A New Brunswick company is building 22 modular homes for people living in the troubled northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

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.

Fredericton-based Maple Leaf Homes has received a contract to build homes for Attawapiskat, which has been put under the national spotlight after the federal government sent in third-party management to run the reserve.

The company is not new to building modular homes for cold climates.

Chris McLean, the assistant general manager of Maple Leaf Homes, said the company learned many important lessons about cold climate construction when it built homes for mining camps in northern Canada. Those techniques will be used in the homes that are heading to Attawapiskat.

"We're putting more lumber in the floor, it's a stronger build, with closer spacings, and we're able to fill that cavity completely with insulation," McLean said.

"We've kept all our plumbing above floor level, for any water lines, to reduce any chance of freezing. The only pipes we see through the floor are going to be drain drops for the plumbing itself. There won't be any water supply in the flooring system whatsoever."

The modular homes will also be filled with extra wall insulation and sprayed in roof insulation. There will be mould resistant paint on the walls and vapour barriers under the houses.

The company will also upgrade exhaust fans, and air exchangers with extra power. The units are designed to warm the frigid air coming in and to reduce condensation.

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

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence sent a letter to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan after the original order was placed saying that 22 homes were needed on the reserve and not 15.

About 1,800 people live in Attawapiskat. The federal government has put the reserve under third-party management. That move has been opposed by the chief and band council, but some residents have endorsed the plan.

The federal government says it has given Attawapiskat around $90 million since 2006, including $4.3 million for on-reserve housing. It has also ordered an independent audit of the community's finances.

Homes will arrive in late December

The Fredericton-based company has been working quickly in order to get the homes finished and ready to be sent to the northern Ontario reserve.

With 300 workers, and five different trades working on a house at one time, the company can turn out three homes a day.


The modular homes are expected to be in northern Ontario by late December. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Dennis Psiuk, the company's head of special projects, said the first houses will leave Fredericton on Dec. 19.

"Our plan is to have all 22 units into Moosonee just before Christmas," he said.

The challenge then will be waiting for the opening of the ice road that will go to the reserve.

The houses will cost around $100,000 each.  And the company said, if they are maintained, they should last indefinitely.

Psiuk said the company will install a camera and post the construction of the homes on the Internet, so the community can watch their homes being built.

The contractors say the band council is responsible for installing sewer and water connections now.  But they will have help connecting the houses when they arrive.

The company is sending a crew of experts in the installation of houses in sub-arctic conditions.