'I can push my wheelchair alone': How a simple mat is making a Quebec City beach accessible

Baie de Beauport, an urban beach in Quebec City, has installed a new wheelchair-accessible mat along the sand, as well as new picnic tables.

Supporters hope project inspires other municipalities to make outdoor spaces more accessible

Since he started using a wheelchair 26 years ago, Maxime Boily has struggled to cross the sand in his wheelchair. Now, with a new mat at the Baie de Beauport, Boily is able to get to the water with ease. (Franca Mignacca/CBC )

Up until this summer, Maxime Boily would only head to Quebec City's Baie de Beauport about once a year.

He'd get together with a group of his friends, and have them carry his wheelchair across the sand into the water, where he would dip his toes, lower himself into a kayak or go for a swim. 

Since last month, cooling off at the beach has become a lot easier. 

"I feel so happy, because it's the first time I see this kind of equipment," said Boily. "I can push my wheelchair alone — I don't need help." 

Baie de Beauport has installed a new 82-metre mat that runs the length of the beach.

Maxime Boily, left, has come back to the beach six times this month alone. (Submitted by Maxime Boily)

The mat, which is made of a rigid plastic, allows wheelchair users to move across the beach all the way down to the water.

Around the halfway mark, a small nook with a large umbrella is set up so that people can park their chairs and take in some shade. 

Since it's been installed, Boily has enjoyed the beach so much he has come back six times in one month. He appreciates being able to spend the day there with his girlfriend and her nephew. 

"I think it will be great for families and people with wheelchairs, but also other disabilities," said Boily, who's also president of the Carrefour familial des personnes handicapées, a group that advocates for people with disabilities.

Phase 2 coming, beach manager says

Christophe Roy, operations manager for the beach, says this is just the first phase in its accessibility plan. 

"We already knew people with reduced mobility who would come to Baie de Beauport, and it struck us seeing people hit a wall as soon as they got to the sand," said Roy. "For us, it was an incredible injustice." 

The mat itself cost $17,000 and was paid for by the City of Quebec and the Port of Quebec.

Christophe Roy, operations manager at Baie de Beauport, says more changes are coming to the beach next summer. (Franca Mignacca/CBC )

The beach also installed new ramps leading up to wheelchair-accessible showers this summer, as well as new accessible picnic tables by the on-site bar and restaurant. 

"What we wanted is for people to be able to come here, without necessarily having anyone accompany them," said Roy. 

In the second phase, Roy is working with non-profit group Kéroul to get Hippocampe (all-terrain beach) wheelchairs and adapted paddleboards to the beach next year. 

Calls for other cities to follow

The 82-metre carpet cost about $17,000 and was paid for by the city and port of Quebec. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

While Baie de Beauport is not the first beach in the country to have these facilities, Roy is hoping this project inspires other municipalities to make their beach facilities and outdoor spaces more accessible. 

Montrealer Aziz Zemzami has that same hope. His 10-year-old son uses a wheelchair and, normally, is stuck trying to navigate the sand with his walker or sitting by the splash pad while his younger sisters get to play in the sand. 

Visiting the bay during a family vacation this week, Zemzami was pleasantly surprised when he saw the mat and realized his family could stick together this time. 

Montrealer Aziz Zemzami was excited when he realized he could bring his 10-year-old son right up to the edge of the water this week. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

"I'm so happy they have this carpet because it allows my son to go to the edge of the beach," said Zemzami.

"I'd really like all municipalities to do the same thing, because we really need this kind of carpet at other beaches, so that people with reduced mobility can also benefit from the beach." 

Quebec City says it will be investing $5.6 million in accessibility projects every year for the next three years. 

Next summer, it plans on installing a similar mat at the Base de Plein Air de Sainte-Foy, a municipal activity centre, along with an all-terrain and beach wheelchair there.