Canada is known for its high standard of living, vast freshwater systems, and its strong commitment to human rights. However, for those who reside in rural, Inuit, and First Nations communities, a different scene plays out – often residents living on reserves do not experience the same quality of life as those living in cities and as a result, in 2017 it was estimated that approximately 150 communities are under boiling water advisories, of which, 71 are considered to be long term (Mitchell, 2017, para. 1). One of the many communities living through this crisis is the Shoal Lake 40 First Nations reserve, located on the Manitoba-Ontario border, which has not officially had a reliable drinking water source since 1997, which was when the state imposed a boil water advisory for the area (Crabb, 2017, para. 6). Prior to this, the Shoal Lake 40 residents were able to source water locally. Ironically, the disruption of Shoal Lake’s water supply took place due to the construction of an aqueduct built to supply the neighbouring city of Winnipeg with drinking water in 1919. This left rural first nations residents by the wayside despite being located less than 150 kilometers away.
In addition to this the aqueduct connection isolated the already rural community, making the only way in and out to be an unreliable and derelict barge (Crabb, 2017, para 6). According to a Globe and Mail article, "Their peninsula became an island when crews cut a channel to divert tannin-laden, boggy water coming from Falcon Lake away from the aqueduct intake for Winnipeg. Using gravel carved out from Shoal Lake’s ancestral land, crews built a dam to ensure Winnipeg’s water remained untainted. On one side, contaminated water flows to the residents of Shoal Lake 40 reserve. On the other side, clean water flows to Winnipeg." (1)
As one can imagine, the decision to provide clean drinking water to Winnipeg over those living on the Shoal Lake 40 reserve was one that has had long lasting impacts on the isolated community. With the aqueducts completion, areas of land were flooded out and the Shoal Lake 40 residents became stranded from the mainland. Fortunately, the community is slated to soon be connected to the rest of Canada by the aptly named “Freedom Road”, which promises to become an ‘all weather highway’ that will allow these Canadians to be connected to nearby Winnipeg (Crabb, 2017, para. 7). The announcement of this project, which has struggled to gain financial support from the federal government, coincides with the announcement of some harrowing statistics describing the current state of travel out of the community. Most notably, it’s high youth suicide rate and recent deaths caused from residents falling through ice, while crossing to the mainland. As well, these decisions have had a large financial impact – costing the Shoal Lake 40 community up to $150,000 per year to import their drinking water with an additional $120,000 per year to operate the transportation barge to the mainland. Regardless, even with the creation and completion of the connecting Freedom Road, the community will still have to wait longer for safe drinking water, which is expected to arrive by the year 2021.
In January 2019, the federal government pledged another $10 million dollars for the road.