Nov. 1, 2016

Six Canadian universities partner on groundbreaking health promotion movement

By adopting ‘Okanagan Charter,’ UCalgary makes commitment to health and well-being in policies and practices
The six university presidents, from left: Gary Kachanoski, Memorial; Santa Ono, UBC; Elizabeth Cannon, Calgary; David Docherty, Mount Royal; Andrew Petter, SFU; and Mike Mahon, Lethbridge. Photo by Mike Pinder

Gary Kachanoski, Santa Ono, Elizabeth Cannon, David Docherty, Andrew Petter and Mike Mahon.

Mike Pinder

Canadian universities are leading an international effort to create campuses that will improve the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

The University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Memorial University, Mount Royal University, and the University of Lethbridge are the first universities to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. The charter calls on post-secondary institutions to make a commitment to health and well-being in all policies and practices.

“The University of Calgary is committed to creating healthy spaces, policies and programs that support mental health and well-being among students, faculty and staff,” said President Elizabeth Cannon. “Our recently launched Campus Mental Health Strategy aligns with our key institutional partners within the framework of the Okanagan Charter and will help to further promote a healthy campus community.”

Universities and colleges can set an example

UBC and SFU led the development of the charter with international partners. The six Canadian universities adopted the charter to inspire other institutions to follow suit, recognizing that universities and colleges can set an example as communities that promote health.

Research shows that health and well-being are essential to learning, retention, productivity, satisfaction and building a sense of community. Universities and colleges are in a unique position to promote well-being through education, research, policies and practices that can be developed on campuses. The Okanagan Charter provides a common framework for universities and colleges to lead this important charge.

The newly formed Canadian Health Promoting Universities and Colleges Network, headed by these first university signatories, is working collaboratively to advance the Charter and encourage health promotion on campuses across Canada and globally.

Commitments play out in different ways

Each institution has made individual commitments to enacting the Okanagan Charter on their campuses in different ways — from campus-wide mental health strategies, to developing campus spaces that support connection and community.

As part of its commitment to the charter, UCalgary has committed a $3-million investment to support the implementation of the Campus Mental Health Strategy.

“Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and where individually and collectively we realize our potential,” Cannon said.

The charter will advance the University of Calgary's Campus Mental Health Strategy. This strategy is unique in that it applies to all members of the campus community; students, staff, faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and volunteers. Since the launch of the strategy, there has been significant advancement in several of the 28 recommendations. A commitment has been made to view all new polices through a mental health lens, the strategy and its programs will be part of an evaluation strategy to ensure we are advancing the well-being of our entire community.

Presidents from the six universities will adopt the Okanagan Charter during the week of October 31, 2016.


The Okanagan Charter was an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges held at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, from June 22-25.

A charter working group with members from the UK, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, United States and Canada used an intensive development process to engage people interested in higher education from 45 countries.

Higher education leaders and delegates, including network and organization representatives, signed a pledge to bring the charter back to their settings to inspire and catalyze further action towards the creation of health promoting universities and colleges. Representatives from the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) joined in the pledge.