Born and raised close to the shores of Lake Ontario, Stephen Cull led an active life until a tobogganing accident in 1991. After 38 days in intensive care and 11 months in rehab, Stephen was confined to a wheelchair. Aware of how fortunate he was to have survived, he was immensely grateful to those who had brought him through his ordeal.
In the summers that followed he would often sit by the side of the lake watching the hustle and bustle of life on and around the water. He remembered the exhilaration of sailing and reflected on the absence of wheelchair users on boats. He wondered if it would ever change. Then he got to thinking, "Why not? Why couldn't people with disabilities experience the pleasures of boating?" It was the glimmer of an idea that would finally crystallize a year later.
In 2001 Stephen was staying with friends at a cottage in Muskoka which was equipped with a pontoon boat and a specially constructed dock both of which were wheelchair accessible. Stephen had invited his 85 year old Aunt Peggy along and initially she had declined. Having sailed most of her life, she knew that you had to 'climb' into a boat and felt she was no longer able to do that comfortably. When Stephen mentioned that he would be “rolling onto the boat” in his wheelchair her eyes lit up. "Count me in!" she said. As the four unlikely shipmates cruised on the lake, the look of pleasure on his aunt's face got Stephen thinking about what it would take to provide the same opportunity for others.
He knew that access to the harbour and the dock were key factors. So too was the location. It should be within easy traveling distance for as many people as possible. Then there was the boat itself. It would have to be barrier-free and fully equipped to handle the needs of people with disabilities without them having to go beyond their comfort zone. Everyone should be free to enjoy the experience in safety and with dignity.