Some of the festivities at the Pinehouse Arena’s grand opening. Photo courtesy La Ronge Ice Wolves, Facebook.

The grand opening of Pinehouse’s new arena isn’t just a big step for sports, it’s a big step for accessibility in the north.

An accessibility lift means those with limited mobility can easily make it to the second level. While it’s not technically an elevator, disability advocate Gary Tinker considers it to be one.

Tinker says it’s rare – actually unheard of – for buildings in the northwest to accommodate the disabled like this. He’s lived in the area for a long time, and as far as he knows there isn’t a single automated lift or elevator in the province’s northwest.

Tinker has cerebral palsy and gets around on crutches. He has long fought for Saskatchewan’s disabled people; almost 30 years ago he walked from Pinehouse to Regina to open people’s eyes to the struggles of people with his disease, especially in the north.

“There was nothing for people with disabilities, there was a lot of organizations down south, like 52 organizations down south but there was nothing in the north,” he said.

Tinker acknowledges that funding for items that make the north more accessible is hard to come by, but he’s continued to make his voice heard.

“I’ve been pushing the envelope a lot with governments and everybody else, even in the community, I’m always involved in everything like that. It’s somebody that has to be on the table to say, ‘look let’s not forget about people with disabilities,” he said.

Tinker is the vice president of Kineepik Metis Local Inc

Tinker says the new lift isn’t just going to help him – it’ll help elders too. Overall, he said people’s attitudes are changing towards more accessibility in the region, with new stores considering putting in elevators.

He was part of a special ceremony at the $4.5 million arena’s first big event earlier this month.

After a full day of minor hockey, Pinehouse hosted a game between the Ice Wolves and Battleford Stars.

The money for the lift came after the northern village applied for a $25,000 Community Initiatives Fund grant.

The arena was 20 years in the making, and the last push for funding forced the northern village of Pinehouse to take out a loan.