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This article was published 30/4/2015 (1659 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The last link for the people of Shoal Lake 40 just broke down, raising the urgency for construction of a permanent road link to the First Nation.
An aging ferry that connects Shoal Lake 40 to the mainland was pulled out of the water last week, after a routine inspection determined that wear and tear on the hull had reached a point where it was no longer safe to float.
"It’s over 30 years old and like any structure that old, it deteriorates," Shoal Lake Chief Erwin Redsky said by phone.
"In the meantime, we’ve declared a state of emergency. There is no way to cross to the mainland. . . There is no way to bring in supplies and that includes health services and water," he said.
Shoal Lake 40 was cut off from the mainland 100 years ago with the construction of an aqueduct. The lake is the source of Winnipeg’s water supply and a 15.2 metre wide diversion channel created a man-made island that cut access to the mainland.
Shoal Lake is located 155 kilometres from Winnipeg, just on the other side of the Manitoba-Ontario border.
This winter, the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba helped fund a winter road across the lake to the First Nation. The two levels of government are working with Shoal Lake 40 on a permanent link dubbed Freedom Road.
About 60 per cent of the community’s population of 600 has moved away over the years; nine people have been known to have fallen through the ice to their deaths and the ferry is the only link to the mainland in warmer months.
The Council of Canadians issued a statement Thursday to put pressure on the city, the province and the federal government to push harder on Freedom Road.
"Following routine inspection, the community’s aging ferry has been forced out of service," the statement said.
"The repairs could take months, leaving the beleaguered people of Shoal Lake 40 completely cut off from services essential to their survival," the statement said.
"The Canadian government must agree to end the century of isolation it forced on Shoal Lake 40 and join the city and the province to fund the construction of Freedom Road," the council statement concluded.
It was posted on the Council’s website, along with a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office to press for action on behalf of the community.
The community has been on a boil-water advisory for about 18 years and the lobby group has been spearheading a national campaign to put an end to their isolation.
Redsky said he’s notified all three levels of government about the latest crisis and he said he’s been told work continues on the design of a $30-million road and bridge.
In the meantime, the First Nation is searching for an interim solution to reestablish a link to the mainland.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.