Accessible ball field a million-dollar-dream coming true
Grants totalling $1M will help rebuild Cape Breton facility with accessibility in mind
The new Dominion Hawks ball field is expected to be a million-dollar-dream come true that will make recreational facilities accessible to everyone, with a view to match the price tag.
At an event on Monday, the federal government announced a $400,000 grant toward the Hawks Dream Field project in the community of Dominion, near Sydney, N.S. The Nova Scotia government is kicking in more than $333,000 and Cape Breton Regional Municipality is contributing over $266,000, for a total of more than $1 million.
Dream Field organizer Lisa McNeil-Campbell said she was overwhelmed at the support for the project.
"It's a million-dollar view," she said. "You're looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and Dominion Beach. It couldn't be any more beautiful."
McNeil-Campbell said her late father Walter McNeil was a founding member of the Hawks Club and she grew up on the historic field, which has been a fixture in the community since 1911.
The government funding was announced by Liberal MP Mike Kelloway, Liberal MLAs Geoff MacLellan and Derek Mombourquette, and CBRM Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger, and will make it possible for the ball field infrastructure to be completely torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, including modern accessibility features.
Inspired by the late Walter McNeil
The grounds will be graded and levelled and new bocce and baseball fields will be built with accessible dugouts and an infield capable of supporting players in wheelchairs.
New construction will include accessible washrooms and canteen, electric chargers for mobility aids, new fencing and lighting and a splash pad.
McNeil-Campbell said the idea was sparked by her father, who was in a wheelchair himself and died in 2019.
"His motto was, 'You can't learn if you don't play, so make sure everybody plays,' and in order to do that, we need to have an accessible space," she said.
"We want everybody to be able to do the same thing and feel as equal as everybody else."
CBRM has an aging population and seniors should not have to ask people for favours to gain access to community amenities, said McNeil-Campbell.
She said it is hoped the Hawks Dream Field will be just the start of improvements throughout the region.
"The whole community needs to do this," she said.
"We're going to maybe lead the way, I hope, for other fields, other projects throughout CBRM and beyond to make sure that people of all abilities ... can come and be a part of everything, just the same as everybody else."
The field's mascot will be Hecky the Hawk, named after local resident Heck Andrews, who is known for hitting the longest home run in Canada, McNeil-Campbell said.
She said Andrews hit a dinger in 1938 that went 478 feet out into the ocean and was retrieved by local fishermen.
The bat and ball are preserved among the club's memorabilia.
Hecky the Hawk has one wing shorter than the other and he wears glasses so kids can connect with the accessibility theme, she said.
Bruckschwaiger, who represents the Dominion area on CBRM council, praised all levels of government for backing the project.
"To say I was looking forward to this day would be an understatement," he said. "This wasn't just about fixing up a ball field. It was set up to be an all-inclusive field for everyone in CBRM to enjoy."
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With files from Matthew Moore