An all-weather road to connect a remote First Nation on the Manitoba-Ontario border with the Trans-Canada Highway is entering its final phase of construction.
Shoal Lake 40, located on a peninsula about 130 kilometres east of Winnipeg, was cut off from the mainland in 1915 during the construction of an aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with drinking water. The Indigenous community has been on a boil water advisory for decades.
Once completed, the 24-kilometre project dubbed “Freedom Road” will end an era of reliance on the current means of reaching the outside world -- an unreliable barge in the summer, and a perilous ice road in the winter.
“We would like to see it done by the fall, but that is weather dependent,” Manitoba Infrastructure Minster Ron Schuler told reporters on Tuesday. “This is something that should have really been done a long time ago.”
The project is set to cost $30 million. The funding will be shared by the City of Winnipeg, the provincial government and Ottawa.
The $12 million road construction contract was awarded on Jan. 23 to Sigfusson Northern, which completed the first phase of the project.
For Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky, the project is about more than building a road.
“Building Freedom Road has been a declaration of our right to exist, a right to be included in Canada, that we began asserting in 2003. Without safe access, our community could not survive physically nor economically,” wrote Redsky in a joint statement with Shuler, Federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, and Winnipeg Mayor Brain Bowman.
“Winnipeg’s water diversion took away our access so it’s fitting that Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada are part of our shared solution.”
With a report from CTV’s Winnipeg Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon