Winter Roads Conditions Impacting Northern Ontario Communities

THUNDER BAY – Northern Winter Roads are currently closed to full loads for transport trucks. Timmins – James Bay MP Charlie Angus says, “I spoke up in the House about the difficulty faced by northern communities dependent on the winter ice roads. A number of the roads are closed because of the weather. We need commitments to build a permanent road system in the far north.”

Chief Peter Moonias, Neskantanga First Nation
Chief Peter Moonias, Neskantanga First Nation

Chief Christopher Moonias, of Neskantaga First Nation, states, “The winter road season is very short and is vital in bringing in goods, fuel, and other supplies at a lower rate than flying it in. It also gives families to visit each other in different communities.

The impact on communities and their residents is serious. For northern communities, the winter road network brings in tanker trucks of the vital diesel fuel that powers the diesel generators that run the electricity in many remote communities.

While there are efforts underway to electrify the north, the Watay Power project is working hard to bring northern communities unto the Ontario Power Grid. This will change things massively in northern communities.

The estimated cost for diesel generation for Wataynikaneyap’s 16 remote communities in 2013 was $43 million, and this cost was projected to grow with load growth, fuel price, and other costs. PwC estimated net present value of $1.15 billion in savings by building and operating a transmission system rather than continued diesel generation over 40 years. In order to connect remote First Nations communities, the *IESO has identified a need to improve system reliability, integrity, and load supply capability into both the Pickle Lake and Red Lake areas.

In many northern communities, the capacity of the diesel generators puts real restrictions on what can be done on the reserve.

Economic Impact is Huge for Northern Communities

The impact in the north of a shorter Winter Road season is massive. For example in the critical area of housing, the winter roads allow transport trucks to come in with mobile homes or pre-fab construction homes. Those desperately needed homes can’t be flown in.

Realities of building in Northern Communities mean the goods shipped in on the Winter Roads get built over the summer season.

Warmer weather through December and January means the roads are not solid enough to support the full loads on transport trucks that bring in needed supplies.

The only community in Ontario’s northern communities where full loads can be shipped is North Caribou Lake First Nation. That community is served by an all-season road.

The Winter Roads Network

The winter road system across Northwestern Ontario is a lifeline for northern communities.

As of January 28, 2020, the winter roads were closed to full-load transport trucks. The conditions on the roads are not ready for those vital loads to be brought into the communities.

Getting in the materials for construction, a year worth of supplies in many cases and the heavy equipment for mining goes in on Winter Roads.

While shipments can be brought in by air, the cost is higher. Northern Ontario First Nations depend on secure deliveries of diesel fuel to keep their communities going. North Star Air runs a fleet of Basler BT 67 aircraft to deliver cargo and vital fuel to many communities across Northwestern Ontario. Here, in Round Lake First Nation, on December 16th, 2016, at an outside temperature of -28C, North Star Aircrews are unloading a fuel bladder of diesel fuel.

The network of winter roads across the region also offers an easier way out for residents. Traveling on the winter roads allows families to get out and in many cases stock up on lower-priced goods in the south. From Fort Severn, one of the furthest north communities in Ontario, the winter road takes residents west into Manitoba over a challenging drive.

Ontario' Winter Roads Network
Ontario’ Winter Roads Network