Owner aims to make oasis accessible
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 GoFundMe.com 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