SHOAL LAKE, Ont. — A celebration has been held in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to mark the beginning of construction of a new all-weather road.
The 24-kilometre Freedom Road will connect Shoal Lake 40 to the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba.
It will provide year-round access between the mainland and the isolated community, which is located in northwestern Ontario just east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary.
Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky called Friday "a special day" and told a crowd of about 50 people gathered inside the community's arena that it has been a long journey to get to this point.
The community was cut off from the mainland more than a century ago during construction of an aqueduct that supplies Winnipeg with drinking water.
Shoal Lake 40 has been under a boil-water advisory for 20 years.
Once the road is built, a water treatment plant will be the community's next big project.
Right now, residents rely on a barge that can carry four vehicles at a time to get on and off the island.
While a celebration was held Friday, construction started in the middle of May on the first portion of the road, which is an 8.7 kilometre stretch located on reserve land.
Redsky tells CTV Winnipeg it's more than a road. He hopes it can serve as a symbol of something bigger.
"It is a new beginning of our relationship with Canada," said Redsky. "This is a major milestone."
"Shoal Lake 40 has been that model of a broken relationship since treaty. We are working toward that reconciliation and Shoal Lake 40 can be that model."