Photo by Drake Lowthers -- To assist people with low mobility, Pomquet Beach was installed with 148-feet of Mobi Mat. The lightweight, non-slip, portable, roll-out beach access pathway extends off the boardwalk to the high water line.

POMQUET: Willemina MacDonald received the birthday gift of a lifetime, allowing her to relive some of her greatest memories from her younger years.

The 93-year-old Antigonish native had her birthday last Wednesday, but the day before she visited the Pomquet Beach with her family for the first time since 2011.

Her daughter, Bernice MacDonald, reminisced about her childhood and how she used to spend those dog days of summer at the beach with her mother and said getting her mother back to the beach was simply fantastic.

“My mother’s loved the beach her whole life and when we were kids, she’d come home from work, get her beach clothes on and we’d head to the beach every day we could.”

For the past several years, Willemina’s knees have not been the strongest, making her unable to walk on uneven surfaces well, resulting in not being able to visit one of the places she holds so dearly to her heart.

Thanks to a partnership through the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the Department of Natural Resources, 148-feet of Mobi Mat was installed off the boardwalk at Pomquet Beach to help those who are in wheelchairs or have low mobility access the beach.

The $10,600 Mobi Mat is a lightweight, non-slip, portable, roll-out beach access pathway that extends off the boardwalk to the high water line.

The beach project will allow for a highly accessible transition from boardwalk, to beach, to water.

Meaghan MacNeil, physical activity coordinator of Antigonish’s recreation department, said it felt great to finally have the Mobi Mat installed.

“As a municipality in a whole municipal approach, accessibility is definitely one of our main goals,” she said. “Not just beaches but all rec facilities and outdoor facilities in particular to have less barriers so more people can access them.”

When Bernice saw the Mobi Mat making rounds on social media, she thought her mother should be the first 90-year-old to use it.

With a simple two-word answer from her mother of “Let’s go” off they went to visit the beach for the first time in nearly seven years.

Even the hot weather didn’t deter Willemina from taking in this opportunity and making the excursion from Antigonish Manor.

“Mom thought it was wonderful, she was quite impressed,” Bernice said. “We took an umbrella and sat just off of the mat, she sat there and looked around and thought it was just simply wonderful.”

MacNeil noted it’s truly an eye-opening experience when stories like Willemina’s start to come in.

“That’s when it really hits you that you’re really changing somebody’s life. Bringing tears to the eyes is a good way to put it for sure.”

Having accessible opportunities in your community is extremely important, especially with our population aging quickly, Bernice said.

“There are a lot of people with some kind of mobility issue, there are a lot of places they just can’t go, to be able to get out to these places, and be a part of the community is pretty fantastic.”

The Department of Natural Resources have also completed extensive work to make the Pomquet Beach even more accessible, including upgrades to the washrooms and change rooms and also the addition of an adapted picnic table.

The Mobi Mat will be removed after the season is done and will be stored during the winter months until it’s replaced next season.

There are no definite plans for any other beaches in the area to be equipped with Mobi Mats, but accessibility overall is a huge goal for the municipality in general, MacNeil said.

“Eventually we hope to support other beaches in the area as well.”