Residents of Niverville may soon have two Accessible Vans in their town. Ron Parent, Executive director for the Niverville Heritage Centre, says that several residents in the town got together and have sent in an Accessible Van grant application to the Federal Government.

Parent says conversations had already started before his arrival at the Centre in September 2023.

"Together with, Shirley, Sherry, Bonnie, and some of the other volunteers, we've been gathering information, refining the business proposal, culminating up to the most recent submission to the Federal Government for funding to cover off the two mobility vans.”

Parent says the total cost for two Accessible Vans is about $335,000. He says their group would like to order two vehicles immediately, Parent tells us why.

“We're reaching out to some of the other local communities that have similar vans such as Teulon, St Pierre-Jolys also have vans. So, part of our business plan is, how do we ensure that we charge a reasonable amount (per ride), but where it's not going to be a financial hardship to those requiring it? How do we plan for maintenance and who drives the van? Those types of little operational policies that we're going to be working on, once the approval of the funds has been provided.”

Parents says, the vans will be Ford T6 Transit vans and will be converted to be wheelchair accessible by a Manitoba company.

He says they are hoping to be able to permit community members drive the vehicles to events.

“That's the desired outcome, but there are a few things that have to happen before we ensure that anyone driving the van has the necessary driver's license and experience. Just because the nature of driving the van, as it's rather large, and it can be a little bit awkward at times, especially if you're used to driving a small car.”

“But it's really to make the van available to community members, so there's not a gap in whether it's attending a wedding or an event outside the community, doctor's appointments."

Parent clarifies that these vans are not meant to be used for general public transportation, but specifically for individuals with physically disabilities.

“Initially, that is the target group that we're focusing on. With that being said, there might be options for some of our residents in our Life Lease wishing to go on a larger group outing may be able to book a van. We have a daycare on site, "Growing Minds”, where perhaps that might be an option for them. But that's really a few years down the road. We're just trying to dream big, but also be practical on what our expectations are.”

Parent continues, and says that once the funds come through, they’ll know what amount they will still need to fundraise for.

“We won't be ordering the vans until we get confirmation of our grants, coupled with how much we need to raise.”

Parent says they have researched other options for funds, such as the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Commission which has some capital dollars. They have also started collecting promissory pledges from members of the community.

“The federal government will only provide up to 75% of the total cost. Ourselves, with the group of volunteers, we're trying to narrow that gap where we have enough donations to cover the entire purchase price, to support the funding that we hopefully will get from the federal government, so that 25% difference is where we're actively fundraising.”

Parents notes once purchased; ownership of the accessible vans will be the Niverville Heritage Centre.

"We will ensure that it's maintained, that we have it stored on our site. We have an underground parking garage, but I think we can manage by keeping it outside for the time being. So, the Heritage Centre will take on responsibility to develop policies to ensure that it's full of gas, maintenance is undertaken, it will be safetied, and to ensure that those who are taking the van out for whatever needs they have, that any risks or needs are identified.”

According to Parent, delivery of the vans takes about six months, and then they need to be retrofitted.

And what will access to these vans mean for Niverville residents? Parent says, “Increased accessibility when the need arises. No longer relying on external resources. Providing peace of mind to elderly couples who maybe, their current vehicle is not an accommodating vehicle.”

“I've been working in long term care for a long time, and I realize that sometimes there is a bit of risk when you're trying to lift somebody from a low-seating position versus in a higher seating position like a van, and all of that training would be included, once the vans arrive.”

Parents says, right now they don’t have a timeline for when they will hear back from the Federal Government regarding the grant application.

“But we are hoping that before summer we will get a notification, and that goes as well for the application for through Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.”

He adds he's learned to be optimistic over the past years. “Upward and onward is something I keep saying to myself, so we just wait and see, even if we get funding for one van, that's still better than what we had last year.”

Photos below are courtesy MoveMobility Manitoba.