06/29/2012 11:21 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba premier marks opening of first road linking Winnipeg to First Nation

BLOODVEIN, Man. - Manitoba’s premier led a delegation to open a five-kilometre stretch of gravel highway at the Bloodvein First Nation.

It’s a key stretch in the first road linking Winnipeg to a remote community that’s been carved through muskeg since 1979.

Premier Greg Selinger praised the 80 First Nation road builders, noting it was built on time and under budget.

The road is a junction and includes a two-kilometre gravel road west to the First Nation, which is 210 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

A three-kilometre stretch extends north and south and the south road links to the Longbody Creek bridge, where builders still have 27 kilometres to push through.

Ernie Gilroy, CEO of East Side Road Authority, said as the first permanent land link to the north and east sides of Lake Winnipeg, the road opens up territory for ecotourism and development and gives 30,000 First Nations people their first all-weather land link to the rest of Manitoba.

The province also loosened the purse strings on $15 million for contracts to push the road work further over the next five years. Some of that work is already underway, thanks to a joint partnership with Stirling Ducharme, a Metis contractor and road builder from St. Laurent.

Bloodvein Chief Roland Hamilton said in the two years since the project went from talk to walk, this remote Ojibwa First Nation earned enough money to buy its own heavy equipment and carve out two quarries to build hundreds of kilometres of road north.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said the best part of the work so far is what it proves.

“It represents a federal and provincial partnership and what we can do with First Nations.”

A year ago, Ottawa anted up $2.67 million on a project where every kilometre built costs $1.5 million.

Kenora MP Greg Pickford attended the opening and said the federal investment is the first time Ottawa, Manitoba and a First Nation worked together on such a project.

“To think that we’re going to be three hours away from Winnipeg. The people here will be able to drive in to see the Jets play,” he said in an interview.

(Winnipeg Free Press)