No Christmas Joy for Disability Camp Supporters

Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled is Ontario’s unique and fully-accessible recreational facility on Lake Shebandowan. by: Jeff Turl
December 19, 2016

The Ontario government has dropped a lump of coal in the stocking of a group trying to save a northern Ontario lodge for the disabled.

For the past 30 years, Wilderness Discovery, just west of Thunder Bay has met the special needs of the disabled community in a scenic spot on panoramic Lake Shebandowan where they feel welcome, accepted, and equal.The cabins are barrier-free with roll-in showers, wide doorways, and low-cut countertops. Each unit has an adjustable hospital bed, hydraulic patient lift, and shower/commode chairs. It was built on Crown land by community volunteers.

The unique sanctuary on 6.8 acres of Crown Land is now in danger of being sold by the government.

Since 1984, HAGI (Handicapped Action Group Inc.) Community Services For Independence managed and developed the facility. But, they allowed the lease to expire and abandoned the camp. Now, the Ontario government wants to sell the land for $866,000. Rotary Clubs and Hill City Kinsmen have tried to get the camp up and running once again but they have been presented with a rent increase 24 times the previous rent, up 2,317 per cent

“Without this unique camp, our disabled children, seniors, veterans, their families, and caregivers would lose the only place available where they can feel completely equal to everyone else,” says its Facebook page. “Don’t allow any MPP to give away your land to millionaires. They don’t need it. Our most vulnerable citizens still want it. And they DO need it!”

Group spokesman Kevin Johnson feels the clock ticking on a wish to honour a disabled Canadian veteran.

“You don’t see the progression of Kirk’s illness. This year has been the most challenging yet. I just brought him home from his fifth hospitalization this year. Usually, they last anywhere from three to five weeks. Three of them involved extended stays in I.C.U. Although this stay was relatively short at six days, it was probably the scariest.

“Even though Kirk has redefined what it means to be tough, we’re dreadfully aware that one of these hospitalizations will be his last. Only God knows which. As I held vigil by his bedside, it occurred to me that I may not be able to ever give him the news that our efforts to save Wilderness Discovery were successful.

“I fear that this mission, that has been senselessly long, could outlast him. It could, and probably already has outlasted many former patrons and those who just recently learned of this sanctuary with great longing and excitement.

“I have told very few people this, but there is only one thing I want out of this campaign. Even though he will probably never be able to return, it is my wish that Cabin #5 be named for Kirk in his honour.

“I ask of you one Christmas wish. Could you lean on the Ontario government hard enough to make this happen? Please give Kirk and all our disabled loved ones the news they long to hear.”

MPP Monte McNaughton has joined the fight.

In a letter to Bob Chiarelli, Ontario Minister of Infrastructure he says, “This is an important issue and I am writing to you today to not only bring this matter to your attention, but ask that you review any programs within your ministry that might allow for a more amicable resolution to this matter such that the Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled is able to once again provide the excellent services to Ontario residents and families that it has in the past.”

Chiarelli replied, “Our government is committed to identifying and removing barriers in order to achieve an accessible province by 2025. That is why the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is ensuring that our parks have more barrier-free campsites, comfort stations and leisure areas. Ontarians with mobility issues can now more easily enjoy beaches at several parks, where specially designed mats provide wheelchair-friendly access to the water or all-terrain wheelchairs are available to use to navigate the sand.

The Handicapped Action Group Inc. (HAGI) has decided to direct its resources to alternative recreation and arts programming for people with disabilities. As a result, HAGI did not open the Wilderness Discovery Family Resort and Conference Centre in Lake Shebandowan for the summer 2016 season. To date, no decision has been made about the future use of this property. The province remains open and willing to review viable proposals for the future of the site. We continue to work with HAGI to find a solution that suits the needs of all parties involved in this matter.”
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