REGINA -- After more than three decades of calling for a road to be built, construction is now underway for the people of Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation.

A 102-kilometre seasonal road will be built at a cost of $6.75 million, connecting both communities to Highway 905. It will eventually lead to the construction of an all-weather road.

Indigenous Services Canada will contribute $6.5 million over a two-year period and the province will contribute $250,000. Saskatchewan will also be responsible for road maintenance and operation of the road, costing an estimated $250,000 annually.

“This is tremendous news for our community and we greatly welcome to see both levels of government invest the dollars into this important infrastructure project,” said Chief Bart Tsannie of Hatchet Lake Dene Nation.

Hatchet Lake signing

John Scarfe with Points Athabasca and Chief Bart Tsannie sign an agreement for a road to Hatchet Lake in March (Courtesy: Tina Pelletier)

“I want to commend the leadership of Hatchet Lake and the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) who have continued to press for this important initiative. Not only will this bring economic opportunities for the region, it will allow the communities to provide great services and support for their citizens,” said Marc Miller, Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Canada.

Tsannie and leaders of the PAGC have called the winter ice road trip between the 905 highway and Wollaston Lake “life or death,” as some people have lost their life by falling through the ice. In 2010, a teacher from Ontario died as a result of crashing into a large ice crack and submerging into more than a metre of water. In 2016, a service truck plowing the ice road broke through the ice and the driver was able to get out before it submerged any deeper.

“Last fall, we lost an elder who drowned just trying to cross that road and cross the lake into the community,” said Joseph Tsannie, Vice Chief of the PAGC.

Hatchet Lake road construction

The road to Hatchet Lake (Courtesy: Tina Pelletier)

During the summertime, the Wollaston Barge Ferry delivers resources and provides transportation to the more than 1,800 people. Most of the community’s food and supplies are delivered by plane at a cost of $1,100 a flight. Housing resources to build more homes can also be expensive and difficult to purchase and deliver because of how remote the communities are.

“Without a seasonal road, our community has always been heavily reliant on air transportation for freight where groceries and supplies can only be flown into the retailers. Many of our people also need to travel down south for health support. The economic benefits (the road) will bring to our community will also be a welcomed bonus,” added Chief Tsannie.

Phase one of the four-phase construction process is currently underway and the project will be built by Points Athabasca Contracting LP, a company which is partially owned by Hatchet Lake Denesuline Fist Nation. Equipment operators and labourers will also be expected to come from the communities of Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake.

“This important work will get vehicles off the open ice of Wollaston Lake, while providing one to two more months of overland access each year. We are delighted to partner with the Government of Canada on this important Project,” said Greg Ottenbreit, Minister of Highways and Infrastructure.