Sister Act On The Road

For two years, Toni Bockus and her sister Sonja Gower drove from Prince George, BC to Edmonton—a 16-hour round trip—every month. What on earth could be worth that kind of time and effort?

Sisters Sonja Gower (L) and Toni Bockus (R) are both successful Vicars graduates working as RMTs in BC.

A new career, and a new life. Toni and Sonja were students at Vicars School of Massage Therapy. And it was worth it: they’re both now successful RMTs.

The road to Toni’s career as an RMT started a couple of years earlier. “I was working as a nursing unit clerk and was really interested in the health care field, but didn’t want to become a nurse,” says Toni. “A colleague asked if I’d ever considered massage therapy and I thought, ‘yeah that’s within my grasp.’”

Toni’s research into massage schools ruled out those in Vernon and Vancouver because they only offered a full-time, five-days-a-week curriculum. Then she came across Vicars. She was intrigued by the testimonials on the Vicars website by B.C. graduates who had gone back to B.C. and opened their own clinics.

Most importantly, it was the flexibility of the Vicars courses that mattered. “Vicars stood out because you can attend in-person once a month,” says Toni. “I liked the idea that I could maintain my job and bring in income while paying for school.”

Toni’s sister Sonja was also interested. At first, Toni and Sonja applied to the Calgary campus but then realized that in winter the highway through the icefields can be closed at times, so they opted for Edmonton.

“It was great to go with my sister,” says Toni. “We could split costs and the driving.” Often after an eight-hour drive the sisters would have to jump out of the car and go immediately into clinic. “It was nice supporting each other to get through the training because it was challenging and doing it alone would have been tough.”

And, as it turned out, because the pandemic hit three months after they started at Vicars, they and their families were in each other’s “bubble.” That meant they were able to practice on each other and their spouses when public clinic practice wasn’t possible. “My husband was having the best time of his life,” says Toni. “He got as many massages as he wanted.”

Vicars had quickly pivoted to online teaching at the onset of the pandemic. “The teachers were super aware of what we were going through,” says Toni. “They were so good and patient with us and let us ask a ton of questions. We were in our bubbles at home, and we couldn’t treat other people or look at different conditions, so it was really tough in a sense, but I feel the instructors did the best that they could.”

As the pandemic waned and the Vicars clinic could welcome clients back, Toni and Sonja were able to work with the public. “Our graduation was pushed back because of the pandemic but that extra time meant we could experience massaging other people, including people who had special conditions such as scoliosis or fibromyalgia,” says Toni. “It was intimidating at first, but it was great to put what we’d learned into practice and continue our training.”

Toni and Sonja graduated in November of 2021. After writing her RMT exams in Newfoundland in December that year, Toni set up her own studio in Prince George.

“Prince George is small, about 75,000 people, but before the pandemic, the waiting time to see a massage therapist was two years,” says Toni. “Once I opened the doors to my practice in June of 2022, I had all the clients I could handle.” Toni has two small children and works around their schedules, so she sees her clients within a five-hour window on weekdays. “I can book four massages a day and that allows me to make a good living,” she says.

Sonja Gower, who wasn’t available for this interview, works in a multidisciplinary clinic, also in Prince George.

Right now, Toni is focused on the continuing education required by the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia to keep her professional registration current. Unlike Alberta, BC regulates both the practice of massage therapy and standards of massage education.

She’s pursuing two courses, one on Indigenous awareness and the other on professional development. Toni and Sonja are from the Cowichan Tribes first nation on southern Vancouver Island. “I don’t know a lot about the traditions of the Indigenous community here, so I’m taking a course to learn more about the community and fulfil my accreditation,” says Toni.

Working for herself is perfect for Toni at this stage in her life. “It’s so nice to have a flexible schedule and take days off when I need to,” she says. “I have a good, reliable clientele and a pretty steady flow.”

Does a flexible schedule, reliable income, and a rewarding career sound good to you, too? Find out more about a career in massage at an in-person or virtual Information Session or text 587-715-0600 for more information!

Kathleen Thurber
Author: Kathleen Thurber

Kathleen Thurber is an Edmonton-based health and science writer.