Shoal Lake 40 First Nation scrambles to fix broken ferry

Shoal Lake 40 has no connection to the mainland after its ferry failed to pass federal inspection. The community is under a boil water advisory and has enough drinking water for a few days, its chief says. John Woods / The Canadian Press

SHOAL LAKE, Ont. — A reserve under one of Canada’s longest boil-water advisories is scrambling to fix its broken ferry after being cut off from the outside world.

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation straddles the Ontario-Manitoba boundary and was carved off from the mainland a century ago to build an aqueduct which supplies fresh water to Winnipeg. The reserve has no all-weather road and has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years.

The community’s only ferry failed a federal inspection last week and was taken out of service. Chief Erwin Redsky, who declared a state of emergency, says that without the aging vessel, people have no way to get groceries, water or immediate medical help.

“Everything from the delivery of water (to) health services are in jeopardy,” he said Monday. “People are very, very frustrated and very inconvenienced. We’ve never experienced this before. We’re trying to deal with it the best way we can.”

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READ MORE: Shoal Lake 40 declares emergency after losing lifeline ferry

The community received an emergency shipment of bottled water on the weekend and has enough to last another few days, Redsky said. A repair crew is looking at the ferry to see if it can be patched up enough to pass federal inspection later this week.

But even if the ferry is made seaworthy again, Redsky said it is only a stop-gap measure. Every year, people trying to get to their homes fall through the ice because there is no safe road.

Paramedics and home-care workers won’t come into the community — either by ferry or on the ice — for safety reasons, he said.

“The long-term solution is, of course, a road — Freedom Road.”

READ MORE: The price of Winnipeg’s water: A First Nation’s misery

The City of Winnipeg, Manitoba and the federal government have chipped in for a design study for an all-weather road, but there is no commitment to build anything beyond that.

A spokesperson for federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May called the situation intolerable. She wants the federal government to immediately restore ferry service to the community and help build an all-weather road. After a century, May suggested, the community deserves justice.

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“Every community across Canada has a right to safe drinking water,” she said in an interview. “But this situation, where they are both physically isolated and don’t have safe drinking water, is appalling.

“It’s scandalous.”

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