A Manitoba First Nation that was cut off from the mainland so that Winnipeg could have clean drinking water finally has a new road connecting them to the rest of the province.

The 24-kilometre stretch of gravel nicknamed the “Freedom Road” will also make it easier for those living at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to access clean tap water of their own.

Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan spoke at a ceremony marking the opening of the link to the Trans-Canada Highway and reiterated the government’s commitment to build a new water treatment facility, which could finally end a decades-old boil water advisory.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. The government also plans to build a new school.

Shoal Lake 40, located on the Ontario-Manitoba border, was cut off from the mainland in 1915 when an aqueduct was built to supply water to the Manitoba capital.

Ever since, residents have had to use boats in summer and ice roads in winter to do basic errands. Spring and fall, when the lake freezes and thaws, were dangerous.

Resident Lillian Henry remembers walking across the ice as a child for groceries.

“It’d be sunrise when we got up and got ready to go to the store and it would be sundown by the time we walked home,” she recalled.

Chief after chief fought for the $30 million in funding required to have the road built, including the current man in charge, Erwin Redsky.

“What this moment truly means for us is a new beginning,” he said.

Former chief Herb Redsky was also pleased to see the project complete after decades of lobbying.

“I want to acknowledge and say thank you to the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the federal government for having the courage to do the right thing,” he said.