An isolated First Nation that sits on the Manitoba-Ontario border is one step closer to a road that would reconnect it with the mainland -- and possibly end its decades-long boil water advisory.
This week marked the start of on-reserve construction of Freedom Road for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
Once the road is built, the community hopes that a water treatment plant will be its next big project.
"This is a very special day today," Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky told a crowd of around 50 people gathered inside the community's arena. "It's been a long, long journey to get to this point."
A century ago Shoal Lake 40 became an isolated community during the construction of an aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with clean drinking water.
While Winnipeg gets fresh water, Shoal Lake 40 has been on a boil-water advisory since 1997 and the only way in and out of the isolated community is on a barge, which isn’t always reliable.
The 24-kilometre Freedom Road project, which started construction in May, aims to provide all-weather access between Shoal Lake 40 and the Trans-Canada highway in Manitoba.
“We’re not just building a road, we’re building a relationship and we’re very excited about what’s coming to our community,” Chief Redsky told CTV Winnipeg.
"The construction of Freedom Road will have a profound impact on the community, as it will provide residents access to crucial medical and social services, while also affording them the opportunity to fully participate in the local economy,” said Kenora MP Robert Nault in a statement.
The first phase of Freedom Road will be just over 8 kilometres and is set to be completed by October.
“We are on track. We had a very successful startup and that’s just kind of built on some great relationships we built with the Shoal Lake community, Manitoba Infrastructure and all the other stake holders,” Sigfusson Northern Project Manager Bryan Razmus told CTV Winnipeg.
More than half the crew members working on the project are from Shoal Lake 40.
“I’m really, really proud that I’m part of building it,” said rock truck driver Ann Redsky.
Chief Redsky hopes the second phase of construction on Freed Road on Crown Land in Manitoba will start this fall.
The whole project is set to cost $30 million, with the costs being shared equally between the city of Winnipeg, the Manitoba government and the Federal government.
With files from CTV Winnipeg’s Josh Crabb