If you are a person living with a disability wanting to access the sands at Victoria Beach, you must find it hard to believe it is 2015.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/8/2015 (2103 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

If you are a person living with a disability wanting to access the sands at Victoria Beach, you must find it hard to believe it is 2015.

While many people, governments and organizations are working hard to make the lives of people with disabilities easier and more accessible, there is an entire Manitoba community where accessibility is difficult, if not virtually impossible.

For several months of the year, everyone who has a cottage at Victoria Beach can drive right up to it, exit their car to get an Imperial Cookie at Einfeld's Bakery or park near the dock to see the sunset.

But for people who live with physical disabilities, or are seniors or others with mobility and medical issues, things change when summer arrives.

From just before the Canada Day long weekend to the end of the Labour Day long weekend, Victoria Beach is the only place in the province where vehicles are banned from driving the streets. Just outside the gate, there is a massive parking lot to accommodate cottage owners, guests and people who just want to use the beach or go to the bakery.

Able-bodied citizens have no problem accessing their cottage during those summer weeks. They can walk or use a bicycle. If they have a pile of stuff, they can hire a cab to take it to their cottage.

But it is different for people living with disabilities, especially if they use a wheelchair. A tiny piece of pea gravel can stop a wheelchair dead in its tracks. Imagine if you use a wheelchair and your cottage is a few blocks away down dirt and gravel roads. It may as well be on top of Mount Everest.

Janis Ollson could not access Victoria Beach with her vehicle to monitor her kids' swimming lessons. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Janis Ollson could not access Victoria Beach with her vehicle to monitor her kids' swimming lessons. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

It's something Janis Ollson, who after cancer surgery uses a wheelchair and a modified van to get around, learned recently when she applied for a pass so she could accompany her two children to the beach for swimming lessons. She says she was told her application would be rejected, but the local reeve said last week it was approved.

Either way, it's not the way things should be done in 2015, and she is considering launching a human rights challenge.

Back when my family was looking across southern Manitoba for a cottage, we briefly checked out Victoria Beach. We questioned the staff at the front gate about how we could access a cottage with a child who uses a wheelchair. They said it would be no problem once we received a special pass.

We figured we'd better phone someone at the municipal office.

The good and bad news was we could apply for a disability pass for our wheelchair vehicle to take our daughter to and from the cottage.

That's because we learned the pass didn't allow you to park your wheelchair van at the cottage. It would mean that on a typical Friday night we would be able to drive to our cottage to drop off our daughter in a wheelchair, drive our wheelchair van back to the giant parking lot outside the restricted area, and then make our way back to the cottage on foot, by bicycle or by cab.

The next day, if we wanted to go to the beach, had to take her to a hospital, or wanted to take her elsewhere, we would have to make our way back to the parking lot, get the van, drive back to the cottage, put her into the van, and drive off, once again repeating the process in reverse when we returned.

And having to do this repeatedly every weekend. It also meant I wouldn't be able to go by myself with our daughter to the cottage, because I couldn’t leave her alone.

Imagine if I was the lone person in the wheelchair. It would be impossible.

Not surprisingly, we opted to look elsewhere.

But it wouldn't surprise me if the restriction has forced seniors to sell their beloved cottages when mobility issues made it too difficult for them to access their property.

Sadly, it also echoes a sorry bit of history for the area because people with disabilities are not the first to feel they have been excluded from Victoria Beach.

For decades, Jewish people weren't welcome at this cottage resort, a fact noted by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in a film shown in its Examining the Holocaust gallery. An editorial, published in the Victoria Beach Herald in the 1940s after a Jew bought a cottage there, told property owners and rental agents they "have an obligation to see to it that those unwanted people who have overrun beaches on the other side of Lake Winnipeg are not permitted to buy or rent here.

"Up to this year we have been able to keep our beach free of them, maintaining a rule, unwritten but unanimously approved for more than 25 years. We do not cater to them here. We have no means of supplying them with special foods and meat.

"Let us keep it the kind of resort for which it is famous by doing everything in our power to keep out the Unwanted."

While the reeve and municipal council say they will work out a policy for people living with disabilities, what they don't realize is having to ask for a special pass now makes people living with disabilities feel like they are the "Unwanted."

People living with disabilities shouldn't have to consider mounting a human rights challenge to be able to go to a beach or a cottage.

Let's hope that for the restricted area of Victoria Beach, elected officials approve a completely unrestricted bylaw for people living with disabilities so they can not only access a cottage, the beach, or elsewhere, but are also able to park their vehicles beside their cottage or at the beach.

Anything less is discrimination.

After all, Victoria Beach is already in the human rights museum. It doesn't want to be on the wrong side of history again.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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