Construction of the second phase of the Shoal Lake Band 40 all-weather road is set to begin, linking the community to the Trans-Canada Highway.
“For the people of Shoal Lake 40, 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,” said Chief Erwin Redsky of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. “Winnipeg’s water diversion took away our access so it’s fitting that Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada are part of our shared solution.
“We’re hopeful the new kind of relationship that was created to achieve Freedom Road, a new relationship in which our governments work together to build more equitable solutions, can be a model moving forward. We are grateful that Canada has come to be supportive to our three Tripartite Agreement governments in this creative, joint solution to a complex, long-standing challenge.”
The road construction contract, valued at approximately $12 million, was awarded on Jan. 23 to Sigfusson Northern, which completed the first phase of the project. The contract includes construction of 15 kilometres of new road embankment and is cost-shared between the governments of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada under a unique joint agreement with the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. The province designed and tendered this section of road.
“We are pleased the province has been able to advance this critical infrastructure project for the people of Shoal Lake 40 at a total cost of $30 million. Initial estimates pegged the project at up to $54 million,” said Ron Schuler, minister of infrastructure for the Government of Manitoba. “Like the first phase of the project, there will be significant involvement from Shoal Lake 40 workers and companies in this next phase of construction.”
The first phase of the project was roadwork on First Nation lands. Provincial staff designed and tendered the construction project last year on behalf of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and the federal government. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. That section was paid by the federal government.
The final phase of the work to connect the community to the all-weather road system is the construction of a bridge over the City of Winnipeg Aqueduct, which is currently out for tender.
Shoal Lake No. 40 is a First Nation community straddling the Ontario-Manitoba boundary and has an on-reserve population of about 290 people. It was cut off from the mainland in 1915 when a nearby channel was cut by the City of Winnipeg in order to bring drinking water to the city. The First Nation has long sought a permanent all-weather road to provide the community with secure and constant access to essential services including water treatment and emergency medical services.