Shoal Lake 40 First Nation declared a state of emergency after the ferry connecting it to the mainland failed a federal inspection at the end of April.
Chief Erwin Redsky says the ferry has been repaired and is back in the water, but only in a limited capacity. Nonetheless, he said, it's a relief to everyone in the community, especially elders who had been moved when the ferry was pulled out of service.
"They're anxious to get home. A lot of community members are anxiously waiting for the official word," Redsky said Wednesday. "Any kind of service right now is huge. It's very, very critical that this ferry is allowed to operate, at least on a restricted-load basis, so we're very happy."
The community will be watching closely for leaks and the ferry will have to undergo extensive repairs in the fall, he said.
Shoal Lake 40 was cut off from the mainland a century ago to build an aqueduct which supplies the city of Winnipeg with fresh water. The reserve, which straddles the Ontario-Manitoba boundary, has no all-weather road and has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years.
When the ferry failed to pass its four-year Transport Canada inspection due to a leaky and rusty hull, people in the community had no access to bottled water, groceries or immediate medical attention.
The reserve has been lobbying for years for construction of an all-weather road residents call Freedom Road. The federal government, Manitoba and Winnipeg have chipped in $1 million each for a feasibility study, but there are no firm commitments beyond that.
The loss of ferry service was a "wake-up call" for many and highlighted the reserve's vulnerability without a reliable connection to the mainland, Redsky said.
"I think everybody is aware of the long-term solution that needs to be committed to and I think we're on the right track."
— By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg