For Sally DeMerchant, it was all about coming home.
Now living in Dawson City, Yukon, DeMerchant is arriving to her home town with a particular mission in mind.
On Feb. 9, a free screening of the film, Clara’s Big Ride took place at the Community Centre in Fort St. James and DeMerchant was the guest speaker.
“It was a great turnout that was unexpected,” said Jhennipher Bridgeman,
“The kids were extremely receptive to the presentation and asked lots of questions.”
The film is a powerful documentary directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Larry Weinstein chronicling an unprecedented 11,000 km bicycle journey across Canada by six-time Olympic medalist, Clara Hughes.
Hughes is also the spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk, and with this position, she continues to spread a hopeful message through the film by breaking the silence surrounding mental illness and to help create a stigma-free Canada.
And for DeMerchant, 21, it’s all about spreading the word in Fort St. James as she herself has coped with her own mental health issues throughout her life.
Now living in Dawson City, Yukon, DeMerchant felt ready to open the conversation in her hometown.
“When you live with a mental illness, it’s important to spread the message, to let people know that there are places they can turn to and also for me, it’s about keeping the conversation going even after Bell Day,” DeMerchant said.
Bell Day took place on Jan 25, with the vision of opening conversation surrounding mental wellness.
But DeMerchant not only continues to promote the film. She also has a part in the documentary.
“I was 19 when it was filmed. And I was chosen to represent the north. I was featured and interviewed in Dawson City,” DeMerchant said.
“The film has people share their own stories of hope and coping strategies and in Fort St. James, my hope is to help those with mental health issues and let them know that there is support out there.”
But for Hughes, there was also another big reason why she wanted to take part in this event.
“Fort St. James has recently lost a young man to suicide recently. I grew up with him and it is difficult knowing that I know what he was going through,” DeMerchant said.
“I feel like I need to come home and support my community. There are so many people there that I care about and who are always there to help out.”
On Feb. 9, DeMerchant also provided supporting information about mental wellness at Fort St. James Secondary School during the day before the screening of Clara’s Big Ride that evening.
“This year, the focus is on health and healthy ways to manage mental health issues,” DeMerchant said.
“My friend who recently passed away loved hockey, so I wanted to honour him and his family.”