People in a rural Nova Scotian community have been working for two years to build a new, accessible recreation park they hope will help them improve life for older residents and ensure younger people keep calling the area home.
About 4,000 people live on Isle Madame, an Acadian-rooted fishing island off the southwest coast of Cape Breton Island.
Brandon Boudreau lives in Petit-de-Grat among a small, active, aging community. The 28-year-old grew up on the island and is now raising his own young children there.
He's a school teacher and lobster fisherman, and he's also the volunteer vice-president of the Arichat Community Development Association, the group of citizens driving the dream.
"There's not much attractions here to keep young families in the area," he says. "We have a local playground that I used to play on, but a few years back it was deemed unsafe and no money was put into fixing it. Eventually, we said: 'If we can't fix this one, we should move on to bigger and better things.'"
He says the community has a few stores, including the Co-op, where most people get their groceries. There are a few old playgrounds here and there. For anything else, it's a 45-minute drive to Port Hawkesbury or nearly two hours to Sydney.
The goal is a community park. At the centre would be an accessible playground, a skating rink, outdoor exercise equipment, off-leash dog parks and a walking trail encircling it all.
"Meaning that a parent can take their child to the splash pad or the playground and they can do laps while their child plays," he says.
Older people and other walkers will have a smooth, even trail to use, and the cluster of activities will bring the community together.
The entire project would cost about $750,000. So they're auctioning donated lobster and crafts, and have been holding a Chase the Ace for 29 weeks.
Many a day, Boudreau's drawn the winner while wrangling one or both of his children. He knows 90 per cent of the names on the ballots and often has a pleasant catch-up chat with the winner.
"I think it's more of a laugh for them when they see the young kids crying, sneezing or talking during the draw," he says. "It takes a whole community. It's something that we want to do together."
'It would mean the world to him'
Ashley Lavandier and her family of four are enthusiastic supporters of the project. She works as a registered nurse at the local diabetes clinic and she and her husband, JR, are raising their two children on the island.
Layton, 9, uses a wheelchair and they have to drive 45 kilometres to reach an accessible playground.
The proposed new accessible recreation park is close to his school. She says the staff do a great job of including him, but it's hard not to feel left out.
"Essentially it would mean the world to him. He's oftentimes discouraged at his school, because the playground at his school is completely inaccessible to him," she said.
"If this playground doesn't benefit Layton, then it will benefit all children like Layton in the future."
Break ground in 2022
Several members of the association are researching and applying for grants. They hope to break ground in spring 2022 and intend to build it stage by stage, as the money is raised.
"Nobody is going to feel uncomfortable while at this playground. There's something for everyone — something to help them feel included and like they're not on the outside looking in," Boudreau says.
And that's why the group thinks the community gathering space could bring people together and give them another reason to call Isle Madam home.
"I think the hospitality of it all is my favourite part," Boudreau says.
"I have no issues visiting the city, but I really like where you know everyone, and that feeling that if you're ever in trouble, you can just run to your neighbours and knock on the door and they're going to help you. That's the community we live in."
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