Since ice roads won’t stay frozen, we need to get serious about building permanent roads in the far north – by John Michael McGrath ( – January 24, 2017)

OPINION: More than 30 Ontario First Nations communities rely on winter ice roads to truck in everything from fuel to building supplies. Warm winters are jeopardizing that lifeline, and we need an alternative

The one thing that’s supposed to be reliable about Ontario’s far north is cold winters. But increasingly, warm spells in winter have delayed the opening of the ice roads that connect 31 remote First Nations communities spread across the bulk of the province’s north, from the shore of James Bay to the far northwest.

This year, while grading and packing of snow and ice clearing has started in some locations, not a single one of the province’s ice roads has opened to commercial traffic, and only half a dozen have opened for personal vehicle use.

In the province’s northeast, the Wetum Road connecting the Moose Cree First Nation and other communities farther north to the provincial highway system won’t open until next Monday at the earliest.

The ice roads are a crucial lifeline to communities physically cut off from the rest of the province most of the year. Climate change is coming for all of us, but in Canada it’s hitting the north hardest, and that means Ontario is going to have to decide sometime in the near future whether the ice road network will be able to sustain the region in the 21st century.

It almost certainly won’t, and the province should start talking about what will replace it, and what that will cost.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says the situation this winter is already dire, as fuel reserves in northern communities are running low.

“The weather reports today say it could be too warm for another week or so … The communities that still rely on diesel plan their fuel hauls for late January, but now that’s not happening,” Fiddler told on Monday. “My own community of Muskrat Dam only has seven to eight days of fuel left, and I imagine that’s going to be the case for other communities.”

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