Wheelchair-friendly fishing park sought for Williamswood area
Sambro man inspired to create park by two friends who had cancer
A Sambro, N.S., man said two of his best friends who had cancer — Cory Shay and Kyle MacKay — inspired him to look for property to develop a wheelchair-accessible park in the Williamswood area.
"They both unfortunately passed away in their 20s," said Chad Garrison. "They had pretty bad mobility issues. One was paralyzed from the waist down and was in a wheelchair. We all liked to go fishing, so it was hard to do that without enough accessible fishing sites in the area."
Of 23 listed barrier-free sport fishing sites in Nova Scotia, only four are in the Halifax region.
The closest spot to Williamswood is Albro Lake in Dartmouth — about a half-hour drive away.
"Sambro, Williamswood, it's an aging population. It's going to be good for not just people in wheelchairs, but elderly folks, children, small kids," Garrison said.
An ideal location, he said, would be in a spot that overlooks Grand Lake — a place that has sentimental value because that's one of the spots where he, Shay and MacKay used to go fishing. The lake has speckled trout, brown bullhead and smallmouth bass.
Raising money for land
Garrison is in the process of raising $15,000 to buy land.
In addition to a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort, the Shay & MacKay Memorial Fishing Derby was held last weekend at Grand Lake to raise money for the project as well as for a scholarship for a J.L. Ilsley student.
"We would like to have a sheltered picnic area as well as a platform or boardwalk that people could go out on a wheelchair. The lake is pretty rocky here, so it's not very accessible at the moment."
Garrison also hopes to build a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and a dock for canoes and kayaks.
"Until we get the land, we're just sitting still," said Garrison.
'It's access for all'
According to the province's 2018 anglers handbook, residents and non-residents with permanent disabilities may qualify for a general fishing licence for free.
Gerry Post, Nova Scotia's executive director of accessibility, called Garrison's idea an "incredible initiative."
"I think it's access for all, not just for those with disabilities, when you design them properly," Post said.
Post said small communities across the province are working to make their communities more accessible. For example, Post said Inverness will have the first fully accessible beach in Nova Scotia this year.
"People are starting to see it in part because of the growing population, too ... 20 per cent of our population has a disability in Nova Scotia. We're the highest in Canada. The national average is about 14 per cent. And that's because we're the oldest province too," Post said.
'A wonderful initiative'
Garrison said he has support from his municipal councillor, Steve Adams, and his MLA, Brendan Maguire.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Adams. "And I'm impressed with how we as a community and as a group are trying to ensure inclusivity for everybody. This is a wonderful initiative."
Adams said he wants to help with fundraising efforts to buy property and meet with Garrison to discuss ideas.
Maguire said Grand Lake is one of the most popular fishing spots in the community and it should be enjoyed by everyone.
"It is one of those things that a lot of people don't think about unless it impacts them personally," Maguire said. "So kudos to Chad for really coming up with this, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to try to help him get the funding for this."