It was an emotional day for family and friends of the late Adam “Wheels” Miller.
Many travelled great distances to attend the official dedication ceremony naming North Bay’s first beach accessibility mat in his honour.
Miller, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 36, had a passion for swimming, winning many medals as a competitive swimmer.
A member of the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee (MAAC), Miller made it his mission to make the beach and lake accessible for everyone to enjoy.
His father Wayne, who travelled from his home in Thornloe in the Timiskaming District, helped unveil the sign at Marathon Beach.
The sign, “Wheels to the Water” acknowledges that Miller was “passionate about the lake and devoted his time to removing barriers so that everyone could enjoy the waters.”
“I remember when he called me when he first started this project. He said ‘Dad, do you know what I did today.? I got stuck in the sand. It is impossible for me or anyone in a wheelchair or walker to get to the water,’” shared his dad.
“And he said ‘We’re going to get this fixed. We’re going to get a mat or a ramp into the lake so everyone can go swimming.’”
Unfortunately, Miller passed away before he could see his dream become a reality.
Prior to the dedication ceremony, his father took a few minutes to himself to quietly walk along on the mat.
It was an emotional experience.
“I could feel Adam beside me. I could just feel him saying ‘What do you think dad? What do you think?’” said Wayne, his eyes welling up with tears.
“This is totally awesome. Probably one of the proudest and most memorable things in my life I’d say.”
MAAC chair Brian Bibeault said Miller saw pictures of similar mats from another MAAC member, and that was enough to set things in motion.
“He said right away that we had to have the mats in North Bay.”
Bibeault who is visually impaired says the mat is already making a difference.
“With the sand, I can’t tell which direction I’m going, whereas, with the mat, it is a navigation tool for me. I can just roll my cane and I can tell by the feel of the mat that I am on the right path to the water, instead of walking across the beach sideways,” said Bibeault.
“This is what we need, accessibility to all. It is a no-brainer. In 2025 Ontario is supposed to be barrier-free, so there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The mat is designed for sand to sift through. City staff will come by and sweep it after high winds
Linda Thomas-Ouellette is the president of Parents of Adults with Developmental Disabilities (PADD).
She went straight down to the waterfront to see the mat for herself when she heard it had been installed.
“I actually came down and did a happy dance on the mat. I didn’t care who was around. I wanted to celebrate. I’m really so proud of our whole family support group for getting together and making this our very first project. We did a petition with over 400 signatures.”
Her adult son Christopher is mobile but has trouble keeping his balance.
“This mat will be very handy for him. He will be much more comfortable coming to the beach now because he is carting his stuff and his footing is not solid. And for the other parents, it really opens up doors for them too. We have two parents that have young people that are in wheelchairs and are medically fragile. So, they have to be very careful with what they are doing. So, having the mat here is easier for them to come down here, set up their little area and get into the water if they want to.”
Young Dylan Rivenbark and his mom made their way to the waterfront on the new mat.
“I do prefer it rather than going through the sand. In the sand, you will get stuck. It is easier now,” said Rivenbark who uses a walker.
Mom Jennifer says the mat is beneficial to anyone who has trouble getting through the sand to the water, whether they are pushing a stroller, a walker, are visually impaired, a senior or have problems with balance.
” It makes it more accessible which is what we need,” said Jennifer.
“We would come to the beach and get stuck in the sand. It would be really difficult, and this is just wonderful for everyone. It is wonderful for my back, wonderful for Dylan to get to the water. So, we’re very fortunate to live in North Bay and have this.”
Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch brought forward the motion regarding the naming of the mat to city council where it received unanimous approval.
“It is sad that it took us this long to do it, but I’m glad that we had it installed now and to me, it is the first of many,” said Vrebosch.
“And I think the next step that we need to do is start looking at those accessible wheelchairs where you can actually go in the water. So, I think that is the next step that city council will have to take charge of.”
City councillor Johanne Brousseau who chairs the council’s Community Services Committee told the crowd the project is an example of what can be done when people pull together.
“This is what a community is all about. A special interest group, volunteering, getting involved, identifying an issue and finding a solution. It is a good example of how we make North Bay a better place, taking care and looking out for each other,” said Brousseau.
Dad Wayne said he couldn’t find words strong enough to express what the dedication means to him and his family.
“It is priceless. To me, it is beyond words, but we’ll remember this the rest of our lives,” said Miller.
“Every time I visit, I’m going to take a drive around here because I can feel Adam’s presence here. It is very, very strong.”