Driving On Northern Roads In Bad Winter Weather Is Deadly – Under the Northern Sky

De Beers trucks on the ice road headed into Victor Mine - Image courtesy De Beers
De Beers Victor Mine Convoy on Winter Road
The winter ice road allows needed materials into Attawapiskat and the De Beers Victor Mine.

Playing Russian roulette with your loved ones

THUNDER BAY – It is that season again and we have to deal with snow, icy roads, freezing rain and sometimes blizzards. I love the north and I enjoy all that winter offers, no matter what the weather might be. However, I realize also just how deadly the roads and highways can be this time of the year.

I am aware that more and more people I know from up the James Bay coast are coming south and renting vehicles or purchasing them to drive during their vacation time. I don’t think people realize how dangerous travelling on the roads can be during the winter.

So many people just take for granted that they can simply jump into their car or truck and head out on the roads and highways in the north this time of the year. Seasoned and experienced drivers know better. I have known too many people who have lost their lives on our northern roads and highways and they were all good drivers. The only mistake they made was to head out onto an icy, snow covered road in poor conditions and at the wrong place and with bad timing just lost control of their vehicle and ended up crashing into an on coming vehicle or veering off the road and hitting a rock cut or solid object.

It is bad enough to have to deal with car and pick up truck traffic on routes like Highway 11 that runs through Northern Ontario and right across Canada. To make matters worse and very dangerous that highway is constantly full of travelling transport trucks.

Highway 11 north of Nipigon has had numerous accidents this winter.
Highway 11 north of Nipigon has had numerous accidents this past winter.

In icy rain, blizzards and all kinds of horrific winter conditions these trucks rarely stop or pull off the road as they have deadlines to meet for delivery of their goods. Many of the drivers who have to deal with these deadly winter conditions are also very tired as they have logged multiple hours on the road.

I have counted hundreds of transport trucks on my way south in the winter on Highway 11. Even in blizzard conditions when nobody including myself should have been on the road I met convoys of transport trucks and the whiteouts they caused as we met, made for blind driving conditions. Most of the time I don’t travel in bad winter weather anymore and if I am on the road and things get just too risky then I stop and stay in a hotel or motel overnight.

Travel on northern roads in the winter is much like Russian roulette in that the vehicle you are meeting on the icy road in blizzard conditions might not spin out and hit you or vice versa but really it is just a matter of luck. It does not matter how good a driver you are and how tough or manly you think you are, driving on bad winter roads is just not a very intelligent thing to do. A persons life is much more valuable than the need to be anywhere that demands travel on a terrible winter night in conditions that stack the odds of having an accident against you.

How does any of us rationalize driving on a hockey rink in white out blizzard conditions while meeting a steady flow of huge transport trucks that are just barely hanging on to the road. It really is kind of crazy when you think of it. Yet, we tend to take life for granted and head out onto these dangerous rides that often end in tragic results.

Is it really worth it to head out to some hockey or other sports tournament with a bunch of kids in your vehicle on icy and dangerous roads just to play a game? Is a business meeting or the attendance at some event so important that it should put your life and those of your family in danger as you slip and slide your way along an icy road while meeting very large transport trucks that you pass by with only a metre to spare? We spend so much time and effort building our lives, carrying on with careers, developing families and yet we will put all that at risk on deadly winter roads at the worst of times. Would you ever think of playing Russian roulette with your loved ones, family and friends with a loaded gun? Of course not. Then why on earth do people insist on packing everyone into a vehicle and heading out onto icy and snow covered roads and highways in terrible winter weather? If you really insist on doing that……good luck.

by Xavier Kataquapit

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Under The Northern Sky is the title of a popular Aboriginal news column written by First Nation writer, Xavier Kataquapit, who is originally from Attawapiskat Ontario on the James Bay coast. He has been writing the column since 1997 and it is is published regularly in newspapers across Canada. In addition to working as a First Nation columnist, his writing has been featured on various Canadian radio broadcast programs. Xavier writes about his experiences as a First Nation Cree person. He has provided much insight into the James Bay Cree in regards to his people’s culture and traditions. As a Cree writer, his stories tell of the people on the land in the area of Attawapiskat First Nation were he was born and raised.