‘Let your soul fly’ is the tagline for B.C based SoulFly Experiences, the host last week in Yukon Territory of Open Jaw and other members of a recent Air Canada media and trade FAM trip to prove that travel to the Territory is accessible to all. SoulFly Experiences is more than just an accessible travel provider. The company consults on all aspects of a destination, from transportation to accommodation, to ensure a safe, authentic and enjoyable experience free from barriers for their guests.
Nicole Petersen and Tanelle Bolt are the heart (and soul) of their business. Their passion, drive and commitment to reshape the Yukon experience, to be accessible and inclusive to everyone, no matter their physical limitations, was felt and heard throughout our journey. “You could have the most accessible city in the world, but without proper transportation infrastructure to get you to your hotel or activities, it’s worth nothing,” says Nicole Petersen, Innovation & Development at SoulfFly Experiences.
Imagine booking a trip to Northern Canada in 2021, only to find that on arrival, that there are no accessible taxi’s, shuttles or buses. Even if you managed to reach your hotel, chances are an accessible room is not waiting for you either. Many buildings, to this day, do not have ramps, lifts or safe accommodations for persons in a wheelchair or those with limited sight, hearing or dietary restrictions.
In the last two years, SoulFly Experiences' mission has been to demonstrate to local businesses, restaurants, hoteliers and the airport (YXY), that they can improve barrier-free infrastructure and practices throughout Yukon.
“I can see a lot of evidence of SoulFly’s hard work in improving accessibility inside the city and at the venues outside the city.” David Elmy, President of The Travel Group in Vancouver tells Open Jaw. “My company, The Travel Group, has been selected to handle fulfillment for SoulFly Experiences, because we have the necessary infrastructure. We are very proud of our partnership with this unique company.”
Led by Inclusion Yukon, the New Frontier-Barrier Free Yukon Tourism project was introduced to generate funding for universal accessibility and inclusive experiences for all guests arriving to Yukon.
The first hurdle they faced was accessible transportation between the airport and within the city of Whitehorse. The solution: Inclusion Yukon stepped up and acquired a high-tech wheelchair accessible van that could be rented by operators like SoulFly who exclusively offer chauffeured service for their guests.
There is no shortage of lodging in Whitehorse, and some properties date back to the early Gold Rush days of 1896. Accessibility was a big challenge for some.
We toured a newly refurbished accessible room at the Best Western Gold Rush Inn, where three-time Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet shared her impressions of the room and offered suggestions for improvements. Some things to consider would be as simple as lowering the height of the clothing rod in the closet, or lowering the bed by an inch or two to allow easy transfer from her wheelchair. She also discussed bathroom design and elements like the position of the grab bars by the toilet, installing a handheld shower and adding an extension to the bathtub bench seat for easy transfer.
Local Accessible Activities
When it comes to restaurants, cultural and recreational experiences in Whitehorse, there are a number of activities and sites that were already accessible.
Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre:
We paid a visit to the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre where we met a local Indigenous beadwork and embroidery artist named Karen Nicloux who shared her personal stories with us as she completed a set of gloves made from moose hide and beaver fur cuffs.
A fixture in the city for artists and enthusiasts to express themselves, we tried our hands at glass blowing, with the option to make a vase, bird, flower or paper weight. Not to mention, directly attached to the studio is a fantastic local restaurant, Gather Cafe & Taphouse, serving a fusion of Mexican and South American-inspired dishes.
The MacBride Museum of Yukon History:
Accessibility and inclusion were a priority for the museum, especially for those with visual impairment. According to SoulFly, the museum director acquired state-of-the-art assistive technologies that support self-guided tours of the exhibits with auditory enhancement to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to learn about Yukon's rich history and culture.
Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs:
Travellers to the Yukon with mobility challenges can still take advantage of this facility to unwind, recharge and relax after a long day of activities. The building is ground level with wheelchair accessible ramps sloping into the hot water pools. Universal, non-gender-specific spaces also make this spa very inclusive and safe for all.
On our final day, we looped around the 4.5km easily accessible Millennium Trail and took in the spectacular fall colours and rushing Yukon River. Our tour included the site of the SS Klondike and visitor centre managed and operated by Parks Canada.
Thanks to SoulFly Experiences, Inclusion Yukon, Air Canada, Tourism Yukon and all the local businesses, it was an unforgettable and eye-opening accessible FAM trip to the Yukon that did achieve its goal of proving that travellers with physical challenges can enjoy a trip to one of the northern-most destinations in Canada.