Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Shoal Lake 40 reserve, hauls water

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hauled large jugs of drinking water and spoke with school children Thursday as he was immersed in the daily struggles of an isolated reserve that has been under a boil advisory for 19 years. The visit was private, closed to all media except Vice Canada, which was shooting a documentary.

'It was an extraordinary day. It was a day for him to see and feel it, our daily struggles here'

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      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hauled large jugs of drinking water and spoke with school children Thursday as he was immersed in the daily struggles of an isolated reserve that has been under a boil advisory for 19 years.

      Trudeau spent seven hours on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation — a man-made island near the Manitoba-Ontario boundary, cut off from the mainland a century ago during construction of an aqueduct that carries fresh water to Winnipeg.

      "It was an extraordinary day. It was a day for him to see and feel it, our daily struggles here," Chief Erwin Redsky said afterward.

      Trudeau hopped onboard a truck used to haul 20-litre jugs of water and delivered them to three homes, Redsky said. He visited every classroom in the local school, talked to elders and later watched a hockey game at the local arena, Redsky added.

      The visit was deemed a private one, closed to all media outlets except Vice Canada, which is shooting a documentary on the tour. Two TV crews got onto the reserve, but were ordered out by Treaty 3 police, which serves First Nations communities across much of northwestern Ontario.

      The community, not the Prime Minister's Office, made the decision to restrict media access, said Cuyler Cotton, the band's media relations officer. The aim was to have Trudeau speak privately with many residents and not have a "media circus," Cotton added.

      Kavin Redsky, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation water plant operator, prepares to treat water from the lake with chlorine in one of the community's ten water treatment plants in this image from last June. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Thursday as part of a documentary about the community's lack of access to clean water. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

      The federal government, along with Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg, recently committed to building an all-weather road that will connect the community to the Trans-Canada Highway. The reserve is not remote — it's less than an hour away from Kenora, Ont. — but it has been isolated economically and in terms of basic services by the lack of a dependable roadway.

      The few hundred residents use an aging ferry to access health care, shopping and other necessities in the summer and a treacherous ice road in the winter. People have died falling through the ice. A road will also make construction of a water treatment plant affordable.

      Redsky said he was not looking for any new specific promises from Trudeau, just a commitment to an improved relationship with First Nations. He said Trudeau gave him a firm promise "to be a full partner in our treaty relationship."

      A permanent road was originally estimated to cost $30 million but that has been revised to $46 million after a detailed design study.