Bernie LaFrance, Group Leader, Nanaimo Better Breathers

Bernie LaFrance may tell you he is retired, but that depends on one’s definition of retirement. He is involved in four community organizations and still finds time to rehearse and sing in church. He says, “It helps heal my body and soul. Singing has actually improved my breathing and lung function.”

He’s also the Group Leader for the Nanaimo Better Breathers, a BC Lung Association support group for people with a variety of lung health issues, from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) to asthma.

Bernie started his relationship with the group as an attendee. He has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and he wanted to learn what he could do to manage his condition. He also enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. So when the organizer and leader of the group stepped down, Bernie agreed to step in keep it going.

The group had always invited the occasional guest speaker to talk to members, primarily on lung health issues. Bernie wanted this to be an even greater focus.

He invites speakers every month on a lots of topics: chronic pain management, safety in the home, recipes - he’s even considering a talk on “health dancing.”

The group is made up of about 110 members, “65 with emails and 45 without” according to Bernie. He communicates with the group via email for those that use computers, and through the Coffee News, the Daily News and Shaw Cable for those who don’t. All these outlets run Better Breathers announcements at no charge. Shaw Cable even did a feature interview with Bernie about the group.

The meetings begin with a half hour of simple, seated breathing exercises. One of the great paradoxes of lung health issues, particularly COPD, is that they can make people short of breath which, in turn, makes them not want to exercise. Yet exercise actually helps improve lung capacity and can significantly improve lung function.

After the exercises, there is a short break before the featured speaker begins his or her presentation. During the break, members mingle, many talking to Bernie. It is apparent that the members are buoyed by Bernie’s genuine interest in each of them.

That support means the world to him. Being the Group Leader takes a fair bit of Bernie’s time. About a year ago, Bernie, who will be 75 in April, contemplated stepping down. His other community service commitments – Patient Voice Network, Block Watch Supervisor, and Church Maintenance Manager, not to mention being a Volunteer Director of the BC Lung Association – are also demanding of his time.

So with all this to manage in his life, why didn’t Bernie step down from leading the group? “The group wouldn’t let me.”  And Bernie simply can't leave people in the lurch.

He learned his compassion at home growing up. It was reinforced by a career in the Canadian Armed Forces as a Transportation Technician.

Bernie's postings included stints across Canada (helping transport Prime Ministers, Governors General and other dignitaries), Germany, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon where he got closer to terrorist bombs than he would have wished. With all he does, you’d think Bernie was still on active duty. The city and Better Breathers are the better for it.

The Nanaimo Better Breathers serves people with COPD, asthma and other lung conditions from Parksville and Lantzville in the north to Cedar in the south. For more info email Bernie LaFrance at


Page Last Updated: 16/12/2015