After decades of isolation, shovels have hit the ground to bring Freedom Road to Shoal Lake 40, an isolated First Nation on the Manitoba-Ontario border.
A special ceremony was held on Friday to mark the beginning of construction of the 24-kilometre Freedom Road, which will connect the community to the Trans-Canada Highway.
“It’s amazing.… It was a long, long journey to get to this point and I thank many, many leaders before me, including my dad in the ’50s when he was chief,” said Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky.
Shoal Lake 40, which is on a peninsula, was effectively made into an island more than 100 years ago during construction of Winnipeg’s aqueduct.
Winnipeg tap water still flows from Shoal Lake but the First Nation, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border and has a population of about 700 people, has had a boil water advisory for nearly two decades.
There is no reliable way in and out of Shoal Lake. The community constructs a winter road when ice gets thick enough and uses a barge, which has broken down many times, when the ice is thin or gone.
“[The road] will mean everything. It’s a life and death situation. It will bring hope for the youth. It will save lives. It will bring water treatment. It will bring economic development. It will bring prosperity,” Redsky said.
“It’s everything for us. We will be able to take the garbage off the island. We can manage our community and rebuild the community and catch up to the rest of Canadians.”
Last December, the province of Manitoba, City of Winnipeg and federal government reached a three-way funding agreement for the road. The federal government has agreed to pay up to $20 million, while the province and city each agreed to pay $10 million.
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