August 12, 2020

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Ontario chief cuts off road access for cottagers

More than 100 cottage owners will soon be without road access to their summer homes near Kenora after Washagamis Bay First Nation Chief Marilyn Sinclair ordered the road through her reserve closed to them.

The chief's letter, addressed to members of the South End Road Association, the Northern Peninsula Road Association, Welcome Channel Road Corporation, 1133406 Ontario Inc., and the Gold Pointe Road Association, tells residents they have until July 16 to transport items on the road that cannot be moved by water access.

McKenzie Portage Road, located approximately 10 kilometres west of Kenora, runs through Washagamis Bay First Nation. The road serves as the only land access to the cottages, but the properties can also be reached by boat.

While a portion of the road is maintained by the City of Kenora and another by the South End Road Association, the First Nation had agreements in place with additional road associations to allow cottagers to access their properties by the McKenzie Portage Road that goes through the Rat Portage 38A Reserve.

According to Chief Sinclair’s letter, the road access fees will be returned to each association, but cottagers are left wondering why the road is being closed in the first place.

Long time resident Barb McKenzie and her husband, Jack, are snowbirds, making their cottage just off the McKenzie Portage Road their permanent summer home.

Although McKenzie said the road oftentimes operates on temporary closures, there has never been a complete shut down with current agreements in place.

"I can appreciate that they don't want the traffic through the reserve, and I get that, but there are alternatives but they're not going to listen to them for whatever reason, but the pandemic has just been a perfect excuse," said McKenzie.

"I mean when you come up with something that's so life altering for many many people, you think there could be a little communication instead of just 'this is being decreed.' They don't honour their contract, they've completely voided the agreements that were made 25 years ago, and don't even discuss if we need to re-negotiate. Nothing. Just the road is closed, you're done."

McKenzie Road resident Jack McKenzie walks at his lake property near Kenora where he and his wife Barb are longtime residents of the area.

TOM THOMSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

McKenzie Road resident Jack McKenzie walks at his lake property near Kenora where he and his wife Barb are longtime residents of the area.

She says the communication between the First Nation and the cottagers about road access has been fractured since at least September 2019.

"Basically we’re in shock," said McKenzie.

"We don't know what to do. They won't talk to us. They won't return phone calls, they won't listen to our board members and our president who have been trying to contact them and get some sort of an explanation and try and reason with them or there's no communication."

The letter from the Washagamis Bay First Nation regarding road access.

The letter from the Washagamis Bay First Nation regarding road access.

Marvin Sinclair, a spokesperson for the First Nation, did not respond to the Free Press' request for comment prior to deadline. However, in an interview Thursday with Kenora Online, Sinclair said the closure was due to safety concerns, citing speeding and frequency of traffic.

While the cottages can be accessed by boat, McKenzie said upcoming marina closures at Clearwater Bay and Rheault Bay have residents scrambling for solutions.

"There’s no place to park your car, there's no place to park your boat, so Kenora’s touting itself as the boating capital of Canada? What a crock," said McKenzie.

"We did boat, and we were islanders, for I don't know how many years, but years. Forty-six years ago we were cottagers on an island and that was no big deal but we were 46 years younger and most of the people on this route are over 70-years-old so they can't do that anymore."

Additional lease holders with Lily Pad Bay and Poplar Bay will still be allowed access, as they have a separate agreement with the First Nation.

nadya.pankiw@freepress.mb.ca

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