Next phase of Shoal Lake 40's 'Freedom Road' construction set to begin

Construction on the road connecting the long cut-off community to the Trans-Canada Highway should be completed by March 2019, according to Chief Erwin Redsky.

Contract awarded for Manitoba portion of road

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has dubbed its new access road Freedom Road, which is now set for completion by March 2019. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Preliminary work on the second half of Shoal Lake 40's "Freedom Road," connecting the long cut-off community to the Trans-Canada Highway, is set to begin next week.

Construction on the road should be completed by March 2019, according to Chief Erwin Redsky.

Redsky said Tuesday the contract to build the rest of the road was awarded to Sigfusson Northern last week and preliminary work and preparation for the Manitoba portion of the project is set to begin next week.

"It is a historic day, it's historic times," said Redsky.

"It took a long time to get to where we are today. I'm just very relieved it's finally happening. We can start to plan for our future."

The First Nation, located about 130 km east of Winnipeg, straddles the Ontario-Manitoba border. Shoal Lake 40 is on a peninsula and construction of Winnipeg's aqueduct in 1919 cut the community off from the mainland, effectively making it into an island.

Just 15 kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway, it is accessible only by boat in the summer and an ice road in winter. 

Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky says the next part of the Freedom Road construction is set to begin. (CBC)

The 24-km Freedom Road project is the result of an agreement between Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg, and Ottawa with each pledging to fund part of the project. Ottawa agreed to pay $20 million, while the province and the city put in $10 million each.

The on-reserve portion of the highway was completed last fall, six weeks ahead of schedule. The City of Winnipeg also needs to build a bridge over an aqueduct and that project has already been put out for tender.

Sigfusson Northern confirmed Tuesday morning that it had received a contract to construct the road. The company was awarded the contract on Jan. 23.

Water treatment plant next

The completion of the road will also set the stage for Shoal Lake 40 to build its own water treatment plant.

"We always said our priority has always been reliable safe access to our community because we lost people trying to get home in the past," said Redsky.

"Water was secondary because we wanted to save lives.... Once we have road access, it will be affordable and reliable access so we can build a water treatment plant. That is the first step after the road is done, for sure."

Shoal Lake 40 has been under drinking water advisories since 1998, according to Indigenous Services data. The lack of all-season road access made it prohibitively expensive for the community to build a water treatment plant.

"We've lived under these conditions for so, so long," said Redsky.

"Most of the kids that are 18,19, that's all they know is bottled water.... We can be free as everyone else that are close to the Trans-Canada. It's going to be an amazing feeling when that day comes when we can drive home 365 days of the year."

Indigenous Services indicates on its website that Shoal Lake 40 is slated to have a water treatment plant by 2021.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him