'I was completely scared': First Nation elder's van breaks through ice on Shoal Lake

A First Nation elder who had a terrifying ordeal after her van broke through thin ice on Shoal Lake, a reserve that straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, says her story speaks to the urgency for a permanent all-weather road to her community.

Calls for all-weather road to First Nation on Manitoba-Ontario border renewed following elder's ordeal

An elder in this van got stuck after breaking through thin ice while leaving the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Friday morning. (Marvin Redsky / Facebook)

A First Nation elder who had a terrifying ordeal after her van broke through thin ice on Shoal Lake, on a reserve that straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, says her story speaks to the urgency for a permanent all-weather road in her community. 

Nancy Rice was driving on Shoal Lake on Friday in her van when she hit thin ice. Her vehicle got stuck and partially fell through the ice, leaving her trapped inside. Rice was with her 24-year-old grandson, who was in the passenger seat.

She said her door wouldn't open so she had to crawl through his side of the van and then step out onto the thin ice.

"I was completely scared," Rice, 65, said.

'Help me'

"I told him, 'Trey, I can't get out, you have to help me.' So he pulled me out from where I was sitting."

Rice said experiences like hers are the reason her community has lobbied the government so hard for what's been dubbed Freedom Road.

The promised road will connect the First Nation to the outside world and provide a reliable way for community members to get to and from the reserve.

The reserve was cut off a century ago during construction of an aqueduct which carries fresh water to Winnipeg.

Currently, the only way into the First Nation is on a barge that operates with a curfew or by driving on the ice in the winter months.

"It is very frustrating living on this man-made island," Rice said.

"Every spring, every fall, we go through something like this."

This barge is how people in Shoal Lake 40 connect with the outside world during summer months. It's out of service several times a year, leaving community members stranded. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

Samantha Redsky, another community member, said the situation is dire this year, as the band might not have an airboat. The vehicle is used on top of ice and water to help people travel during dangerous conditions as ice breaks in the spring.

"I came across last night and was surprised at the rate that the ice is getting bad," Redsky said.

The City of Winnipeg, province and federal government agreed to split the cost of the road last December. But the province was still in talks with the federal government over financing at last word.


​Austin Grabish joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Have a story idea? Email: