As city hall and the community debate moving forward with a $41-million project for a new community centre, the North Bay Ice Breakers are in support of a more accessible arena to play at.
Jordan Mino is one of the founding members of the Ice Breakers para hockey team, first hitting the ice in 2002 at the age of 13. He suffers from Spina Bifida, requiring him to use a wheelchair.
Mino says he and his teammates have been looking forward to a more accessible arena since the twin-pad was proposed a few years ago.
“I honestly was so excited about it,” Mino said. “Even our best, most accessible arena which is Memorial Gardens is not 100 percent accessible.”
The Ice Breakers primarily use Memorial Gardens as their home arena. Mino says the arena is still difficult to navigate as a person with a disability with its narrow hallways and doorways, few accessible washrooms and change rooms along with a large drop onto the ice surface.
Chantal Brousseau, the Ice Breakers’ team manager, says her players have to enter Memorial Gardens through the accessible entrance and haul their equipment to the other side of the building to the accessible change rooms; or enter the rear of the building through a non-accessible entrance in order to be closer to the change rooms.
“We, as able-bodied individuals, take a lot of accessibility issues for granted. We don’t realize how many accessibility issues or barriers people with disabilities face in everyday life,” Brousseau said.
The proposed community centre promises to have a large elevator, along with more accessible washrooms and change rooms for people with disabilities.
Budget talks at city hall continue to progress and disdain for the arena has been appearing in local comment sections, often citing the large cost of the project as a reason behind not supporting it.
“I don’t understand the backlash, to be quite honest,” Mino commented. “Having a facility that’s barrier-free in North Bay is definitely a need. Not only for myself or the hockey community, but it’s also for everyone,” he said.
Brousseau echoed Mino’s sentiments, saying a community centre is for more than just those using the ice surface.
“A new facility, in my opinion, is not only about hockey. It’s about inclusion. It’s about providing dignity. It’s about having a space to gather,” she said. “They (people with mobility issues) don’t want mom and dad or a friend to have to come to the rink to help open a door or help push them up a ramp.”
And independence is something that Mino believes he could have should a more accessible arena be built.
“When I was younger, it was a lot easier for my parents to help me and it was almost cute. Now, when I’m 31 years old, it’s not cute anymore,” he explains. “I strive for independence, and that’s what this new community centre would give me.”
When public places are not accessible, Brousseau says asking for help can be difficult for some disabled people.
“When you have to ask for help and you don’t want to… it really plays a factor in their emotional and social wellbeing. It also makes people want to isolate and not want to be involved,” she said.
Council still has to vote on whether to send the community centre project to tender, which would provide more clarity on the final cost of the arena.