DIY Medical Clinic

Gabriola (population 5,000) is one of the Gulf Islands just off the coast of Nanaimo, British Columbia. , literally with their own hands. The Island residents swung their own hammers, hauled materials and installed piping, electrical and more. Thanks to their vision and a powerful fibre connection, Gabriola Medical Clinic is one of the most advanced health centres in Canada.

Lesley-Anne Scorgie
Internet at Light Speed. That’s Fibre.

Earlier this year, I sat down with a Western-Canadian fibre optics expert, Bill Kent, to get the scoop on what makes being connected via fibre better than anything we’ve known up to this point.

Q: Why should Canadians pay attention to the growing fibre optic Internet trend?

A: It’s revolutionizing the way we deliver critical information for hospitals, businesses and our homes. It’s remarkably faster and can carry significantly more information than copper. Think of it as the Ferrari of Internet without the price tag. The motor turns faster than any car on the market, and provides a high quality of service.

Q: How is fibre optic Internet different than high-speed Internet?

A: When Internet service was first introduced in Canada, the information was transmitted in an analogue format over copper wires. The speed of the data was limited by the distance or length of the copper wire, so naturally the further the customer was from a TELUS central office, the slower the speeds were for the data connection from the home to the Internet. Fibre optics, on the other hand, allow us to transmit voice, images and other data in digital format many times faster than with copper. Fibre looks like thin strands of glass the size of a strand of hair. Each glass rod contains and guides light from lasers, effectively reflecting the light like a mirror, which allows the light to travel great distances at “light speed”. Since distance is no longer a concern with fibre optics, the amount of information is limited only by the speed at which the laser can be turned on and off.

Q: What role did fibre play in the Gabriola Island Medical Clinic?

A: The Island was not scheduled to receive fibre until about six months after the medical clinic was scheduled to open. But, because the critical health services of the clinic were to be technology-based, the decision was made to install fibre sooner to the community. It has enabled the clinic to have robust medical services comparable to any healthcare facility in Canada. The telehealth services leverage the power of fibre to support virtual conferences, watch procedures live and transmit sensitive patient information through electronic health records and electronic medical records. All of these services are powered by fibre. It essentially makes Gabriola Island Medical Clinic one of the most connected clinics in Canada, despite its remote location.

Q: How reliable is fibre?

A: Fibre is highly reliable. It does not corrode, is not distance-sensitive, generates no heat and is resistant to many environmental factors, including temperature fluctuations. This protects it against interference from nearby power lines and high voltage electrical equipment, and it is less likely to go down during a power outage. Bonus points: it can be submerged in water!


Fibre enables the Gabriola Medical Clinic to connect and consult with larger hospitals and physicians. It offers speed and reliability so that Gabriola’s patients receive accurate and timely care, despite their remote location.

Sarah Clark
Growing up Gabriola

Rewind to when times were a little simpler, a little slower. I grew up in a community of 5,000 residents, where there was no Starbucks, no traffic lights, no rush hour. The island of Gabriola is a quick 20-minute ferry ride from the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, but that ferry transports you to a peaceful paradise that, because of its beauty, tranquility and easygoing people, isn’t quite like anywhere else.

I’m thankful that when we were young, my parents shooed us outside so often it felt like we more or less grew up in the forest. Getting outside and getting dirty was the name of the game. The oldest of four kids, I led the pack through the woods, down hiking trails, up Arbutus trees and across beaches. The stunning Malaspina Galleries (pictured above) was (and still is) a crowd favourite – and certainly a Clark favourite.

On hot summer days, we used to stroll down to the Village Food Market for ice cream at the only café. It was a 4-kilometre trek round-trip, but when you’re nine years old, it feels more like 100. I loved winters on Gabriola and if I close my eyes, I can still feel how it felt to be cozied up in the family room with the fireplace crackling and Nat King Cole playing softly in the background, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall outside our big front window. A neighbour or two would drop by for a visit and maybe a game of Dominoes. It felt like there was always someone knocking on that door to come in and say hello.

We were always free and encouraged to explore, imagine and discover. And we were safe doing it. There weren’t many people in the community that we didn’t know. And if we didn’t know them, my dad, who worked on the ferry between Gabriola and Nanaimo, always did. It’s hard to put it into words, but there’s just something about that little island that sparks creativity, welcomes a good night’s sleep, connects you to nature and makes you feel like a meaningful part of the community.

I go back from time to time and nothing ever changes – in a good way. They’ve not yet opened a Starbucks or put up a traffic light. Now, living in Vancouver, a place where there are twice as many people in my neighbourhood than on the entire island I grew up on, I truly appreciate the calm, laid-back beauty of Gabriola. I love the city, but the island will always be a big part of who I am and in many ways, I take it everywhere with me.


One of Canada’s most beautiful ferry crossings is from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island, British Columbia. The journey totals 20 minutes and if you pay close attention to the scenery you’re likely to encounter porpoises, killer whales, seals and more.


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