By Dan Plouffe
It was 25 years ago, on Oct. 23, 1986, that Rick Hansen wheeled his way into the nation’s capital almost 20,000 miles into his remarkable journey around the globe with the Man in Motion World Tour.
The three-time Paralympic gold medalist had already traveled by wheelchair to many of the world’s most recognizable locales – the Great Wall of China, Moscow’s Red Square, the Eiffel Tower – to raise funds and awareness for spinal cord research, but Ottawa still sticks out as “one of our highlights” from the tour when Hansen thinks back now.
“I’ll never forget wheeling up on Parliament Hill and having our amazing event there with thousands of people rejoicing in the spirit of the tour, hearing the declarations and commitments to remove barriers,” Hansen recalls. “The response was amazing. We had incredible support from the participants, organizers and the general public.”
The moment that is most widely remembered from Hansen’s stop in Ottawa 25 years ago was “The $1 million drop in the bucket” – when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney dropped a cheque for $1 million into a donations bucket Hansen was holding.
It wasn’t actually planned quite that way – Hansen intended to grab the cheque from the PM, but since he was on a hill at the time, one hand was busy holding his wheelchair in place while the other was grasping the bucket. So Mulroney improvised with the drop and wound up providing a memorable photo that lasted for ages.
“(The Drop in the Bucket) was of amazing significance,” notes Hansen, who carried the Olympic torch into B.C. Place stadium during the Vancouver Games Opening Ceremonies. “It was representative of the Government of Canada contributing $1 million on behalf of all Canadians. To me, that was a boost in terms of an endorsement of the importance to our mission, and that it resonated with public policy.”
It also boosted the organization to over double its original fundraising goal, and set the stage for provincial governments across the rest of Canada to make contributions of their own – both financial and in committing to make the world more accessible and inclusive.
The tour wound up raising $26 million for spinal cord research and quality of life initiatives, including sports participation, and the Rick Hansen Foundation has provided another $200 million-plus since then.
MANY IN MOTION ANNIVERSARY TOUR
Now, 25 years later (plus three days), Hansen will arrive back in to Ottawa on Oct. 26 with the Man in Motion 25th anniversary tour. No, the 54-year-old isn’t again wheeling around the world himself, but instead 7,000 “difference-makers” who have contributed to the organization’s goals will complete a relay of the original route.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal having the chance to have gone back to different countries around the world where we were 25 years ago to measure progress and recognize difference-makers who have helped to make the world more accessible and inclusive,” Hansen reflects.
“You see curb cuts, accessible wheelchair parking places, ramps, audible crosswalks in places where people with disabilities are being included in all walks of life – buildings built not just for basic accessibility, but with the concept of including people to be full participants.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t have a long way to go, but it means we’ve accomplished things and there’s successes worthy of celebration.”