This past summer, Emma Kivisild travelled to the remote Haida Gwaii archipelago. She went down to the beach, explored the rocky shore, and sat by a crackling fire in her cabin—none of which is all that that remarkable… except that Emma has MS and uses a wheelchair. Here’s how she pulled off the accessible adventure of a lifetime, and why you should consider going, too.
What a holiday! In September 2017 I went to Haida Gwaii, and I went to the beach and the rocky shore and sat by the fire in my cabin.
None of this would be amazing, except that I have MS and I use a wheelchair.
I Live in Prince Rupert and am used to travelling on BC Ferries, using the wheelchair accessible amenities. For this trip I also used Spinal Cord Injury BC to find a place to stay on land. Using their website, we found Hiellen Longhouse Village, by North Beach on Haida Gwaii, which advertised a wheelchair accessible cabin/longhouse, beach access and a boardwalk. I travelled with my partner and two able-bodied friends. I have to confess that I have been burned by a lot of accessibility claims. You know, the people who say “It’s only one step”. But I thought I would try this out. I really wanted to go to Haida Gwaii.
And I am glad I did. Hiellen has lots of cabins, newly-built, modelled on miniature longhouses. Each of them has skylights, a barbeque (outside), and a woodstove. When you arrive, there is wood already chopped and stacked next to the stove. Picnic tables by the river are looked over by a totem pole
The wheelchair cabin has a ramp to code, complete with a shorter route for the able-bodied. The doorways inside and out are wide. I was using the widest of my chairs and I went in and out no problem.
OK, small caveats. This is not a cabin to stay in by yourself. You need an attendant to do your cooking. Similarly, I could go in and out of the bathroom and use the facilities, but the shower had a step of a couple of inches. Sponge bath. Neither of these things bothered me much. Also, no Wi-Fi and no TV, and minimal electricity (it had lights) which was just fine with me.
So there I am in my lovely home away from home, but what about the holiday?
On the first day, we went out to the blowhole viewpoint on a boardwalk a short walk from the campground. The trail winds through the forest, along the Hiellen river. Picnic tables along the way are constructed to enable wheelchairs to sit at one end. First time I’ve seen that. When you reach the ocean, it’s spectacular. You can see for miles and miles, and if you time it right, the blowhole will be spouting water. The terrain is rocky, so many people were there and thankful for the boardwalk. We went a few times.
The other big thing was going to the beach. The cabin has “beach access”, but at first it was impossible to go there in the wheelchair. The land dipped down and, well, shifting sands made it look impossible for me.
But nature was on my side. Specifically, as the tide came and went, the land changed. My friends were able to help me over the difficult parts and there I was on the spectacular beach at “The edge of the world”. Hard packed sand stretching to infinity. And hard packed sand and wheelchairs go very well together. True, I could never have done this without my friends, but that is usually the case anyways.
“Nature was on my side. As the tide came and went, the land changed… And hard packed sand and wheelchairs go very well together.”
In other excursions we visited the town of Masset and the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate.
In the future, I would like the campground to have a wheelchair with big tires that could be borrowed. And I can hardly wait until they build more boardwalks.
But honestly, these are fantastic memories, and I would say “bucket list” but I don’t want to die yet.