1st new homes on way to Attawapiskat

Four new modular homes have started their journey from New Brunswick to the troubled northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

Maple Leaf Homes of Fredericton building 22 modular homes

A Fredericton worker talks about making modular homes for the Attawapiskat First Nation 2:24
A modular home bound for Attawapiskat leaves Fredericton on Tuesday. (CBC)
Four new modular homes have started their journey from New Brunswick to the troubled northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

The homes will travel by truck and train as far north as Moosonee, Ont. Once there, they will have to wait until the ice-road to Attawapiskat freezes completely over. That's expected to happen in mid- to late January.

The manufacturing plant at Maple Leaf Homes in Fredericton has been going flat out for the past eight days to build 22 modular homes in total.

On Dec. 10, the federal government announced that it had purchased and ordered 15 modular homes for a total cost of $1.2 million. Attawapiskat asked for an additional seven homes. The modular homes, measure about 75 square metres, and each include three bedrooms

Nearly 300 employees at the company are dedicated to making the highest profile job in the company's history a success, Chris McLean, the assistant general manager of Maple Leaf Homes, said Tuesday.  

"The build is going well. We've put some extra hours in — extra hours on the end of the day, on the weekend and whatnot," he said.

"People have really committed to getting our end of the job done on time and ahead of schedule."

Extra steps are necessary, he said, to build a home for the extreme weather conditions, including extra insulation and above floor plumbing to avoid freeze-ups.  

 "When we take a project on like this and we put the bid in, we do it with the confidence of knowing that we can stand behind our word and that's a big thing," McLean said.

"One, it keeps us credible. But, two, people also realize it's a good project for Maple Leaf. But it's at the cost of somebody else, and really a desperate measure."

Some families on the First Nation have no running water or electricity and have had their basements flooded with sewage. Meanwhile, others are living in tents as the cold weather has started to hit the northern community.

Maple Leaf Homes worker Kevin Gallan is proud of his involvment in building the modular homes. (CBC)
 Kevin Gallan, who has worked at Maple Leaf Homes for 18 years, called the project "life changing."

"People are suffering up there, and we're making these houses. They're beautiful brand new homes. So, yes, I really do feel pride. I do," he said.

"And I feel it. I hear people talking and stuff. Sometimes when you work day after day after day doing the same thing, you lose sight of that stuff. But this has brought it all back, what we actually do." 

McLean agreed it has given employees a renewed sense of purpose.

"Really, I think it's bolstered morale, and pride and workmanship here at Maple Leaf," he said.