Owner aims to make oa­sis ac­ces­si­ble

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - BETTY ANN ADAM [email protected]­ Twit­ SPBAA­dam

It was well af­ter mid­night dur­ing a rag­ing bl­iz­zard as Ja­son Stanoff­sky ap­proached High­way 16 on his way to Lloy­d­min­ster on Dec. 6, 2006.

The 36-year-old creator of a suc­cess­ful north­ern resort was speed­ing along a grid road in a tiny car with his choco­late lab, Boone, be­side him, when he re­al­ized he was al­ready at the high­way.

His Ford Fo­cus crossed the empty road, slammed into a snow­bank and flipped, end over end, fi­nally land­ing on its roof.

The win­dows were smashed, Boone had been thrown out but Stanoff­sky was tightly belted to the seat. As he be­came aware of his sur­round­ings, he re­al­ized the wind and snow were freez­ing cold but he couldn’t feel any­thing from the neck down.

“I couldn’t move. I knew I was in very big trou­ble,” Stanoff­sky re­called in an in­ter­view this week.

In the hours he waited for help, he sang ev­ery coun­try song he could remember to help stay con­scious and avoid freez­ing to death.

It would be eight months of re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion be­fore Stanoff­sky and his new wheel­chair were car­ried into the lodge of his Jewel of the North resort at Emma Lake.

“Be­ing out there in the morn­ing or the even­ing when na­ture comes out to play, you hear the birds, the loons or the ducks, the crick­ets or the frogs or the oc­ca­sional coy­ote. Just that con­tact with na­ture, for me it’s al­ways been huge,” he said.

The dream of shar­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence with peo­ple who weren’t lucky enough to own a lake cot­tage had mo­ti­vated him to build the resort four years ear­lier.

Now, his dream is to share the ex­pe­ri­ence with other mo­bil­ity im­paired peo­ple like him­self, who have less opportunity than most to en­joy a north­ern hol­i­day.

“Be­ing there was so good for me. It opened my mind to the pos­si­bil­i­ties,” Stanoff­sky said. “If I can of­fer that to some­one else who’s just been dis­charged from rehab, to help them re­al­ize that life goes on af­ter a spinal cord in­jury, I think that would be fan­tas­tic.”

Stanoff­sky, who ad­mits he’d al­ways been, “a bit of an adrenalin junkie,” had al­ways been hard­driven in work and play.

As an in­sur­ance bro­ker in his 20s, he cov­ered the prov­ince, build­ing a busi­ness with clients “from Meadow Lake to Maple Creek.” Around 2000 he left the in­sur­ance busi­ness and, in­spired by a va­ca­tion ranch he of­ten vis­ited, opened his lake home to groups in win­ter, cater­ing to them and guid­ing them on the snow­mo­bile trails.

In July 2003 he and his wife opened the four-sea­son Jewel of the North, com­plete with a sixbed­room lodge and four two-bed­room cab­ins. The cou­ple sep­a­rated in 2004.

The busi­ness went well, with Stanoff­sky throw­ing him­self into ev­ery as­pect of the op­er­a­tion: Cook­ing meals, clean­ing cab­ins, main­tain­ing equip­ment and han­dling the book­ings and of­fice work. He mar­keted the resort to groups, such as cor­po­rate re­treats and wed­dings.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Stanoff­sky’s fa­ther, Roy, took over the busi­ness.

Stanoff­sky was thrown into the greatest chal­lenge of his life as he ad­justed to life as a quad­ri­plegic.

His de­ter­mi­na­tion and a lov­ing cir­cle of fam­ily and friends have been there for him from the start, and he cred­its them for help­ing him thrive in his new cir­cum­stances.

He re­jected early warn­ings that he might never use his arms or hands again and that he would do best liv­ing in a long-term care fa­cil­ity. He ded­i­cated him­self to phys­io­ther­apy. His mother, Karen Finch, lo­cated a rare rental house that was ac­ces­si­ble for wheel­chairs. Nine years ago he met and hired his ded­i­cated care­giver, Margie Rivera.

In 2010, he adopted a ser­vice dog, Har­lem, from Guide Dogs Canada, who makes him and Margie laugh ev­ery day, “be­ing his usual ham­bone self.”

Stanoff­sky had missed the pres­ence of a dog in his life since the crash, in which Boone was se­ri­ously in­jured. In the dif­fi­cult pe­riod af­ter the ac­ci­dent, his mother found a North Bat­tle­ford ken­nel owner who adopted Boone, nursed him back to health and gave him a happy life as mas­cot and greeter for her busi­ness.

In the 10 years since the ac­ci­dent, Stanoff­sky has only oc­ca­sion­ally vis­ited the resort, in large part be­cause it lacked ac­com­mo­da­tions for him and his wheel­chair.

His fa­ther still op­er­ates other businesses be­sides the resort, which has meant hir­ing staff to do many of the jobs Stanoff­sky used to do. That has af­fected the bot­tom line.

For years, Stanoff­sky and his Cal­gary-based best friend, Quin­ten Cha­ban, talked on the phone while they had their morn­ing cof­fee. A fre­quent sub­ject was their com­mon dream of crowd­sourc­ing the funds on to make the resort fully ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple who use wheel­chairs.

Stanoff­sky wants to do­nate some stays for peo­ple in re­cov­ery from re­cent spinal cord in­juries.

Since Fe­bru­ary, Cha­ban has spent most of his time in Saska­toon, work­ing on the project.

Work has al­ready be­gun on one of the lodge bed­rooms, which is fully ac­ces­si­ble with an ad­justable bed and a ceil­ing-track hoist. Next, it will get a roll-in shower in the bath­room. A ce­ment pad has been poured for the wheel­chair lift to the deck. One of the cab­ins will also be com­pletely retro­fit­ted and the park­ing lot will be paved.

The fundrais­ing goal is set at $125,000. As of Fri­day, the cam­paign was at $18,660.

The “Wheel­chair ac­cess for Jay & guests” page in­cludes links to short videos of the work as it pro­gresses. They’ve ap­proached var­i­ous businesses that are of­fer­ing in-kind ser­vice do­na­tions and are op­ti­mistic they’ll fin­ish the job by Septem­ber.

“If we haven’t reached our goal by then, we aren’t work­ing hard enough,” Stanoff­sky said. “If any­one read­ing this has ex­pe­ri­ence with fundrais­ing, ad­vice is wel­come.”

He in­vites peo­ple to con­tact him through the Jewel of the North web­site.

“Since my ac­ci­dent, it shows me there’s a whole other com­mu­nity out there that would love to en­joy the beauty of the north and should have the opportunity to do it.

“They don’t have the opportunity be­cause the fa­cil­i­ties don’t ex­ist,” he said.

Jay Stanoff­sky and his ser­vice dog Har­lem at home in Saska­toon on Fri­day. Stanoff­sky launched a GoFundMe cam­paign to retro­fit the Jewel of the North re­sort to be fully ac­ces­si­ble to wheel­chair users. LIAM RICHARDS


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