Weather conditions that were more typical for northwestern Ontario created a better winter season for communities that depend on the winter road network. But while those served by the winter roads say it has been successful this year, First Nations leaders are still pushing for all-season road access.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said that until this winter it had been several years since all remote communities that rely on winter roads for transportation were able to receive most of their fuel, building supplies and other materials over winter roads, because the weather has been too mild.
"Last year was a bad year, a couple of years there we just didn't [get anything]," he said.
"It caused … a financial havoc for communities because they [end up having] to fly in the fuel and goods and services."
- Listen: Winter road concerns
And there are still the tragedies that occur as people attempt to traverse the ice that may or may not be ready to bear weight.
'We lost two people'
Despite this year’s generally better weather conditions, one person who travels the winter road regularly said early snowfalls initially left the ice weak on some lakes. As a result, two people died while operating grooming machines that plunged through the ice, said Leo Anderson, who works in building maintenance for the Keewaytinook Okimakanak tribal council.
"If there's too much snow before we get ice, then we … have a couple of problems," he added. "We lost two people, which was terrible."
Grand Chief Yesno said he expects the seasonal roads will continue to be unreliable in the years ahead.
"The ultimate goal is all-weather roads, eventually, over time," he said.
"That's basically the goal that we're looking at — to network the communities. It's not going to happen overnight but, over time, [it will] probably [be]
coupled with the resource development that's going to happen in the north."
Yesno added building up the winter road network needs "a regional infrastructure strategy by both levels of government," which remote First Nations are looking to address.