'A very special day': Shoal Lake 40 celebrates Freedom Road construction
Published Friday, June 30, 2017 2:50PM CST
Last Updated Friday, June 30, 2017 7:03PM CST
A celebration was held in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Friday to mark the beginning of construction of a new all-weather road.
The 24 kilometre Freedom Road will connect Shoal Lake 40 to the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba.
It will provide year-round access between the mainland and the isolated community, which is located in northwestern Ontario just east of the Manitoba-Ontario border.
"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."
"We can go back decades."
The community was cut off from the mainland more than a century ago during construction of an aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with drinking water.
Shoal Lake 40 has been under a boil-water advisory for 20 years.
Once the road is built, a water treatment plant will be the community's next big project.
Right now, residents rely on a barge that can carry four vehicles at a time to get on and off the island.
While a celebration was held Friday, construction started in the middle of May on the first portion of the road, which is an 8.7 kilometre stretch located on reserve land.
"Canada's providing 100 per cent of the on-reserve portion of Freedom Road, which is one-third," Redsky said. "City of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba are contributing $10 million each towards the road."
Sigfusson Northern Project Manager Bryan Razmus said the on-reserve portion of road construction that the company is working on remains on schedule and should be completed in October.
About 30 crew members are working for Sigfusson Northern on the project. Sixty per cent of the crew is from Shoal Lake 40.
Redsky said the completion of the first portion of the road should pave the way for the rest of construction to begin.
"The Province of Manitoba's working through their processes as well and they're getting their environmental approvals and their consultation processes to get the off-reserve or Crown land portion of Freedom Road underway. Hopefully by the time we're done with the on-reserve portion, it'll just continue on with the off reserve."
Redsky said it's more than a road. He hopes it can serve as a symbol of something bigger.
"It is a new beginning of our relationship with Canada," said Redsky. "This is a major milestone."
"Shoal Lake 40 has been that model of a broken relationship since treaty. We are working towards that reconciliation and Shoal Lake 40 can be that model."
"I look forward to the next 150 years."