Thirty years ago, Atikokan resident and Paralympic gold medalist Tom Hainey historically swam the length of Quetico Provincial Park in the Breaking the Barrier Swim.
This swim honored Tom Hainey’s mother and long-time Quetico employee, Sheila Hainey, who had recently passed away in a car accident.
This year, on August 12, a gathering will be held at Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Tom Hainey’s swim and the dedication of a barrier-free boardwalk to his mother Sheila.
Building the boardwalk without barriers
In 1991, a barrier-free boardwalk was built to connect the Heritage Pavilion (Visitor Center) to the main day-use area at Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground.
Dave Dissette and Chuck Miller build the boardwalk, Terry Johnson on the boardwalk
The 800m accessible boardwalk follows the meandering Pickerel River on its way to French Lake and immerses trail users in the peace and tranquility of the forest and riverbank.
Breaking the barrier
In August 1993, with the help of many dedicated volunteers and the support of the Atikokan community, Tom set out for the park from Beaverhouse Lake in the northwest corner of Quetico.
Tom’s support team prepares at the Beaverhouse entrance station. Photo: Mike McKinnon, Atikokan Progress
For five days, Tom and his support team advanced east.
Tom nothing. Photo: Mike McKinnon, Atikokan Progress
Some members of Tom’s support team accompanied him by canoe to keep him on course as he crossed some very large lakes.
Tom warms up after a big bath. Photo: Mike McKinnon, Atikokan Progress, physiotherapist Susan Armstrong tries to keep Tom’s muscles loose during lunch break. Brenda Hainey, Tom’s sister, kneels beside him. Photo: Randy Makarenko and Pauline Gashinski
The rest of their support team went ahead by canoe to establish rest stops and camp.
Tom arrives and celebrates at French Lake Beach on day 5 of his daring swim. Photo: Randy Makarenko and Pauline Gashinski
Tom swam over 50 miles through the park and arrived at the Dawson Trail Campground on French Lake in time for a big welcome at the main day use area.
Honoring Sheila Hainey
Tom Hainey’s mother, Sheila, worked at Quetico for 18 years and was very connected to the park.
One spring day in 1992, Sheila left the park during lunch and was in a car accident.
She passed away tragically.
Sheila blows out her birthday candles in the staff cafeteria
After his death, park staff suggested that the newly constructed barrier-free boardwalk be named in his honor. This idea was supported by both the Hainey family and the park administration.
The boardwalk officially became the Sheila Hainey Memorial Boardwalk in a ceremony following Tom Hainey’s Breaking the Barrier swim through the park.
At the ceremony, Tom’s sister Tammy spoke about Sheila Hainey and explained why naming the barrier-free trail after her was so appropriate:
“Most of us, fortunately, will never experience the pain of being told that one of our children will never be able to walk. Our mother confronted this with Tommy, but her reaction was not typical. Instead of overprotecting and sheltering him, she allowed him to challenge himself and never allowed him to feel sorry for himself.”
Tom gives a speech at French Lake
“Our mother was feisty, determined and had an unwavering determination to ensure that the spina bifida she was born with did not limit her life in any way. Those qualities of our mother are so evident that they not only led to Tommy’s success today, but also fueled the [then] Ministry of Natural Resources to dedicate this trail.”
Tom’s Breaking the Barrier swim remains inspiring to this day and is an important part of Quetico’s 100+ year history.
Join the celebration!
Sheila Hainey Memorial Boardwalk
Are you in Quetico on August 12?
Join us for the 30th anniversary celebration of Tom’s Breaking the Barrier by swimming through Quetico and the original opening of the barrier-free boardwalk at Dawson Trail Campground.
Tom Hainey will open the event by swimming across French Lake to the day-use beach area, the exact same spot where he concluded his swim 30 years ago.
After Tom’s arrival, speakers will share stories from the original swim.
This will be followed by a guided boardwalk walk in memory of Sheila Hainey.
Accessibility in Quetico
Since the construction of the Sheila Hainey Memorial Boardwalk, Quetico Provincial Park has continued to introduce new accessibility features to the Dawson Trail Campground.
In addition to the boardwalk, the park now has an accessible trail and beach mats for easy access to the water.
All-terrain wheelchair and floating wheelchair available for free checkout at the Heritage Pavilion at Dawson Trail Campground. These chairs require a helper to push them.
The park also loans an all-terrain wheelchair and a floating wheelchair for use on the trails or at the beach.