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No turning back for Hants County protester on way to Ottawa on electric wheelchair


Sonja Wood crosses into Quebec last week on her Trophy 20 electric wheelchair. - Contributed
Sonja Wood crosses into Quebec last week on her Trophy 20 electric wheelchair. - Contributed

A cup of broth and crackers was Sonja Wood’s birthday meal on Thursday.

Sick with food poisoning for three days in a Quebec campground, she was curled up in the back of her compact car.

“I wanted to bring her a meal fit for a king,” her husband, Chis Mansky, said Sunday.

Instead, he brought her something she could keep down.

Still sick on Friday morning, she was back on her electric wheelchair, Ottawa bound.

“I had a woman hug me the other day and say, ‘I love you for what you’re doing,’” Wood said.

“Interactions like that are what keeps me going. What we’re doing is right and needs to be done.”

What Wood is doing is driving her electric wheelchair from her home near Windsor to Ottawa, collecting stories of community groups and advocates for Atlantic salmon habitat along the way.

She met the mayor of Moncton to discuss the return of tidal flow to the Petitcodiac River, by replacing a causeway with a bridge and what that has meant to fish passage and tourism. In the Miramichi, Wood met with salmon conservation volunteers about river restoration work and striped bass numbers.

“Every community we go through, we hear concerns for fish habitat, whether it’s big money, industry or fracking,” Wood said.

“They’re all contributing to the declines in the Atlantic salmon population.This isn’t just about salmon, but salmon are a sign. When you have healthy Atlantic salmon runs, that means you have healthy rivers.”

Her mission, dubbed On a Roll for Atlantic Salmon, was inspired by a decades-long fight to get fish passage for the Avon River — which is currently blocked by a causeway.

The provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is designing a new causeway as part of the Highway 101 twinning project. It will include an as yet undetermined system for fish passage but won’t open up full tidal flow.

Though both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wikinson haven’t agreed to her requests for a meeting, Wood intends to make her demands clear — that Fisheries and Oceans Canada enforce habitat protections enshrined in the Fisheries Act.

Wood was paralyzed in a severe car accident three decades ago. Despite her disability she has long worked as a community organizer and runs the Blue Beach Fossil Museum with Mansky.

“I’ve always said the good Lord kept me on this Earth for a reason,” she said.

Their journey hasn’t been comfortable.

Mansky drives their small hatchback, charging batteries for the Trophy 20 electric wheelchair with an inverter. Each evening, he re-arranges all their equipment to make room for the pair to sleep in the back.

They don’t have any funding and have been relying on the kindness of strangers and their own meager savings.

But they’re undeterred.

And they’re more than halfway through their 1,500-kilometre trip.

“We’re on our way to Ottawa and they better be ready for us,” Wood said.

“Because we’re going to be heard. If there’s no more food poisoning or hurricanes, we’ll be there in a couple weeks.”

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