Nova Scotia

Fish fun becomes accessible thanks to volunteers in Cape Breton

A new walkway and concrete pad in Glace Bay allow children who use wheelchairs to more easily reach a lake and try fishing.

Project will end up costing around $140,000

Building the walkway and concrete pad took months of fundraising. (Submitted by Jeff McNeil )

The new walkway and fishing stations at Cape Breton's John Bernard Croak Memorial Park might look like a simple collection of asphalt and concrete to a passerby.

But they are actually a sign of equality and accessibility built from the ground up by volunteers. 

The Glace Bay park is where children take part in a program that releases trout into the lake and helps the children learn how to fish.

But the ground leading to the lake was rough and uneven, making it hard for children who use wheelchairs to get to the water's edge.

So the Port Morien Wildlife Association set out to make the lake accessible to everyone. 

"Seeing a young fella there catch his first fish in a wheelchair and hearing him squeal with joy over that, that further solidified the fact that … we've got to do something permanent and make sure everyone has access to this wonderful sport of angling," Stan Peach, the treasurer of the wildlife association, told CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet.

Before the walkway was built it was difficult for children using wheelchairs to get to the the lake at John Bernard Croak Memorial Park. (Submitted by Jeff McNeil)

The association teamed up with the Sydney Mines Fire Department in the past to lay down nearly 30 pieces of plywood so children from the pediatric unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital could get to the lake.

That was a lot of hard work, so Peach and other volunteers started to dream up something better.

They started fundraising to build the almost 18-metre long walkway and concrete pad with five separate areas where people can fish. The wildlife association applied for grants, held fundraisers, and gathered together volunteers to build the structure. 

"The community saw the value in it also and the small businesses locally here came onboard," said Peach. "You know what we have invested in this project now, half of it is in-kind funds and donations and material from the community and its fabulous support that we've gotten."

The new walkway provides easy access to the lake at the park. (Submitted by Jeff McNeil )

Construction started last November. The site is mostly complete now with just a bit of landscaping left to finish and signs to be installed. 

When all the work is done the whole project is estimated to cost about $140,000.

It was a huge effort to get that money together. 

"We had to fight tooth-and-nail to move this project forward," said Jeff McNeil the president of the Port Morien wildlife group.

All that work has led to Peach and McNeil being nominated for the Roland Michener Conservation Award. It's a national award established in 1978 by the Canadian Wildlife Federation as a tribute to the former governor general of Canada.

Michener was an outdoor enthusiast and honorary president of the federation. 

Construction on the site began in November 2020. (Submitted by Jeff McNeil)

"I'm not the type of person to look for a pat on the back or an accolade," said McNeil. "I would have sooner the organization be nominated rather than just Stan and myself. It's great to be nominated but that's not what we do this for."

The recipient will be announced in June.