A resort located 45 minutes north of Thunder Bay that caters to the needs of the disabled will remain open, thanks in part to a online petition that gained almost 30,000 signatures.
The Change.org campaign by a disabled Vietnam military veteran named Kirk Williams and his caretakers has given The Ontario Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled at least 20 more years of life. This week, the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure struck an agreement with four Thunder Bay civic organizations who operate the facility to keep it open.
Williams launched the campaign after he was told his reservations for the Discovery Resort in 2015 would more than likely not be honored because the non-profit group that was running it had let the lease expire and the land was going to be put up for sale.
A Madison Lake, Minnesota man named Kevin Johnson started a change.org campaign that has received over 29,000 supporters. He presented it to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in June, 2015 in hopes it would save the unique resort.
“That spot is the only place of its kind in North America,” said Johnson in a letter to the editor that was published in to mankatofreepress.com “There’s no place that is prettier. I like to go down by the lakeside. There’s a fire pit on a point. I like to sit there and listen for wolves to howl. It’s astounding.”
After a little while, those interested in saving The Ontario Wilderness Discovery Resort for the Disabled noticed that nothing was happening, so they redoubled their efforts, including going to events across Minnesota and Ontario to get pictures with celebrities and athletes to post on their Facebook page.
“I’ve learned a great deal through this campaign and for that, I’m very grateful. I’m grateful to the dozens of entertainment and sports celebrities that posed with our sign showing that they weren’t so big that they couldn’t support little Shebandowan, Ontario and the people who love it. I’m grateful to the friends I’ve made online and in person. I’m sure many of these friendships will be lifelong. I’m grateful for your hospitality, your attitude, your values, your tenacity, your humanity, and your trust,” Johnson said in a letter to the editor to the Chronicle Journal.
Sadly, due to Williams’ deteriorating health, he will not be able to return to the Discovery Resort when the doors re-open. Instead, he and his family are looking to open a resort of their own for the disabled, similar to the one they helped save in Ontario.
“I hope we can use the valuable lessons learned from this mission. After some overdue tasks on the “Honey-Do” list and a couple of naps, my next goal is to help establish a facility in Minnesota using the innovative and imaginative example of Wilderness Discovery. It’s hard to get things done from 400 miles away, so I’ll see what I can do down here. Not as competition, mind you. If successful, I look forward to opening our doors and our hearts to you as you have always done for us. Again, it won’t be easy. We will have to live up to your example. I know we’ll be better for it,” said Johnson.
According to a survey released by Statistics Canada in 2013, approximately 13.7% of Canadians are living with a disability.
“We love you, Canada. Thank you for everything you do and everything you represent,” concluded Johnson in his letter.