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Construction of the Freedom road began in May -CTV photo-

Ceremony marks construction of new road to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

SHOAL LAKE, Ont.- A celebration has been held in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation 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 boundary.

From left, Daryl Redsky, consultation officer, Chief Erwin Redsky, both of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, and Phil Cesario, design project manager at PM Associates Ltd. go over the final design drawings for Freedom Road, an all-weather road which will connect the reserve to the Trans Canada highway, in Winnipeg on Friday, November 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky called Friday “a special day” and told a crowd of about 50 people gathered inside the community’s arena that it has been a long journey to get to this point.

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, (June  30 2017) 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.

Redsky tells CTV Winnipeg 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 toward that reconciliation and Shoal Lake 40 can be that model.”

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.” The 24-kilometre, all-weather road  is projected to cost $33 million, much lower than recent estimates.

Shoal Lake 40 residents were moved off their land onto a peninsula a century ago during construction of an aqueduct which sends fresh water to Winnipeg. Construction created a man-made island and cut them off from the mainland.

While water still flows to the Manitoba capital, the reserve has been under a boil advisory for 18 years.

Residents have had to make do with an aging ferry prone to breakdowns and use a treacherous ice road in winter. Some people have died trying to cross the ice.

The all-weather road, which would include two bridges, would make it feasible to bring in reasonably priced equipment to build a water treatment plant and other projects.

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.”