Accessibility advocates say Peggy’s Cove viewing deck will ensure safe access for all – Halifax

The recent public announcement of a multimillion-dollar project that would see an accessible viewing deck constructed at Peggy’s Cove, has been met with plenty of different views and opinions.

Following the announcement, Michelle Paul, a Mi’kmaw water protector, raised concern over the possibility of construction damaging areas where Mi’kmaq harvest sweetgrass, one of their sacred medicines.

The Crown corporation behind the project, Develop Nova Scotia, says they’ve taken Paul’s concern seriously and have verified that the deck won’t impact sweetgrass areas and they’re also working to ensure no other sweetgrass areas will be impacted.

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On Saturday, a small group of protesters met outside of Peggy’s Cove, masked and distanced with RCMP officers also on-site, to express their concerns over the roughly 14,000 square-foot accessible deck.

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Develop Nova Scotia has repeatedly stated that 85 per cent of the build will be on the existing roadway. The organization says discussions about the deck were open to the public, including a one-week period in February 2019 where the public could talk to architects, planners, and other team members about the project. This public event was held during the 2019 Peggy’s Cove Design Week.

For the most part, those who gathered on Saturday aren’t in favour of the accessible viewing deck project.

“Accessibility is always good for everybody but let’s keep it reasonable and try not to destroy the beauty,” Peter Stokeijk said, who participated in the protest, said.

<span class="c-caption__desc"><br /> A number of infrastructure enhancement projects are underway in the community of Peggys Cove. From roadway upgrades to the addition of new accessible washrooms. </span><br /> <cite class="c-caption__cite"><br /> Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax </cite><br />

Wheelchair citizen, Darrel MacDonald, says he agrees with civil discourse, especially when it comes to taxpayer dollars being spent, but doesn’t agree with able-bodied persons adamantly opposing a project that’s rooted in improving accessibility.

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“It screams ableism to me. Take five minutes to understand that this is going to be beneficial to everybody,” MacDonald said.

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MacDonald has been in a wheelchair ever since he experienced a military accident 22 years ago. Since that time, he says he’s only been able to see Peggy’s Cove from the parking lot. An area that makes him fear for his safety because of how jam-packed it can be.

“Especially with big trucks and the buses because I’m at a lower height and so a lot of people can’t see me. With a viewing deck, I’m not worried about that,” he said.

The deck is being constructed out of wood and steel and Develop Nova Scotia says it will create a public space that is fully accessible and safe for all visitors.

The protesters are calling for more public engagement. Develop Nova Scotia is hosting a virtual public engagement session to discuss the project on January 28. They are asking people to register in advance to participate.

Click to play video 'Group of protestors gathered at iconic Peggy’s Cove Saturday'

Group of protestors gathered at iconic Peggy’s Cove Saturday

<span class="c-caption__desc">Group of protestors gathered at iconic Peggys Cove Saturday</span><br />

Fellow wheelchair citizens Brian George and Paul Vienneau say the project falls in line with Nova Scotia’s mandate to make the province fully accessible and barrier-free by 2030.

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“When you improve accessibility for supposedly one group, my group, you actually improve it for all groups because we all benefit from the ease of access,” Vienneau said.

George echos Vienneau.

“Everybody needs to be included and that’s exactly what this is about. Everybody needs to be able to do what everyone else can do and this is just one of those things that’s going to make that happen,” he said.

Both George and Vienneau says they are looking forward to enjoying the fresh salty air and shoreline splendor Peggy’s Cove has to offer from the safety of an elevated, flat and accessible platform.

“This project is going to allow a bunch of people to take part in a fuller part of their lives,” Vienneau said.

Develop Nova Scotia aims to have the project completed by June 2021.

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