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An Extraordinary Recovery

On November 30, 2002, former British Columbia premier Mike Harcourt slipped off the deck of his Pender Island cottage and tumbled down a six-metre cliff to the rocks and ocean below.

The impact of the fall left Mike with a serious spinal cord injury similar to the one that permanently paralyzed Rick Hansen in 1973. However, thanks to increased attention and investment in SCI research and care since then, Mike experienced a very different outcome. The combination of a highly trained trauma response team, expert spinal cord surgeons, active rehabilitation, and of course, Mike’s tenacity and determination resulted in his walking again; he didn’t have to accept permanent paralysis.

“The reason I could walk away from my spinal cord injury is because of Rick’s dream of a cure; a dream that has inspired so many doctors, researchers and people with SCI. I believe that dream will come true and we’ll have a cure for spinal cord injury.” Mike Harcourt

Mike’s personal experience with SCI created an even deeper appreciation of the challenges faced by people with disabilities. This led to Mike’s involvement with two major initiatives of the Rick Hansen Foundation: Wheels In Motion and the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), where he led the Spinal Cord Injury Quality of Life Advisory Group.

Former BC Premier Mike Harcourt (left) greets Rick Hansen after his injury.


His optimism and tenacity in the face of enormous physical challenges are truly inspirational. In honour of this and his many years of dedicated public service, the Rick Hansen Foundation established the Michael Harcourt SCI Leadership Endowment to support leadership on quality of life issues for people with SCI.

Mike believes passionately in the power of cities and communities to improve the human condition. His near fatal accident only strengthened his resolve to contribute to the transformation of cities and communities around the world through the principles of sustainability, particularly in relation to social inclusion in the broadest sense. He was a key leader in the development of Measuring Up, a guide designed to assist municipalities and communities in B.C. to assess and improve the degree to which their citizens with disabilities are active participants in community life (now a 2010 Legacies Now program).

He provides leadership on creating sustainable cities through his role as the Associate Director of UBC’s Continuing Studies Centre for Sustainability. His career as lawyer, community activist, and politician has been recognized with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service and the Canadian Urban Institute’s Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award.

He also continues to be a powerful advocate on behalf of the disabled community for more accessible cities in terms of housing, transport, employment, and services. He has co-authored a book on his experience called Plan B: One Man’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph (2005).

"I am one of the lucky ones who are walking again due to the incredible advances in treatment for spinal cord injury... but we still have a long way to go."

- Mike Harcourt,
Former Premier of BC