Dr. Charles Helm cannot believe his luck. More than three decades after moving to Tumbler Ridge, he’s still making new and exciting discoveries about British Columbia’s youngest community—discoveries he could never have imagined before he arrived in town.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Helm earned his medical degree at the University of Cape Town in 1981 before immigrating to Canada in 1986 and opening his practice as a family physician at Tumbler Ridge’s Community Health Centre in 1992. A diagnostic and treatment facility, the centre is home to a variety of health care providers, including optometrists, counsellors, emergency care providers, and lab and X-ray technicians. Semi-retired since 2017, Dr. Helm loved working as part of a larger medical group and approaching each new patient as a team, which he believes improves patient care outcomes and quality of life.
Small town medicine brings challenges and opportunities
“One of the joys of living in a rural and remote place like Tumbler Ridge is that you never quite know who is going to walk into your practice or what ailment you are going to treat,” says Dr. Helm. “Any and every day there’s going to be something challenging, something different, and it’s this kind of challenge that I have found so fulfilling in my work. It has been so rewarding to be part of a dedicated team of professionals who work together for the benefit of the patient.”
A Fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Dr. Helm also serves on the teaching faculty of the University of British Columbia. He has received many awards for his work in rural and remote primary care, including the Rural Long Service Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada in 2013 and the Rural Family Physician of the Year Award from the British Columbia College of Family Physicians in 2016. He regularly organizes medical conferences in the community and region, including the annual 3D Conference and the Jasper Spring Retreat and Medical Conference.
Recreation and health promotion in the mountains
Dr. Helm loves to hike and go trail running in the mountains. In fact, he has spent many years designing, building and maintaining hiking trails and, in 1999, created the Emperor’s Challenge Mountain Run together with some friends. They immediately dubbed it the “toughest and most beautiful half-marathon in the world,” and received 36 entries in the event’s first year. The half-marathon has grown exponentially and is now considered the single biggest off-road running event in British Columbia. Dr. Helm and his fellow organizers have started capping the field at 1,000 entries, and registration fills up within a day.
“From my perspective, there’s no finer place in the world to be and I just cannot believe how lucky I have been to live in Tumbler Ridge for so many years,” explains Dr. Helm. “Looking at the amazing mountain and waterfall surroundings, with all of our trails and our dinosaur attractions, and the opportunity to raise a family in this environment, and you realize that life cannot get any better.”
Dr. Helm and his partner Linda have spent half their lives in Tumbler Ridge, have raised their children there, and are deeply committed to growing the long-term sustainability of the community. Dr. Helm has worked hard to support the diversification of the town’s economy through the creation of hiking trails and events, as well as through his work as a paleontologist.
Digging into Tumbler Ridge's prehistoric past
Known affectionately to locals as “Dr. Dino,” Dr. Helm is a founding member of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, and his work has led to numerous fossil discoveries in the area, including crocodile and dinosaur tracks, fish fossils, marine reptile fossils (one of which was named after him), and most recently, a 90-million-year-old lobster fossil. He has authored seven books about the history and fossils of Tumbler Ridge and the Northern Rockies, including Daniel’s Dinosaurs: A True Story of Discovery in 2000. This book was written after Dr. Helm’s then eight-year-old son and his friend discovered a dinosaur trackway near town. This discovery was the first of many that led to Tumbler Ridge becoming a dino-tourism attraction.
In 2014, Dr. Helm was part of a group of local residents who helped Tumbler Ridge achieve designation as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Geopark, only the second in North America. Recognized for its incredible mountains and fossils, Tumbler Ridge has been deemed a site of international geological significance, and a UN geopark—the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark—has been operating in the area since 2014.
Dr. Helm is currently enrolled for his Ph.D. at the Department of Geoscience, Faculty of Science, at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, and has authored 18 peer-reviewed publications in his field of study, which focuses on ancient human footprints. Dr. Helm is also interested in polypharmacy reduction, evolutionary biology, and health promotion through healthy lifestyle choices.