Growing up in Newfoundland in a town of 250 people, hunting and fishing were not only pastimes, but passions.
I got my desire for the outdoors from my dad. I am one of 9 kids so hunting was more of a necessity for him than a hobby. Until I was old enough to hunt big game I spent the fall months hunting ducks and geese and snaring rabbits. I went ice fishing and snowmobiling in winter while the spring and summer meant fishing the Gander and Exploits rivers for Atlantic salmon. There was nothing like learning to tie a salmon fly and actually successfully using it! I would design my own patterns for flies and fish with them the following summer.
When I was old enough to hunt moose I took the Hunter Certification Course and bought my first rifle. I then entered the provincial moose hunting draw and waited to see if I was fortunate enough to get a licence. If issued a licence I’d hunt moose in the fall or just accompany a licenced buddy. No matter what, the stakes had just been raised in my hunting world.
Many fall hours were spent snaring rabbits or improving on my moose calls. I loved spending time in the woods, alone or with a buddy. It was always so peaceful and if I needed time to think, I’d take a walk in the woods behind my dad’s house.
In 1994 I moved to Ontario for work. It took some adjusting but I was soon hunting and fishing here only I wasn’t in my backyard anymore. In my first year in Ontario I did a couple fly-in fishing and hunting trips with my brother-in-law, Russ, and other friends. Then April 1995 came, which changed the way I see the world.
On April 7, 1995 I was a passenger in a motor vehicle accident. My back was broken at the T12 level and I was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. I spent 6 months in rehab at the Spinal Cord Centre in Lyndhurst. In those months I learned how to be self-sustaining in a wheelchair and was braced for the changes that were to come. I was also learning that a spinal cord injury wasn’t something you get over; you learn how to deal with it and make the best of what seems like a bad situation. With the help of my girlfriend, my family, my faith in God and the nurses and doctors at Lyndhurst, I was determined to do just that.
During rehab at Lyndhurst I was asked to compete in a canoe race across Lake Ontario for charity the following summer. I took it as another challenge and decided to do it. (see Great Lakes Race)
I completed rehab and wanted to move on with my life. I wanted to get back into the outdoors fishing and hunting. It took me a couple of years to figure out how I could enjoy this and not feel like I was being a burden to anyone. I’m very independent but I began to realize that if I wanted to fish and hunt again I would have to rely on others to help me.
I took my first trip in Newfoundland with my cousin Guy. With his help we set out for the Gander River, much to the chagrin of my uncle Len, who was having a hard time seeing me in a wheelchair. We spent the day salmon fishing (see below) and just talking about old times. I’m not sure what it meant to him but to me, it was a freedom that I can never explain. Here I was after the accident, out doing what I love doing. Since then, with the help of Russ and other friends, I have fished northern Quebec and northern Ontario for pike and walleye. I have fished British Columbia for salmon and rainbow trout. I have been back to Newfoundland several times fishing for Atlantic salmon. The only thing missing was I also wanted to be hunting as before. The fishing was a little easier to do from a wheelchair; all I had to do was transfer myself to a boat and grab a fishing rod. However, hunting with a disability has a different formula; I needed help getting properly set up. Whether hunting from a ground blind or tree stand, a bit more ingenuity was needed or I would have to hunt from a vehicle.
In the fall of 2001 I took a big step and booked a trip to Australia
to fulfill my dream of fishing for the giant black marlin! I sent out an email to a number of fishing outfitters and explained what I wanted to fish for and that I would be doing it from a wheelchair. Out of all the emails sent, I heard back from only two fishing charters that were willing to help.
I understood it would not be completely accessible but with the cooperation of the outfitter and help from my friends, we could make it work. The outfitter was open to this arrangement and put my mind at ease by telling me that he had dealt with this type of situation before. The trip was for three weeks so I had booked nine days black marlin fishing. This would leave me with some time to fill so I booked a three-day wild boar hunt in the extreme outback. Russ, Gerald (a friend and former boss) and I set out for Australia not quite knowing what we were in for. It could have been a bust and the biggest waste of money, but even with that uneasiness, we had to do it. (see Australia gallery
In the summer of 2001 I had a chance meeting with Bobby Schmutz
at a golf tournament. We started talking about hunting and fishing and that I had booked a trip to Australia that fall. I was telling Bob that since my accident it was hard to go fishing unless I had someone to go with. We planned a trip the next spring to fish the Credit River in Mississauga for salmon.
From that time on we’ve kept in contact with each other and have formed a great friendship. We have hunted whitetail deer and wild turkey
and fished for salmon and muskie. He knew from our first trip to the Credit River that if I needed help I would ask. One day, however, it was too difficult for Bob to watch me push up a long hard hill and I didn’t refuse his help that time. Since then he has pushed and pulled me in and out of ground blinds when I have gotten stuck, and watched as I tossed myself in and out of a boat. He is now really good at taking my chair apart and putting the wheels back on. I can no longer class him as a rookie. I like the saying “a good friend is hard to find; a good hunting partner, even harder”.
Over the last couple years Bob and I have talked about doing some sort of venture where we can help the physically disabled experience ‘The Great Outdoors’. From those discussions and with lots of input from friends and colleagues, Accessible Canadian Adventures was born.