Shoal Lake 40 welcomes the opening of Freedom Road
After more than a century of being unable to travel by road to and from mainland Canada, Shoal Lake 40, a First Nation reserve on the Manitoba-Ontario border, welcomed the opening of Freedom Road, a road that provides year-round, all-weather access to the community and improves the accessibility of essential goods and services.
The all-season road connects the community to the Trans-Canada highway and is the result of strong leadership by the Shoal Lake 40 chief and community and a unique cost-sharing partnership between the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg.
Located 55 kilometres southwest of Kenora, Ontario, Shoal Lake 40 straddles the Ontario-Manitoba border. Over 100 years ago a diversion canal was built to provide water to Winnipeg, cutting off mainland access for Shoal Lake 40. This forced the community to rely on boat, ferry and winter road access.
"Freedom Road is a product of the efforts of generations of our people and former leaders. Sadly, some paid the ultimate price," said Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky, describing how road access can too often mean the difference between life and death in remote, isolated communities.
The aptly-named Freedom Road is a route for community residents to safely and conveniently travel to the mainland to get groceries or attend medical appointments. Freedom Road also contributes to increased economic opportunities and serves as a critical link in transporting much needed construction materials to build or repair infrastructure, including a new water treatment plant and a new school.
"Restoring our access to the world fixes something from the past, but we hope with the example of success we achieve with our government partners, this project can also be the beginning of a road to reconciliation. I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to our 3 partner governments as well as the many, many Manitobans and Canadians who supported our campaign for Freedom Road," said Redsky.
The construction of the road began in March 2017 with a significant number of contractors and workers from Shoal Lake 40. The road construction reached the Trans-Canada Highway in October 2018. The community was able to begin using the road in December 2018, eliminating the risks of access over water and ice. The road was fully completed in June 2019.
With the guidance of the Freedom Road Working Group, comprised of representatives from 4 levels of government, the project was completed on budget and on schedule – a testament to the success possible through partnerships that support Indigenous-led solutions.