicious protein that is healthy for humans and the environment. Kelp aquaculture regulates oceanographic imbalances and provides habitat for other species while it grows into nutritious food, and a product with a variety of other uses. When grown in combination, these species create a restorative ocean farm that becomes a nutritious, delicious, and sustainable combination.

Shannon Lough photo

Taylor Reidlinger stands inside Coastal Shellfish’s algae microbrewery in Prince Rupert, B.C. (SHANNON LOUGH/ECOTRUST CANADA)

Seeding the ocean

Now that the realm of what is possible has started to develop, I will be working toward setting up test plots, engaging further with community members and knowledge holders, and continuing to find ways to mitigate any potential roadblocks to success. By the end of summer, we hope to start our Coastal Shellfish pilot program – seeding the ocean with species that will grow to demonstrate what local seafood could be produced in a larger long-term, financially self-sustaining program.
The Mitacs–NCIL opportunity has enabled this partnership and the exploration of an idea that has, until now, rested only in the hopeful minds of community members.

From theory to practice

Working as a project manager on an initiative in its early stages has been an amazing professional learning experience for me. While working on the project, I’ve also completed coursework toward my Master of Science degree in Environment and Management. I’ve been able to apply the theory of sustainable community development coursework directly into this real-world scenario.
This type of coursework has synced beautifully with the Ecotrust Canada social innovation lab model – where theory is applied to practice – and learning from the resulting effects helps us to progress closer toward intended outcomes where community members act as stewards in a changing world.


The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.

READ MORE: The Spirit of Innovation

Electronic monitoring (EM) has been in use as a fisheries management tool for more than a decade. And what started out 8 years ago as a way for Ecotrust Canada to meet the needs of a BC fishery partner for a cost effective EM system, has now grown into the launch of a new social enterprise – Teem Fish Monitoring Inc.

Meeting a community need

With electronic monitoring, onboard computers record data from video cameras and GPS sensors to give fishery managers a detailed view of harvests and prevent overfishing and illegal practices. But most EM systems are cost-prohibitive for smaller fishing operations. So in 2010, with our deep expertise in sustainable fisheries management and hearing the community need for a more cost-effective alternative, Ecotrust Canada partnered with the Area A Crab Association in Prince Rupert, BC to innovate and develop an EM service of its own.

By building our own technology, we developed a system that was both cost effective and could be adapted for almost any fishery, with the goals of improving communities’ ability to pursue environmentally and economically sustainable livelihoods. By fostering partnerships with other local organizations over the years, our EM service has expanded to monitoring more locations and fisheries across Canada and the U.S., providing services to a mix of fish harvester associations and sectors, First Nations fisheries, and federal government agencies.

Partnering for world-class technology

Due to concerns over fisheries sustainability, the seafood industry faces increasing regulation, and there is the global recognition that most, if not all, fisheries should move towards some level of monitoring and auditable reporting. By launching our EM service into a new social enterprise this year, Teem Fish Monitoring Inc. can continue to grow in its mission to provide world-class electronic monitoring technology to local fisheries at an affordable price.

Instead of continuing with our own in-house technology though, Teem Fish Monitoring has formed a partnership with Snap Information Technologies Ltd. from New Zealand, who are world leaders in their field and who share the same values-based business model. This will allow our EM service to expand globally and to meet the growing demand for innovative high-tech fisheries monitoring technology that is effective, affordable, and practical for fish harvesters to deploy.

Expanding our fisherman-focused, mission-based model

“We are incredibly proud of keeping our focus on the needs of fish harvesters, providing them with accessible, affordable and appropriate monitoring services to meet their regulatory requirements,” says Amanda Barney, General Manager of our Marine Monitoring Initiative for the last seven years, and now CEO of Teem Fish Monitoring. “At the same time, they get robust data that empowers them to take a lead role in fish stock sustainability and habitat conservation.”

For over 20 years, Ecotrust Canada has been building practical economic solutions to drive better social, cultural and environmental outcomes – particularly those that help local communities share in the management of, and benefit from, local natural resources.  

This is the fifth for-profit entity that Ecotrust Canada has launched, where we enable our strategic initiatives to grow outside the confines of the charity and to scale impact by entering the marketplace. We’re excited to launch Teem Fish Monitoring, and see it continue to grow beyond our borders as a successful commercial enterprise.

To learn more, visit teem.fish (full website still in development)


The North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) is a community-based social innovation lab in Prince Rupert – which essentially means a “place” for bringing people and organizations together to understand complex challenges within the community, and to work together to find lasting solutions. The NCIL works to empower the community to reclaim their economy to work for their residents, and not the other way around.

NCIL Manager, Nathan Randall, shares an update of how the NCIL is contributing to building a more resilient Prince Rupert, and where things are at as the initiative proceeds into its second year.

Gaining Momentum

Year 1 was all about direction setting and building meaningful relationships within Prince Rupert. From November 2017 until December 2018, the community members co-developed the NCIL’s structure and focus areas, hired two project coordinators for four-month research and feasibility projects, and built foundations of knowledge on models for local seafood access and coworking space viability. We also co-organized several demonstration projects – namely, a seafood literacy workshop and a capacity-building workshop and market for small-scale entrepreneurs.

New Initiatives

Year 2 of the NCIL is building on our past momentum to bring four projects to life with our first cohort of community partners and Masters student Project Coordinators. These initiatives, which all vary in their stages of development and area of focus, align with the NCIL’s community-directed objectives around resilience, inclusive and sustainable economic development:

  • Taylor Reidlinger, MSc Environment and Management candidate with Royal Roads University, is working with Coastal Shellfish Corporation to conduct a Restorative Ocean Farming Feasibility and Planning project that aims to address food insecurity and sustainable seafood access.
  • Morgan Sage, MA Geography candidate with Queen’s University, is working with Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society to develop a food production and distribution initiative as a means to educate and localize fresh produce for Rupertites.
  • Jordan MacDonald, MSc Capacity Development and Extension candidate with University of Guelph, has teamed up with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society to research and pilot an employment social enterprise project, providing a bridge between employment training, practical experience, and meaningful employment for HSEDS clients.
  • Denise Gonzalez, MA Human Geography candidate with York University, is working with Redesign Rupert to better understand and enable downtown revitalization, in the form of pilot social programs and events that complement the larger shifts in municipal planning and investment around downtown Prince Rupert.

The NCIL team look forward to sharing their progress and project directions on Tuesday, April 30th at Coast Mountain College in Prince Rupert. This is an opportunity to inform the community of their work at large, and to gain valuable feedback and ideas from residents about how to better contribute to a more resilient community. Stay tuned for future updates from the four Project Coordinators about their experiences working and living on the North Coast!

~Nathan Randall, Project Manager North Coast Innovation Lab

Our North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) in Prince Rupert is bringing people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community. The NCIL is focusing its first year on a small number of projects that already have some support or momentum in the community, but would benefit from new networks, additional human capacity, research, coordination and/or business thinking.

Project Co-ordinator Kara Herbert is a student in the Masters of Public Policy program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, doing an internship for the summer of 2018. Here she shares her work as part of the NCIL team, focusing on ways to enhance co-working, information sharing, and resource sharing in Prince Rupert.

Different groups have different needs

Our community engagement efforts highlighted that supporting entrepreneurs, which include home-based businesses and micro businesses, can be a powerful tool for economic resiliency and community well-being.

We’ve seen that there are many existing and thriving entrepreneurial training and educational programs in Prince Rupert, hinting at an emerging entrepreneurial spirit. However, it is also clear that there is a need for additional support, networks, and resources for individuals who complete these programs, so they don’t have to overcome the common challenges of starting a business by themselves.

The needs differ across different groups. The artistic community has expressed the need for professional development – workshops, business planning, online marketing, and connections to existing programs in order to grow. Some have also been interested in sharing resources such as studio space or certain tools.

The professional and online services community identified similar professional development needs, but also want a physical space to work from to bring about collaboration and networking opportunities. Many have used co-working spaces or incubators in other areas in BC and are seeing the need for one in Prince Rupert.

Solution-building with the community

Now that I have a base understanding of some of the needs here, I’m looking to the Project Advisory Committee and other community members to help craft what kind of initiative makes sense and may best benefit all kinds of entrepreneurs.

Building on this, we want to undertake a small pilot before the summer ends, and then have some more detailed aspects of a potential shared working space ironed out with concrete recommendations at the end of the summer.

It’s been amazing to approach this issue from the bottom up and co-create solutions with the community. And in working to build the foundation of this social innovation lab, I’ve found it so important to really embrace the uncertainty that comes along with an approach such as this. I think there will be many important lessons learned and knowledge shared as a result.

A welcoming place

Even though I’m only living in Prince Rupert for the summer, I’ve really been welcomed with open arms – there is a great sense of community here. I was born and raised in BC, and this is the first time I’ve gotten to explore the North. So, on weekends, we’ve been adventuring to surrounding glaciers, lava beds, towns, and islands – and spending weeknights playing baseball or paddling in the outrigger. It’s been a great experience living here, and I would encourage other young people to try it out too.



Our North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) in Prince Rupert is bringing people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community. The NCIL is focusing its first year on a small number of projects that already have some support or momentum in the community, but would benefit from new networks, additional human capacity, research, coordination and/or business thinking.

Project Co-ordinator Rabia Ahmed is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Planning at York University, and halfway through a four-month internship in Prince Rupert. Here she shares her work as part of the NCIL team, focusing on feasible ways to increase access to the local fish and marine economy in Prince Rupert.

Identifying the need

Prince Rupert has a strong connection to its fishing history and culture, and yet we’ve heard from the community that opportunities to access fresh, local seafood are hard to come by. My work so far has focused on understanding why this disparity exists, and what can be done to address it. Conversations with community members, alongside insights gleaned from research into local priorities and case studies from other coastal towns, are beginning to paint a picture of why access to local seafood is so challenging.

A significant barrier is, of course, access to the resource itself – fisheries are closely monitored to ensure conservation of fish, especially species deemed to be at risk. This means that there is perpetually more demand than supply for locally caught seafood. The high cost for consumers; the relatively limited retail opportunities for buying seafood; and a lack of access to information on what to look for, how to prepare and ways to cook seafood are all barriers holding people back from enjoying this wild, local protein.

Piloting ideas

One of ways we’re assessing the needs of the community is through open discussions with the public. We carried out a small pilot at Cow Bay Days (a local street festival) on July 7th, where Dolly’s Fish Market set up a small outdoor fish market. The aim was to gauge the community’s response to outdoor fish sales and engage with more people about the barriers and potential solutions they would like to see in Prince Rupert to increase their access to local seafood.

Over 50 people came to speak to us – giving us their insights and even suggesting new ideas that we hadn’t thought of! It was a day of thoughtful discussions and emerging and exciting possibilities.  We now have more grassroots data to continue to guide project planning.

Working differently

The solutions to this issue will be determined by the needs and input of the community – that’s what the NCIL model is all about. I’m really enjoying this process, particularly the openness with which we get to approach these projects. The goal of the Social Innovation Lab model is not to come at the issue with assumptions and project ideas already in mind, but rather to draw on local insights, multiple perspectives, and research to guide the process. What this means in practice is that there is a constant zooming in and out on potential ideas. There is constant refinement and reflection, and lots of pivoting as new information becomes available. I’m learning to be comfortable sitting with the chaos that can occur with this less-structured approach, and letting the ideas and solutions emerge organically.

Rabia was invited to talk about her research on CBC Radio One BC’s show ‘Daybreak North with Carolina De Ryk’ – listen here.

Photo credit: Devlin Fernandes


Prince Rupert, a town of around 12,000 people in northern BC, has been historically dependent on resource-based activities and vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. It’s a microcosm for many remote communities dotted across Canada who are seeing increased unemployment as jobs move overseas, fewer benefits going to locals from the natural resources near them, the loss of young and educated people to urban areas, and seasonal employment.

But residents want to turn this around. To support this shift, Ecotrust Canada has initiated the North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL), which aims to bring local people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community.

Our Project Manager, Nathan Randall, explains what this model of social innovation looks like, and how it’s getting started with the community.

Nathan, what is the North Coast Innovation Lab?

The NCIL draws on Ecotrust Canada’s learnings from eight years of community-based work in Prince Rupert and our award-winning LEDlab in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. While a strong economy is necessary to provide the employment and services needed by a community, the harder-to-measure aspects of a community – such as quality of life, culture, environmental health, and human connections – are also imperative to a community’s health and growth.

I can see that the NCIL will work to enhance collaboration across silos, sectors and cultures to align efforts and resources towards practical initiatives that will have triple bottom line impacts for the community. Unlike many economic development or civic engagement projects, the NCIL doesn’t have a specific structure or roadmap of outcomes – its role in the community and future impacts will emerge as the design-thinking process itself unfolds.

This may seem counterintuitive to some, but we believe that the best ideas for building local economies and communities come from the people and organizations that reside there. Our goal is to support Prince Rupert’s “movers and shakers” and their “game-changing” ideas by providing human capacity to advance ideas, a safe space for design and experimentation, and a supported process to develop and evaluate projects that enhance social and economic resilience.

How are you getting it started?

We spent 2017 figuring out if a North Coast Innovation Lab would be a good fit for Prince Rupert — whether we were in a position to add value to the existing initiatives and organizations in the community; could we bring capacity and attract funding to this work; and whether the social innovation lab approach was the right one. Our work, soul searching, and partnership discussions led us to the same place — yes.

The next step was to conduct over 40 community interviews with local leaders and community builders to help scope and design the NCIL. We want initiatives to complement the community development efforts already underway, not compete with them for resources, so listening and learning are key components of the NCIL. We published a report, Interview Reflections and Program Design, to share what we heard and what the scope of the NCIL will be moving forwards.

Most recently, I’ve been thrilled to hire two Project Coordinators to focus on our first projects:

  • Rabia Ahmed is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Planning at York University, and will be taking a deep dive into opportunities for access to the local fish and marine economy in Prince Rupert, and,
  • Kara Herbert is a student in the Masters of Public Policy program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and will be working in the NCIL to enhance co-working, information sharing, and resource sharing.

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learnt so far?

It’s been amazing to see how networked and connected people in Prince Rupert are, and how important those relationships are for both personal and professional reasons. That sense of community connection really acts as the glue that holds Prince Rupert together, and I love being a part of a community like that. The fact that my role in the NCIL is to strengthen those networks that already exist means my work is super rewarding. I’m excited for what’s to come, so stay tuned for more updates on the North Coast Innovation Lab!