In March 2020, Northern Development approved $42,859 through its former Community Halls and Recreation Facilities program to support $61,226 of accessibility upgrades to the Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre, the northernmost recreation centre in B.C. The completion of these upgrades saw the installation of two wall-mounted lifts, one in the accessible changing stall and one in the accessible bathroom, the installation of seven automatic door openers and the purchase of a low-profile wheelchair designed to maneuver the deck surfaces and the change room.
Most importantly, these upgrades changed the life of one patron who had experienced an accident four years earlier.
“We knew this lift had potential to help make the pool more accessible for patrons and their support workers, that in itself is huge, but to give someone back their freedom and independence is absolutely life changing and makes it all worth it,” explained Sarah Tofte, aquatic manager, Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.
When the upgrades were completed, Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre staff reached out to one patron who they hoped would benefit from the lifts to let her know about their installation. After her swim, staff caught up with the patron to learn about her experience using the new accessibility features. Tofte recounts the interaction:
“She was almost speechless. She had brought her support worker with her because she did not know what to expect. When she got to the changeroom she asked her support worker to wait outside the changeroom so she could test out how much of the process she could actually do on her own. As she worked through getting ready to swim, using the new lift allowed her to move from her chair to the sling, change, and lower herself onto the new pool wheelchair and enter the water all on her own. Furthermore, she was able to complete the entire process again, independently, when she left the swim. She had tears in her eyes at this point as she was telling us about her experience, realizing that it was so easily accessible that she was able to send her helper home.
“By now, we all had tears in our eyes as she told us that the accessibility of these lifts has given her a new freedom. Since her accident four years ago, she had not been able to do much of anything for herself, by herself, except for today. Now, she can come to the pool and bring her kids swimming, on her own, without any help. Now, she can transfer herself from one chair to another, without anyone’s help. Today she got her first sense of independence since the accident.”
Prior to the accessibility upgrades, paraplegic patrons would need multiple support workers to attend the pool with them to help, not only dress and undress them, but also to carefully transfer them from their wheelchair to the aquatic wheelchair and back again once they were finished. This was extremely stressful for the support workers as well as the patrons because these transfers left little room for error in a wet environment.
“Completing these accessible upgrades was a necessary project for Northern Rockies Regional Municipality to undertake,” said Harvey Woodland, director of recreation and facilities, Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. “As a community that strives to be friendly, welcoming and inclusive, it is so important that all community members can benefit from these facilities. We are grateful for Northern Development’s financial support that allowed us to complete these upgrades without financially burdening our taxpayers.”
Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre has the area’s only public swimming pool, with the closest facility being 400 kilometres to the south, in Fort St. John. Having a fully accessible aquatic centre is vital for the well-being of the residents of Fort Nelson and surrounding communities, including Prophet River First Nation, Fort Nelson First Nation, Toad River and other small communities.
In June, Northern Development’s Prince George Regional Advisory Committee approved a $30,000 Community Places grant to the McBride Elks Lodge #247 for increasing the accessibility and efficiency of the Elks Hall. The Elks Hall was constructed in 1913 and is the second oldest building in McBride, and the oldest continually used building in the community.
“Installing a fully accessible entrance will allow equal access to people, including those with physical and mental disabilities, who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized from events,” said Eugene Runtz, exalted ruler, McBride Elks Lodge #247. “Having an accessible building is extremely important to our seniors and all community members. It not only allows for access to activities but allows all people to contribute to be part of the working social activities of the community.”
Investing in a welcoming place where people can gather to contribute to their community benefits individuals’ mental and social well-being while also bettering the village and making it more attractive place to live, work and visit. Once the accessibility and efficiency project is complete, the Elks Hall will be able to comfortably welcome everyone without marginalizing people that may have been previously excluded. The Elks Hall hosts an array of community events, from voting opportunities to local markets and celebrations to funerals.
Upgrading the main entrance is anticipated to reduce annual heating expenses by 25 per cent. Along with replacing the old oil furnace with a new high efficiency propane furnace will allow the McBride Elks Lodge #247 to keep their operating costs low and continue to provide an inclusive place for people to gather at no cost or low cost.
Funding for this inclusive project comes from Northern Development’s Community Places grant program. Introduced in September 2020, the funding program supports the creation, restoration or enhancement of community spaces that will improve amenities and enhance the overall quality of life for residents. Eligible projects must be community oriented. Up to $30,000 in grant funding is availableto a maximum of 70 per cent of the eligible project budget.
In 2018, the unincorporated community of Atlin celebrated the completion of significant accessibility upgrades to the Atlin Recreation Centre. As the only gathering place for the 350 people who live in the area, the upgrades were necessary to ensure that everyone is able comfortably access the centre that serves as an essential meeting place for a variety of community groups, training activities and serves as the polling station for all federal and provincial elections.
“Accessing buildings in our small northern community can be quite a challenge,” wrote a concerned mother of a paralyzed son in a letter of support that was included in Atlin Recreation Centre’s grant application package. “Our remote, unincorporated community has the heart to want to have wheelchair accessible buildings but lacks the funds to implement such projects. What an achievement it would be to repair and make our main essential community services building wheelchair accessible, allowing everyone to come and go independently. What a terrific way to show we are making great strides as a country in our inclusive world.”
Funding for the $175,000 upgrade project came from a variety of sources, including $30,000 from Northern Development’s former Community Halls and Recreation Facilities program. Other funding came from the Rick Hansen Foundation, Atlin Recreation Centre and incredibly generous donations of time and resources from community members.
“It’s amazing how our small community came together and raised over $100,000 for this project through donations, handyman and cake auctions and community dinners,” said Stuart Simpson, president, Atlin Recreation Centre. “Before this, someone in a wheelchair could not even get into the bathrooms and needed help into the building. Now we have accessible entrances and bathrooms. There is more to do and this is a huge start.”
The project’s budget exceeded $180,000 and saw the construction of an 18’ by 76’ addition containing two large accessible bathrooms, two storage rooms, an office, meeting room and custodian room. Two accessible ramps leading to the centre’s main floor were also installed. As a result, the centre’s capacity to host large events has been improved, leading to increased revenues and economic benefits for the community’s tourism and hospitality sector.
Prior to beginning the project, Atlin Recreation Centre projected that their revenues would increase by $25,000 in the year after the project was completed. However, in 2018 they hosted a several large events, including a regional curling bonspiel and some weddings, leading to a $150,000 revenue increase.
Beginning July 12, Northern Development will be accepting applications to its Fabulous Festivals and Events funding program. Registered non-profits can apply for up to $5,000 in grant funding to assist with the costs of hosting unique festivals and events in Northern B.C. This funding program helps promote the region as a destination for tourism while improving the sustainability and/or expanding existing events.
Applicants can take advantage of the Trust’s new online application system to easily submit their grant application and to conveniently check the status as Northern Development staff process the application.
Launched in 2015, Northern Development has invested over $728,000 into 247 events throughout the region. From Bralorne’s annual Winterfest in the Bridge River Valley to the Edge of the World Music Festival in Queen Charlotte, grant funding from the Trust has helped event organizers host engaging events that contribute to a better quality of life for residents while building the economy by attracting tourists.
$50,000 in e-gift cards for local businesses in Northern Development’s service region have been purchased since April 27, 2020. Over the past 14 months, customers have been keen to support their favourite small businesses through the varying restrictions imposed by the Provincial Health Officer aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses in downtown Prince George have sold 349 gift cards totaling $16,390, the highest value of any Northern B.C. community. In second and third place are Smithers and Prince Rupert, selling $11,055 and $10,788 respectively. Businesses in Prince Rupert sold the highest quantity of e-gift cards at387, with the average value of those gift cards being $27. In Prince George, the average was $46 and $37 in Smithers.
In Prince George, sister restaurants Betulla Burning and Nancy O’s are grateful for the overwhelming support from their patrons during the pandemic.
“The Support Local BC online gift card program has been a wonderful asset to our business this past year,” said Eoin Foley, co-owner, Betulla Burning and Nancy O’s. “Gift cards have always been kind of hard for us to do remotely and this has given us this platform during a time when it was needed most.”
In April 2020, Northern Development announced their partnership with Support Local BC to provide tangible support to small businesses throughout central and northern B.C. The partnership means that all Love Northern BC businesses are eligible to participate at absolutely no cost. There is no sign-up fee for the business, nor do they have to pay any processing fees. Removing the financial barrier to participation during the pandemic is important to Northern Development to ensure that small businesses have access to the platform to help sustain themselves during the pandemic.
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