Electric wheelchairs led the way when the Ogden Point breakwater reopened Tuesday morning with new aluminum and stainless-steel railings on each side of the walkway.
At the front was Jasmine Parr, who has often visited the adjacent café but until Tuesday had never been able to travel the 700-metre breakwater.
“I used to come down and have a coffee and watch everybody walk out. Now I’ll be able to come out,” she said. “You can still see [the view] and be part of nature.”
She was thrilled to pilot her wheelchair to the lighthouse and back.
Will she return? “For sure,” said Parr, representing the Victoria Disability Resource Centre with two companions.
Sean Stewart, who also wheeled along the three-metre-wide breakwater, said of the experience: “Great, awesome.”
Michael Patterson, driving a scooter, praised the addition of the railings. “It makes it a lot safer for everybody.”
The breakwater will now attract “a lot more people of all different ages, people with different needs,” he said.
Completed 97 years ago, the breakwater has long been a destination for walkers.
But Labour Canada and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s insurer insisted railings be installed. The authority said the only other option was to close it.
Many people who use the breakwater criticized the plan to add railings, saying they would take away the feeling of freedom on the breakwater, be unsightly and unnecessary.
Curtis Grad, president and chief executive officer of the GVHA, said he used to worry that a toddler might dangerously dart away from a parent while on the breakwater. People with mobility or balance issues stayed away, he said.
Standing on the walkway, Grad said, “It was a project that we knew was important to a lot of people. It was about worker safety. It was about public safety.”
Seeing people in wheelchairs enjoying the breakwater has been the “biggest payoff of all for us,” he said.
The railing, with a staircase to be built in coming weeks at the end of the breakwater, will be on budget at between $425,000 to $450,000, Grad said. “I think it enhances both the utility and the look of the facilities. It actually feels larger out here.”
The completed railings have generated mainly favourable reviews.
Glenn McCurrie, of Qualicum Beach, praised them, saying, “I’m a building contractor and I think it is really well-made.”
Three-year-old Isabelle McKinnon enjoyed scampering along the breakwater on Tuesday. She was under the watchful eye of her grandmother, Kikki, who said the railings gave her a sense of security.
Jim and Barb Donnelly live nearby and watched the railings go up.
In the past, in strong winds, Jim felt a “little unsteady” on the breakwater, he said.
Now that the railings are in place people will forget that they weren’t there before, Barb added.