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Shoal Lake 40 community members celebrated Friday as construction on the road which will provide all-season access to the community reached the Trans-Canada Highway. (Submitted by Angelina McLeod) Construction on the road which will provide all-season access to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation has reached a major milestone.

Chief Erwin Redsky said community members, the project management team and the construction team gathered on Friday to watch as the final four loads of the road’s rocky base were put down, bringing construction work on Freedom Road up to the Trans-Canada Highway.

"It was a very emotional day for all of us," said Redsky. "We had a short presentation and just a moment of silence for those that passed on and could not share that moment with us." Freedom Road is expected to be complete by spring 2019. (Submitted by Angelina McLeod) Redsky called the development a big step toward the ultimate celebration next spring, when the 24-kilometre road connecting Shoal Lake 40 to the Trans-Canada Highway is expected to be complete.

The First Nation straddles the Ontario-Manitoba border and is only accessible by boat in the summer and a dangerous ice road in the winter.

Shoal Lake 40 is on a peninsula but construction in 1919 of the aqueduct that carries water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg cut the community off from the mainland, effectively making it into an island.

The First Nation, meanwhile, doesn’t yet have a water treatment facility and is still under a years-long boil water advisory. The lack of all-season road access has made it difficult to build a treatment plant.

Redsky said the all-season road, which has been dubbed Freedom Road, will remain a construction zone throughout the winter but he is hopeful community members will be able to use it during this year’s freeze up.

"So we can avoid the risk of using thin ice to get home," said Redsky. "It means so much for safety … to get in and out of our community safely."

The $40-million project is being funded by the federal government, the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg.

Redsky said he is looking forward to the day the road is finished. He calls it just the beginning of a new and better community.

"It means so much for us as leaders and the people that struggled through isolation," said Redsky. "The water treatment plant is coming very shortly and the new school is coming so we are basically rebuilding our community."

Redsky said a more formal celebration with partners and government officials is planned for Oct. 11.

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