New lifts make B.C.’s northernmost swimming pool accessible to all

June 30, 2021

Entering the swimming area in the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality Recreation Centre.
All photos: Northern Development

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.