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First Nations Communities Push for All-Season Road in Northern Manitoba

February 1, 2024 8:11 AM | The Canadian Press


By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Winter Road

WINNIPEG — First Nations leaders are renewing their push for an all-season road on the east side of Lake Winnipeg that would connect several remote communities to goods, services and health care in the south.

They are calling on the federal and Manitoba governments to pay for a 252-kilometre road that would run from Berens River in the south, where the existing year-round road system ends, to St. Theresa Point in the north.

St. Theresa Point is part of the Island Lake region, which has more than 10,000 residents in communities including Wasagamack and Garden Hill. The region is currently accessible only by air and, for a few months each year, by winter road.

“Our proposal and plan is an affordable solution that provides immediate benefits,” Chief Raymond Flett of St. Theresa Point First Nation said Wednesday.

The road would cost an estimated $512 million and the project could later be expanded to connect other communities farther away, Flett said. The cost is less than what is currently spent over a 10-year period on flying people out and back for medical care, he added.

An all-season road would also mean less expensive groceries and supplies, and more certainty at a time when climate change has made for shorter winter road seasons, Flett and others said.

“It’s 2024. Everybody should have accessible roads in the province of Manitoba,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said.

The leaders have sent a letter to the provincial and federal governments and have not heard back.

“Our government will be reviewing the proposal we received from St. Theresa Point and we look forward to continued collaboration and consultation on this issue,” Ian Bushie, provincial minister of municipal and northern relations, said in a prepared statement.

The push for a road on the east side of Lake Winnipeg has been discussed for almost a century. It was extended as far north as Berens River in 2017.

In 2009, the provincial NDP government created an authority that was to administer contracts toward a system of all-weather roads throughout the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

The Progressive Conservative government dissolved the authority in 2016 and a report from the auditor general found several problems with the authority, including a lack of oversight on contracts and flawed accounting.

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